RICHMOND, Cache County — Can there be peaceful coexistence between a ski resort and two protected wildlife areas?
That's one of the questions swirling around the proposed Cherry Peak Ski Resort north of Logan.
"It's going to be great skiing, good snow, and we're excited to open it up," said Logan Checketts, one of several investors and landowners involved in the controversial project.
Though the 200-acre resort would be entirely on private land, it's sandwiched between the Richmond Wildlife Management Area, owned by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and the Mount Naomi Wilderness, administered by the U.S. Forest Service.
"If you have a wildlife management area and a wilderness area, is a ski resort truly compatible?" asked Dan Miller, chairman of the Bear River Watershed Council.
Wildlife biologist Glen Gantz said the resort will disrupt critical winter habitat for deer and elk.
"The traffic, the noise, the lights — there's definitely an impact," Gantz said. "The herd size is going to be reduced."
Miller said the proponents' environmental study failed to consider impacts outside resort boundaries.
"There's no doubt that skiers will trespass on the wildlife management area because there's some slopes there that are skiable," he said.
The owners say their study does show wildlife impacts: positive impacts.
"I think there will be more deer and elk here than ever before," said part-owner John Chadwick.
"We're going to be planting grasses and vegetation that will benefit the wildlife," Checketts added.
Adding fuel to the controversy is the decision by one of the owners in late September to cut down trees to clear a ski run, even though the project's fate is up in the air. Cache County approved a conditional-use permit in February, but opponents have appealed that decision to 1st District Court. The tree cutting was put on hold after opponents raised concerns.
"It's illegal," Miller said. "The permit doesn't allow them to start construction until some of the conditions have been met."
The owners dispute that interpretation. They say their lawyers and county officials told them the tree cutting was legal. Chadwick insists it's a property owner's right to cut trees.
"Eventually that run that we are cutting would be used as part of the resort," Chadwick said. "But whether or not the resort exists in the future, I'm still going to have that run. It's my property and, you know, I'd like to ski it."
At the moment, the proposed resort is rich with autumn color rather than winter white. Critics say the slopes don't get enough snow to justify the resort.
"I think it could fail, and it could leave a scar," Miller said.
According to Checketts, though, the property had plenty of snow last year, even though it was a drought year.
He said the resort could have opened at Thanksgiving last year and stayed open until spring, with only a bit of artificial snowmaking. Developers claim the long-term annual average is 183 inches of snow at the base and 270 inches per year at the top of the runs.
The vertical drop of the resort will be 1,300 feet. Chadwick said the group's extensive studies show high potential for Logan area skiers.
"The conclusion is that this spot is a slam-dunk for skiing," he said. "We get phone calls all the time. People are very, very excited. … It is in a great spot, and we really look forward to sharing that with other people."
Their proposal includes five lifts serving 20 ski runs and a tubing hill. Facilities would include a warming hut near the top and a day lodge with restaurant at the base.
The developers anticipate up to 1,000 skiers on a given day, including those who come for night skiing.
Assuming no legal obstacles, the owners hope to begin construction next spring and be open for skiing at the start of winter late next year.