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'Mountain Accord' debuts to protect Wasatch Front canyons

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 28 2014 5:30 p.m. MST

Motorists drive in Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake County Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. Mountain Accord has been created and is a collaboration of government, business, private and special interest groups that have come together to work on long-term solutions for the transportation, recreation, economic and environmental issues facing Little Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood and Parleys canyons.

Jeffrey_Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Several groups with divergent views on how to manage the Wasatch Front canyons are joining forces in an effort dubbed the "Mountain Accord."

The accord is designed to find solutions that will balance the demands of population growth against the desire to ensure the vitality of the mountains and canyons in the future.

Four main areas of focus — transportation, environment, the economy and recreation — are at the center of challenges facing the canyons, which are the playground and water resource for 1 million residents and visitors.

This effort builds on Envision Utah's Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow report released in 2010 and other studies. It will cobble together options for a draft environmental impact statement that will identify transportation alternatives, areas that are suitable for development, and those areas that should be set aside as off-limits.

Among the players are Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, Ski Utah, the U.S. Forest Service, and Save Our Canyons.

"I don't know exactly how it is going to work, but it absolutely has to work," said Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons. "We've been fighting over the canyons for decades. But from the federal government to the town of Alta, everybody is participating in this and have bought into (the accord). This is an important first step for the future."

The groups say public participation is critical and have scheduled two meetings to gather input: 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4 at Park City High School and on Feb. 5 at Skyline High School.

Laynee Jones, program manager of Mountain Accord, said the accord brings together the "fan base" for the central Wasatch Mountains.

"The players who have come together believe we can have a vibrant tourism economy, healthy watershed, quality recreational experiences and sustainable transit," she said. "Our goal is that 100 years from now we have preserved what we love about these mountains."

Jones is among those involved in the effort who say the stresses imposed on the canyons are already becoming evident.

"We've got a lot of population loving these canyons. We have a million and half people living in the Salt Lake Valley and Park City Valley who all want to access these mountains and in the next 20 to 30 years that population is going to double, she said. "So it is really important that we plan for that now."

Jones said the goal is to build on previous studies that have been conducted to actually settle on resolutions or actions that balance all the competing interests for the canyons. A federal agency such as the Federal Highway Administration or the U.S. Forest Service will launch the environmental analysis in January of 2015, she added.

Fisher said the idea behind the accord is to provide a systematic approach to evaluating future development scenarios in a collective fashion, rather than piecemeal.

"In the past, projects come up one at a time and we evaluate those projects individually," he said. "What is unique about the Mountain Accord is that we are taking a holistic look at a ton of different projects that are facing our mountains."

Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, said development of a solid, workable transportation option for the canyons is critical to his organization.

"Obviously the skiers that Ski Utah represents are heavily invested in the future of the mountains," he said. "Finding a way to move people in and out of the mountains and move people between the resorts is a key focus for us."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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