Tribune Editorial: Utah’s tourism explosion needs congressional leadership

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The ski slopes in Big Cottonwood canyon draws a steady stream of heavy traffic, slowing the line of cars during a recent weekend morning.

With spring arriving, tourists soon will be waiting in hours-long lines to snake their way up to Arches National Park.

Meanwhile, traffic still is jamming every weekend afternoon in the Cottonwood Canyons as spring skiers drain out of the canyons.

It could be worse. Campers in the Klondike Bluffs area near Moab are leaving poop behind to the point that it’s become unsanitary.

In all cases, Utah’s natural beauty is getting beaten down by the very people who are there to enjoy it.

Love hurts.

There is a lot of recent talk about how the Utah’s technology economy has taken off, but the recreation economy is roaring, too. (In fact, Utah’s technology economy is built on access to recreation.) But we’re not keeping up with the infrastructure to handle more people, and the conflicts are growing.

We could blow this. We could fail to handle the masses, and Utah could become known as a place to avoid. It’s happened to other tourist areas.

The obvious and oft-cited solution is to encourage people to go to less visited areas. Utah’s successful “Mighty Five” marketing campaign built around our national parks may be working against us at this point.

In that respect, Bears Ears National Monument — which lives on in tourists’ minds despite a presidential proclamation to kill it — brings both good and bad news.

The good news is that San Juan County is taking some tourist pressure off the Moab area as interest in Bears Ears has soared. The bad news is that the Bears Ears — with its centuries-old archeaological resources literally scattered on the ground — is even less prepared for the influx. The damage in Bears Ears could exceed anything seen elsewhere unless a proper, and properly funded, management plan is in place. That hasn’t happened because politics has taken precedence over practicality.

Meanwhile, federal legislation to address land use in the Cottonwood canyons also has failed to get traction. The bill would not directly address the clogged canyon roads, but it would help define the limits of ski resorts that are the canyons’ big draw.

The future of recreation requires Utahns to embrace a more cooperative relationship with the federal government, the owner and manager of most of our recreational assets. That is true in the farthest reaches of southern Utah and in the heavily used canyons above the Wasatch Front.

And it starts with Utah’s congressional delegation. We’re past the pointless ideological battles over state sovereignty. We need the federal government, and federal resources, to help us keep our recreation economy humming.

Instead of dismantling monuments, our Congress members should be leading the fight for well-funded management of our federal lands. That would benefit Utahns and their millions of visitors.

Love shouldn’t hurt.

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