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Decision Time For Wasatch Mountains And Canyons

Mar 27, 2015 07:48AM ● Published by Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams

We’re nearing decision time for an important collaboration on the future of the Wasatch Front and Wasatch Back mountains and canyons.

More than a year of work from nearly 200 stakeholders has produced a proposed blueprint for actions that we can take to balance four systems in the Central Wasatch mountains—environment, recreation, transportation and economy.  Achieving that balance offers a unique opportunity for Utah residents and visitors to continue to enjoy this remarkable natural area in a variety of ways for years to come.

Mountain Accord was launched with a sense of urgency.  A fast-growing population and increased tourism, as well as traffic congestion and sprawling development, puts more and more pressure on sensitive mountain environments. Without a plan to coordinate actions over the next five to 10 years, what we value most about the Central Wasatch—clean, affordable water, open space and the beauty of nature—will suffer.

In 2014, the Central Wasatch experienced 5.7 million visitors. By 2040, that number is projected to grow to 7.2 million.  The mountains are a critical source of clean water for more than 500,000 people. As our population increases, so does the need to protect our water. Popular trailheads are overrun with cars on weekends.  Traffic jams build up in the Park City area.  Change will come whether we act or not, but the question is, will we be happy with that change?

The proposed blueprint—you can read it and comment on it at www.mountainaccord.com –is the result of collecting and analyzing data about what is currently happening with each of the four systems.  The proposed blueprint identifies key actions for each system—such as protecting water resources and restoring the environment—in a way that balances all four.  Some development in the canyons has produced a thriving ski resort economy, which helps attract tourism dollars to our state. Undeveloped back country terrain has likewise helped grow outdoor recreation businesses that provide jobs.  Trails offer a chance to be in the mountains with friends and family, to have fun and perhaps see wildlife.  Modern forms of transportation offer the chance to connect Wasatch Mountain communities in a way that is less polluting and more efficient.

We’re nearing the end of the first phase of the Mountain Accord project.  Following an opportunity for the public to attend several open house meetings to ask questions and to leave comments about the proposal on the website, the Mountain Accord executive board members will take a final vote during an April 6 meeting.  The results will then move forward in a federal Environmental Impact Statement phase, which will involve public agencies, private landowners, transportation groups and members of the public, among others. That process will determine what happens on the ground, from the designation of special land protection to the construction of transportation systems.

No matter what happens next, I believe this is an historic accomplishment. United by the realization of how much the Central Wasatch matters to all of us, we’ve come together in a way that I think offers a path forward for keeping what we love and value about our Rocky Mountain home.      
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