Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker spent some time on the Wasatch Back this week courting members of the Summit County Council. Becker is hoping Summit County will participate in a multi-agency effort to devise a comprehensive master plan for the Wasatch Mountains -- the scenic range that defines both the spirit and economic livelihood of millions of residents in our neighboring communities.
The council should not hesitate to join.
The meeting was precipitated, in large part, by a controversial proposal to build a ski lift that would connect Canyons ski resort to Solitude. But, according to Becker, the lift, dubbed SkiLink, is just one of many ski area development proposals that could have significant impacts on the area.
Becker has begun assembling a coalition of local government and environmental groups, along with business organizations and the Utah Transit Authority, in hopes of drawing up a regional plan that would address a variety of issues: ski area expansions, transportation backcountry access and watershed quality, to name a few.
On Wednesday, Becker suggested to council members that interconnections among the ski areas, if planned carefully, could bolster the tourism industry but, if done wrong, could prove damaging to the environment.
His effort is especially important in view of pending legislation in Congress that would force the U.S. Forest Service to sell 30 acres of land to lay the groundwork for SkiLink.
If the bill, H.R. 3452, "The Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act," is approved by Congress, Canyons and Solitude will, no doubt, want to move forward on their plan to install about 20 lift towers across the ridgeline between the two ski areas. However, the resorts will still need to secure local approvals, and we believe the best way for all of the stakeholders along the Wasatch Front and Back to prepare for those permit applications is to work together.
Becker is right. There is much that can be gained or lost by further developing this great natural resource - our mountains. Business interests see opportunities for economic growth while conservationists see potential for environmental damage. Some backcountry users see any interconnection as an invasion into their exclusive domain, while other outdoor fans see possibilities for exploring new terrain. And others see the potential for reducing traffic in the canyons and on the Interstate.
All of those points of view deserve consideration.
We hope that the Summit County Council has already penned a thank-you note to Becker for the invitation and RSVPed with a hearty "Yes!"