Melissa Fields: Save open space at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon

Melissa Fields

Since the COVID-19 pandemic made its rude arrival at Utah’s doorstep back in March, the days that I have not walked along a trail or in a park near my home in Cottonwood Heights could be counted on one hand.

Not only has getting out of my house and into nature provided me with a vital respite from the daily news cycle, but it’s also given me a relatively safe way to be with people I love outside of my immediate family. And, judging by how many I’ve seen along the trail or sitting in lawn chair circles at our neighborhood park, it seems that others are managing the pandemic similarly.

Which is why I am supporting Utah Open Lands’ campaign to save open space at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon from becoming another subdivision.

If you’ve driven up Little Cottonwood on your way to ski, hike or climb, you’re likely familiar with this land. Located on the east side of Wasatch Boulevard beneath a boulder-strewn field just northwest of the canyon entrance, walkers and cyclists can often be seen there along an old two-track trail. These 27 acres are one of the last undeveloped tracts along the foothills between Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, and, if preserved, its unofficial recreational status will become legitimized for perpetuity.

One of the visions for this land is as a regional trailhead for a long-awaited section of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail from there to Ferguson Canyon. Preserving it would also allow it to remain wildlife habitat for the deer, coyote and even mountain lions often spotted there. This land, however, is currently under a development agreement and is zoned for a housing subdivision — if Utah Open Lands’ campaign to save it is not successful, 11 homes will be built there and its public access and enjoyment will be lost forever.

When Utah Open Lands launched this campaign in January, no one had any idea of the severity of the pandemic that was barreling toward us. But a chance to preserve a piece of open space with such rich recreational opportunities at a location that so succinctly defines the Wasatch Front’s identity for so many does not come along often.

Recognizing this rare opportunity, numerous public entities have already given to this campaign including the LeRay McAllister Critical Lands Fund, the City of Cottonwood Heights, the Wasatch Mountain Club, Friends of Alta, the Central Wasatch Commission and Salt Lake County. Even the landowners have agreed to reduce the land’s sale price by $835,000 for purchase and preservation by Utah Open Lands.

In case you’re wondering, the campaign to preserve this land is completely unaffiliated with the Utah Department of Transportation’s high-profile efforts to solve Little Cottonwood Canyon’s traffic issues. If preserved this land will not become a satellite parking lot for the ski resorts; Utah Open Lands will hold its conservation easement, and Cottonwood Heights will steward it as a public access point to the Salt Lake Valley’s unparalleled backyard, the Wasatch Mountains.

The race to preserve this land is now coming down to its deadline, Sept. 10. As of this writing, Utah Open Lands was about $582,169 shy of the $3 million needed to purchase the land from its current owners, Rola V Ltd and LC Canyon Partners LLC. All donations made between now and the campaign’s deadline will be doubled by a $200,000 challenge grant from the AHE/CI Trust.

Please consider making a donation to this campaign so that, even when we reach the end of this marathon pandemic, we’ll all have one more place where we can go to get some exercise, get into nature and safely and authentically be with those we love. To give, go to utahopenlands.com or donate via Venmo @UtahOpenLands.

Melissa Fields

Melissa Fields, Cottonwood Heights, chairs the Cottonwood Heights Parks, Trails & Open Space Committee.