Bennion Gardner: Why Salt Lake County should revise West Bench Plan

Preservation of open space in Oquirrh Mountains should be a priority

Bennion Gardner

The Salt Lake County Council recently sprang to action to protect 20 acres of private property in Parley’s Canyon owned by a mining company.

And in 2017, the council kicked in funding to save land outside of the county, helping neighboring Summit County secure Bonanza Flat for preservation.

County Mayor Jenny Wilson has spoken out forcefully against the proposed gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

These actions and others establish a long history of concern for open space by county leaders, but it seems that concern may have met its limit on the county’s west side.

The Oquirrh Mountain Range ridgeline from BLM land.

Salt Lake County is currently developing the West Bench General Plan to guide development in the foothills and canyons of the Oquirrh Mountains for decades to come.

The plan proposes developing more than 1,000 acres high within one of the few Oquirrh Canyons that has not been decimated by destructive mining. Named after 19th century colonist Abraham Coon, Coon Canyon sits just west of Kearns and West Valley City. This 6-mile deep canyon has been left nearly untouched by humans forever. Other than a narrow dirt road leading to the TV broadcast facilities on Farnsworth Peak, the canyon is a pristine wilderness. It serves as a vital habitat for wildlife and resting grounds for priceless Indigenous artifacts.

Coon Canyon is private property owned by mining giant Rio Tinto and off limits to the public. While Rio Tinto has wreaked destruction elsewhere in the Oquirrhs at a scale visible from space, they have left Coon Canyon untouched.

This provides an incredible opportunity to one day provide much needed open space on the County’s west side. The West Bench General Plan as proposed fails to see that opportunity and does not fit the County’s established pattern of acting to preserve our rapidly disappearing open space.

There is hope. The county has shown it can work with Rio Tinto to restrain potential development in sensitive areas.

Both parties came together recently to plan for future trails in Butterfield Canyon on the southern end of the Oquirrhs. Generations to come will be best served if we can build on that successful effort and revise the West Bench Plan to preserve the whole of Coon Canyon as open space.

Bennion Gardner is executive director of The Oquirrh Foundation.