Utah residents and out-of-towners spend a Saturday improving Alta’s trails

(Sara Tabin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Coleman Worthen of the Alta Environmental Center talks to trail volunteers at the 2019 Town of Alta Restoration Day held Saturday, July 6, 2019.

Alta • While many Utans were hiking, biking or sleeping in early Saturday, a group of 20 volunteers met at the base of Alta Ski Area to repair trails and pull invasive weeds.

It was part of the annual Town of Alta Restoration Day hosted by the ski resort’s Alta Environmental Center, the Town of Alta, the Friends of Alta and the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation.

This year, the group focused on the Lower Albion Meadows Trail, which connects hikers from the base to the Albion Meadows, an area known for its wildflowers. The original half-mile trail was built decades ago but had to be moved in 2016 because part of it ran over private property, according to Maura Olivos, director of the Alta Environmental Center.

Some volunteers focused on fixing up the new trail by removing overgrown vegetation, while the rest worked to restore the old, defunct trail to a more natural state.

Volunteers planted seedlings and removed gravel from the former trail to give the plants room to grow. The baby plants were germinated from seeds taken from Alta last year and grown in a greenhouse, said Coleman Worthen, the environmental center’s summer conservation coordinator. That way, the volunteers could be sure they were planting native species.

About 1,800 acres of the ski area operates within the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

“We all have a right to this land, and I think we also have a responsibility,” said Serena Anderson, executive director of the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation.

For those who didn’t attend the event Saturday, Anderson said they could donate to land conservation efforts or volunteer at smaller monthly restoration days.

For hikers who don’t give back, they ought to at least follow the wilderness adage of “leave no trace,” she said. Anderson advised hikers not to step off of trails as they risk crushing plant life and not to take any flowers with them since doing so removes the flower’s seeds from the area.

“Third thing, of course, is don’t poop,” she chuckled, explaining that human waste in the woods can get into the watershed and pollute drinking water.

Although Alta Ski Area has previously faced criticism for fighting efforts to freeze the boundaries at the resorts, Anderson said the resort does a good job of conserving the natural environment it inhabits.

She said it is difficult to care for “urban forests” like the Cottonwood canyons because the federal government allots funding based on acreage, not the number of visitors. Alta receives 150,000 to 200,000 tourists each summer, according to Olivos. Anderson said the money that the Alta Ski Area invests in trail maintenance and facilities is crucial to preserving the land.

“If not for the resorts, who would be able to take care of this space?” she mused. “It would be the wild, Wild West up here.”

Julien Babanoury, a Salt Lake City resident who spent the morning removing gravel, signed up after seeing the restoration day advertised in an email. He said he enjoyed getting out and meeting the other volunteers. Chris Chads, a Sandy resident who skis at Alta, said he had the time to come out and help because he is retired and didn’t feel like sticking around his house for the day.

Besides volunteering, residents and tourists will get another opportunity to explore Big and Little Cottonwood canyons over the next two weekends as the annual Wasatch Wildlife Festival kicks off. The Cottonwood Canyons Foundation will lead hikes at different ski resorts to locations with the brightest blooms.