A few weeks ago I was invited to a fund-raiser for Congressional Representative Jim Matheson from Utah. It was also an event to gather support to fight SkiLink. The congressional bill to allow SkiLink is called the Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act. Senators Hatch, Lee and Representative Bishop are all in favor of it.
Here are the facts:
1. Talisker, the owner of the Canyons Resort and one of the largest landowners in Park City, has convinced the Republican Utah congressmen to introduce a bill to sell a one-acre wide strip of U.S. Forest Service land to build a gondola that connects the Canyons with the Solitude Ski Area, which is about eleven miles away (as the crow flies).
2. Arguments have been made that, as a people mover between the two resorts, we will see a reduction in auto traffic on I-80 and I-215, which is the route between the two resorts. So, less people driving from the Canyons to Solitude and visa versa.
3. The purchased land would go through the Salt Lake City watershed, protected since the 1960s.
Here is my rebuttal.
1. What kind of national precedent will it set if Congress approves the sale of U.S. Forest Service land to a private developer? Doesn’t this legislation make all Forest Service land vulnerable in the country?
2. How much automobile traffic can a ski gondola mitigate? Positioning SkiLink as a people mover to reduce the flow of traffic is blatant greenwashing.
3. It is a strip of land between the Canyons and Solitude that is one acre wide. Look for further development because control is in the hands of Talisker.
4. This is not an interconnect proposal, which would require the Forest Service, the ski resorts and private landowners to all work together for the benefit of business and community.
4. This will be a serious intrusion into the Wasatch backcountry where people hike, backcountry ski and mountain bike. It also is an untouched sanctuary for wildlife and the natural environment.
5. What guarantees will be put in place to protect the Salt Lake City watershed, which affects the safety and well being of hundreds of thousands of people?
The Forest Service is against selling its land to Talisker. They bring a long history of men and women who have fought to preserve the public lands. Over the 4th of July, bone-tired men and women celebrated our nation’s birth in intense heat and vertical terrain, fighting fires that can move with the speed and power of a freight train, and giving their all to save habitat, wildlife and homes.
That kind of management, commitment, and heart can only be mustered up when the nation’s heritage is in danger. Selling pieces of Forest Service land to developers weakens that heritage and frankly weakens the management of our birthright.
Paul Kirwin is a 30-year resident of Park City and a 25-year member of the Outdoor Industry Association.
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Park City leaders on Thursday will likely hold a special meeting to consider an idea crafted by Main Street businesses to close the street to traffic on Sundays in the summer and early fall in favor of a pedestrian zone.