Residents support wilderness designation tied in with Mountain Accord
June 19, 2015
Summit County residents have found one component in Mountain Accord they can get behind: environmental protection. But leaders of the local resorts are a little more reluctant to get on board.
The environment is listed as one of the four major tenets of the Mountain Accord, a collaborative process between several agencies to make long-term decisions that could change the central Wasatch Mountains. Three other major issues officials are focusing on are transportation, recreation and the economy.
The Summit County Council held a work session Wednesday to receive comments from the public who mostly support a proposed 967-acre federal land designation. The portion in Summit County included in the boundary is located along the ridge separating Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Andrew McLean, a Summit Park resident and backcountry skier, said he’s seen a significant amount of private access lost as more development comes into the area. McLean said these lands are the last remaining areas that backcountry skiers can use in Park City.
"Backcountry is shrinking down and there isn’t much left of it," McLean testified. "I think it’s really important we preserve this area and it’s included in any preservation that comes before you."
According to a county staff report, the 967-acre parcel includes 848 acres of land owned and administered by the U.S. Forest Service and 119 acres privately owned within the U.S. Forest Service administrative boundary. The area includes Crest Trail, upper portions of Red Pine, Dutch Draw, Monitor and Scott Hill.
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A federal designation of the area would prevent the resorts from expanding and hinder any proposals for development, ski links or connections.
Three other designation alternatives are being considered, in addition to a Wilderness designation: National Monument, Conservation Management Area and Conservation and Recreation Management area. Any land exchanges and federal designations will require an act of Congress.
Brad Barber, chair of the Mountain Accord Federal Designation Task Force, said there was a federal bill several years ago to expand the wilderness in this particular area, but it never gained traction.
During the Mountain Accord process, Barber said it became "very apparent" what people wanted and needed, which was "some permanency."
"The land exchanges that make Mountain Accord work are imbedded in this legislation," Barber said. "Legislation is an important part of Mountain Accord to not only accommodate what we want to do, but to provide some permanent solutions."
Rob Ingle, who identified himself as a 35-year resident of Summit County, said he has seen considerable changes to the backcountry since coming to Park City, eventually prompting him to ask, "Do we have to let them take the last of the public lands?"
"We need to protect this property for our residents and the people who live here, not for people who want to come here for three days," Ingle said. "Where do we stop it? That’s what you all have to decide."
Rich Wyman, a long-time Park City activist, said while he has been a harsh critic of the Mountain Accord, specifically regarding transportation, he can support this proposal.
"This is one of the things that got me excited about the Mountain Accord in the first place," Wyman said. "This is one of the great things that the Mountain Accord can do and I just want to state the obvious that the public is overwhelmingly in support of this. We know this not only helps the people that live here, but the people who come here. We have to do everything to protect, not pull back, from protecting. We have to do more not less."
While the residents who spoke at the meeting and the council support an expanded wilderness, three local business leaders do not.
Bill Rock, chief operating officer for Park City Mountain Resort, said "no one is proposing a change in use of these lands, especially us." Rock said his concerns with the designation are with the process.
"We don’t own or have rights to this land currently, but they do come up by our resort," Rock said. "What are the implications of what some of these things could mean for some of our resorts for the future? The question is: is this the time Summit County wants to lose control of future designations of this land?
"We think maybe Mountain Accord is not the right way to go about it," Rock said. "Is this the right vehicle and time, given the nature of how quickly it’s come up? We think it’s not.
Bob Wheaton, president and general manager of Deer Valley, and Walt Brett, developer of The Colony, also expressed their apprehension about the future implications of a federal designation of these lands.
The purpose of Wednesday’s discussion was to get feedback from the County Council about the recommended boundary before the Task Force presents its findings to the Mountain Accord executive board.
County Council Chair Kim Carson said the various federal designations need to be fully vetted before any decision is made.
"But, we spend money on open space and here we have some available at no cost and I think that this is a no-brainer," Carson said.
Council member Chris Robinson said he hasn’t seen or heard any compelling reason why the area shouldn’t be included in the federal land designation.
"I do think this is just one element of Mountain Accord that we still have a lot to work on, but I also think this may be less of an issue in the realm of issues, based on this input," Robinson said.
While exploring the various components of the Mountain Accord, the County Council has yet to sign the interlocal agreement, binding the county to a contribution of $150,000 over three years. The council may reconsider it at the July 1 meeting.
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