With the population of the Wasatch Range expected to double to 3 million people in the next 30 years, entities from across the Wasatch Front and Back have gathered to address solutions for preserving the future of the mountains. Save Our Canyons hosted a forum Wednesday night to discuss these solutions.
In what was also an occasion to recall the many conservation goals Save Our Canyons has achieved in the last year, Wednesday's event primarily highlighted the goals of the Wasatch Summit, as well as the many issues the group is looking to solve.
Black Diamond Equipment CEO Peter Metcalf summed up the importance of the Wasatch Summit in his ending speech.
"Utah's signature product is the juxtaposition of mountain towns with a city and easily, accessible wilderness with the ski areas," Metcalf said. "That's why people come here and that's what we want to preserve."
A four-member panel answered questions about the importance of the Wasatch Summit, and included the program's director, Laynee Jones, Summit County Council member Chris Robinson, Park City Council member Andy Beerman and Salt Lake Public Utilities Water Resources manager Laura Briefer.
The first question raised by the audience was about the increasing number of vehicles coming into the Park City area from Salt Lake. Jones stressed that the members of the Wasatch Summit are transit-centered in seeking solutions.
Briefer posed the question whether potential transportation solutions will increase demand on the Wasatch Mountains or be used to manage that demand, stating that the latter was necessary for preservation.
Creating solutions that are accommodating for all of the Wasatch Range's user groups was a common theme when talking about preservation, but so was staying alert of the development endeavors of vested economic interests.
"One economic interest after another is pushing to change boundaries or how land is used to allow another [ski] lift or development," Metcalf said. "It's time to have this grand bargain that asks, 'Where do we want more transportation, more lifts? And where do we want deed restrictions and wilderness protection?"
Beerman pointed to the SkiLink project, the bill for which is no longer in the United States Congress, as an example of economic interests that could potentially threaten the preservation of the Wasatch Mountains.
"SkiLink isn't an isolated incident there will be pressure to expand from ski resorts and private landholders," Beerman said.
Robinson stressed that the Wasatch Summit is "agnostic" about the potential solutions around transportation, preservation and recreation and is trying to keep an open mind about addressing problems in ways that accommodate many different groups.
Jones said the Wasatch Summit is embarking on a two-year study, after which it will start completing an environmental impact statement. They will follow the National Environmental Policy Act's process throughout the study, which requires agencies to incorporate environmental values into decisions made.
"At the end [of the study], we will have a map of ideal land uses and transportation solutions," Jones said. "We'll have to ask, 'Where do we want development? Where don't we want development?' Preservation is a component of the project."
Metcalf summed up the preservation of the Wasatch Range as the ultimate goal of Save Our Canyons and the Wasatch Summit.
"It's the Wasatch that makes Utah more than just a flyover state," Metcalf said. "It's the reason why so many businesses move to Salt Lake."
The Wasatch Summit will have its next Executive Committee meeting Jan. 13 in Alta and will hold a public meeting the first week of February, where they will be seeking public participation. For more information, visit wasatchsummit.org.