Utah’s canyons aren’t just for snow-lovers anymore. Summer recreation has become just as popular, and crowded, as our winter playgrounds.
Alta Ski Area in Little Cottonwood Canyon noticed this increasing overcrowding in the Albion Basin and has proposed a plan to help alleviate it. As Brian Maffly reported for The Tribune, “Visitation to the flower-filled bowl carved by glaciers and rimmed by Devil’s Castle and Catherine’s and Germania passes has grown so rapidly over the past decade that there is often nowhere to park at popular trailheads above Alta’s Albion base area and impacts are stacking up.”
Instead of the town’s free shuttle, which was not economically sustainable, this summer the resort will charge $6 per vehicle and limit access up the unpaved summer road leading to the popular trailheads for Catherine’s Pass and Cecret Lake to 65 cars — the number of existing parking spots.
It will also allow free parking in its ski area parking lot and operate its Sunnyside lift on weekends to carry visitors up to the nasin. The resort will charge a fee to ride the lift, likely $5 for children and $10 for adults.
The Interior Department recently increased the entrance fee to Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks by $5 in an attempt to curb overcrowding. While the new costs are unfortunate, increased fees are becoming increasingly necessary in recreation areas that cannot sustain their popularity.
It’s not just cars and people polluting our mountain play areas. American Fork Canyon has seen similarly increasing visitor numbers, but in this case, the land may be hurting the visitors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, contaminated soils collected near historic mine sites in the canyon contain arsenic, lead, mercury and other harmful metals.
ATV riding can kick up harmful dust that includes these unsafe metals, which could harm visitors who breathe it in year after year.
We’ve been arguing for at least a year about how we need to find solutions to remediate the damage done by too many people trampling around in Utah’s mountains, including more toll roads.
One thing is certain: State architects never imagined this many people would be traipsing through the mountains and canyons so emblematic to Utah. Perhaps the dangers that lurk, to people and the land, were unavoidable in a state bent on development and growth.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t be smarter now and think ahead to avoid future erosion.
Our mountains can’t sustain our abuse for much longer.