The importance of the Wasatch Mountains to our communities has been magnified during this global pandemic. Not by what is said, but through our actions, like that trusty friend you go see when you are struggling with some weighty decisions.
Despite sudden shuttering of resorts, our canyons have been crawling with people. With so many uncertain variables in our lives, we find solace, hardiness, among other things, in the mountains. Naturally, mountains change, but the rate in which we are influencing the changes couldn’t be more unnatural.
Anthropocene, our epoch is called, because we humans have manipulated and controlled the geologic forces that created this planet. Will we continue as we have or change course, tempering our destructive habits in pursuit of a sustainable one?
A week ago, I set out early to climb Mt. Olympus. On this random (and stormy) weekday, I must have encountered more people than water-bars on this trail. I stopped short of the summit as there were easily another 30 people on top, making it almost impossible to maintain social distancing. Everyone was awkwardly trying to accomplish this. I was happy to let them have it. As the Wasatch has had my heart for years now, I’d hope the view east of Wildcat Ridge, across to the Twin Peaks Wilderness and down upon the progress of man, would ensure these lands found permanent place in theirs.
It perplexes me that a landscape like the Wasatch Mountains is afforded less protection than some nearer tracts of land like regional parks and open spaces. The Wasatch we know are merely a few word changes in law away from unfettered development, it’s happened already in some areas and soon Alta, for instance, may have a legal right to prohibit backcountry users from parking in upper Little Cottonwood. We must be meticulous when it comes to planning the Wasatch.
Mountain Accord has faltered, overthrown by a combination of narcissism (my use is better), NIMBYism (get off my lawn) and greed (mountains of money). The values clash between altruistic and the selfish have had numerous attempts to reconcile, yet have been chastised, leaders of compromise vilified, all while the clouds of uncertainty for the Wasatch grow more opaque by the month.
The Salt Lake County Council is about to adopt the Wasatch Canyons General Plan. In general terms, the draft is OK, but the answer to many big issues (transit, interconnect, resort expansion, visitor management, loss of biodiversity, trail plans and amenities, location, location, location) is effectively, “dunno.” Further, the histories for each geography give one bullet to cover both natural and tribal history of the Wasatch, the subsequent dozens given to major, earthmoving European “innovations.”
This isn’t reverence of nature, this is an ode to its loss, as if we eagerly await the next steel innovation to occupy a bubble in our plan.
The following unanswered questions give much discomfort when contemplating the fate of the Wasatch. What goal(s) are our guiding light for the Wasatch? Are we planning for safety, canyon capacity, economics or public benefit when doing transportation projects? Is the transportation problem seasonal or year-round? Do we want a ski interconnect or not? Are we trying to reintroduce species that have been lost because of our past activities? How much more ski area expansion or development is desired?
As you contemplate, push yourself to consider the many other values and uses of the Wasatch. Can you acutely identify the problem(s) we are trying to solve in the next five, 50, 100 years? What legacy do we leave behind
The Salt Lake County Council had a virtual public hearing of this new general plan for the Wasatch last week and it was continued until their June 2 meeting. There were never more than about 25 people on the call, a small fraction of the number of folks encountered on a stormy weekday on one Wasatch peak.
I get it. Times are tough: jobs, kids, health, school, death tolls leading the news, as is wanton disregard for science and scholarly expertise. I urge you to consider the water you boil your kids mac ‘n cheese in and its nexus to the Wasatch.
The plan adopted for the Wasatch should open doors for what we want, and halt what we don’t. If Salt Lake County won’t do it, then we must. Time, on the human scale, isn’t a friend, a good friend reminds me “it’s the killer of all deals.”
As I opened, what is not said is more telling and powerful than what is written. Avoiding sticky issues doesn’t mean they go away. It certainly doesn’t mean we are prepared, not if, but when these issues rear their heads. As you do your COVID-cleaning, make sure to leave those torches, pitchforks and pickets in your shed, because Ken Ivory and his state-paid cronies want to convert the commons, specifically those adjacent to cities, into coins as if there is not higher value to existence than profits.
The Wasatch needs to become a higher community priority. It isn’t that this plan is bad, it just focuses more on the color scheme of the interconnect, rather than discussion of its appropriateness.
Let the Salt Lake County Council hear your thoughts, and your county mayor, too. We need to be more prepared as pressures change and grow, or at very least, identify how many silver pieces we will sell the life giving Wasatch for. We’ve been living the past few months with the realities of being unprepared, lets not invite a moment like this into our canyons.
More on the plan go here: https://slco.org/planning-transportation/wasatch-canyons-general-plan-update/
Carl Fisher is the executive director of Save Our Canyons, a Utah non-profit dedicated to protecting the wildness and beauty of the Wasatch Mountains.