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Forest Service gives preliminary OK to tear down grit mill

Published April 10, 2014 6:52 pm

Restoration • The Little Cottonwood project also will improve trails that access climbing routes.
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A dilapidated grit mill is likely to be removed soon from the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, where an improved trail system will be developed to access the canyon's renowned rock-climbing routes.

The U.S. Forest Service went a long way toward clearing the way for the recreation-oriented beautification project April 7 in a draft environmental assessment that determined no significant impacts would result.

There is still a slight chance the project could be upended by objections raised during an appeal period that lasts through May 24, but only for people who commented earlier in the EA development process. That will likely limit anything formidable from coming up against the widely support plan, part of the Wasatch Legacy Project.

"It's a great project," said Jessie Walthers, executive director of the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting environmental stewardship in Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood canyons.

"We're all excited to see a new plan for that area. Visually, that [grit mill] structure had such a negative impact on the canyon," she said, adding she is also pleased that the Forest Service approved a 35-space parking lot for the site that is accessible to mass transit.

"It's a huge milestone for the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance," added Julia Geisler, that group's executive director.

Besides strengthening the working relationship between climbers and the Forest Service, the project "sets a precedent for better trails in the Wasatch for climbers and other non-motorized recreation. … Ultimately it will protect and enhance the climbing resource in lower Little Cottonwood Canyon."

According to the environmental assessment, the grit mill was a "contributing feature" of the Whitmore quarry, a historic site on the National Register as the site of many rocks used to build The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' temple in downtown Salt Lake City.

Not in use for more than half a century, the mill had become a graffiti-covered eyesore and a threat to the safety of people goofing around on the structures. In addition, it was a gateway to an informal system of trails cut over time to the nearby climbing routes, many of which accelerated erosion by being in the wrong places.

The Forest Service's draft decision addressed safety and environmental concerns. It provided for the following:

• Demolition of the mill, all related structures and industrial equipment using heavy machinery;

• Construction of a 35-space trailhead parking lot, with a restroom and interpretive site, which will be closed from Nov. 1 to April 1, depending on snow;

• Completion of 1.4 miles of new trail, upgrading three-quarters of a mile of existing trail and closing almost a mile of ill-advised current trails;

• Installation of water bars and retaining walls at the bases of numerous climbing routes to improve erosion control.

"This has been a great collaborative effort," Walthers said, noting that the involvement of Cottonwood Canyons Foundation members will increase markedly after mill structures are removed and rehabilitation work turns to removing invasive weeds and planting native vegetation.

That work is likely to take place in the summer of 2015.

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg