Mollie Delahunty: Zion National Park provides a model for Little Cottonwood Canyon

Shuttle service could help control the traffic and crowds on S.R. 210.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune A shuttle bus leaves the Zion Canyon Village just outside Zion National Park near Springdale, Utah Monday, September 30, 2013.

In August of 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed The Organic Act that created the National Park Service. Designed with the purpose to “conserve the scenery and the natural and the historic objects and the wildlife therein and … leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

This act has preserved hundreds of natural wonders nationwide. The question I’m asking is who and what will conserve the scenery and the natural and the historic and the wildlife therein of all the nature and land that is not dedicated as a national park or monument?

Right now, a real issue on how to improve traffic on S.R. 210 has created a hinge point in the future of Little Cottonwood Canyon, threatening the pristine wilderness of the canyon. The Utah Department of Transportation is proposing two alternatives to improve transportation in Little Cottonwood Canyon, enhanced bus service and a gondola.

These two alternatives that UDOT, city and council officials are looking into would both harm the canyon and forever change Little Cottonwood, while better possibilities exist. These options include, but are not limited to, requiring more than one person in each car traveling on S.R. 210, flexible bus systems, increasing enforcement of the UDOT Cottonwood Canyon sticker program, etc. Save Our Canyons, an organization that has been protecting the Wasatch Range since 1972, is heading the movement of pushing for these flexible alternatives.

I feel fortunate to have always enjoyed Little Cottonwood Canyon, and I grew up hiking, climbing and skiing within the Wasatch Mountain Range. Little Cottonwood is where I fell in love with being outside, it is only 20 minutes from my childhood home. This appreciation for nature has carried me to other incredible places, and I now get to work outside, in places that I love.

I recently returned to the Salt Lake Valley after five months of working as a guide in the Zion National Park area. Every day, I was able to guide visitors through the famous slot canyons of Zion that Southern Utah is famously known for. Seeing the wonder and appreciation in the eyes of guests from all over the nation as they saw those canyons for the first time helped me to see them with a fresh perspective, too. It also provoked a feeling of responsibility to those places that I guided my guests through, so that future visitors could have the same experience. I feel so appreciative that Zion National Park is federally protected, by an act put into place more than a century ago, so that I could have the experience that I had this summer.

Now, what about lesser-known places, like the Wasatch Range that diversifies the Salt Lake Valley? It is ours to speak for and protect. We all must be advocates and defenders of the land, “leaving it unimpaired” for the future generations, and the construction of a gondola or the widening of the road to allow for a bus lane will forever change Little Cottonwood Canyon.

There are less harmful ways to meet UDOT’s goal of reducing the traffic by 30%. Returning to my own personal experience living in Zion, I have seen this work. There are 4.3 million people who visit Zion every year. Zion’s main canyon does not have the parking, utilities or road space to cater to the thousands of people visiting each day. Their solution has been to completely close the road to traffic. The only way into the canyon is to take one of the shuttles provided for the guests. Anyone who has visited Zion National Park is familiar with their shuttling service. It is easy to use, it works and this model protects against harmful development happening in the park.

I believe that the solution for LCC is to pattern a plan for reducing traffic after the Zion model, adopting their system and making changes to the model to suit the differences between the two canyons. If it works for one of the most visited national parks in the nation, then I wholly believe that it can work to meet UDOT’s goal and protect the pristine wilderness of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Who and what will conserve the scenery and the natural and the historic and the wildlife therein of the nature and land? If not us, then no one.

Mollie Delahunty

Mollie Delahunty, Provo, is a student at Brigham Young University studying exercise and wellness and a summer canyoneering guide at East Zion Adventures.