PROVO — Scores of residents packed the Utah County Commission chambers Tuesday to voice their anxiety and disapproval of a proposal that would trade just over 400 acres of coveted land in American Fork Canyon for about 1,400 acres of federal forest land located in Salt Lake County.
At issue is a potential land swap between the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort and the U.S. Forest Service.
The resort is proposing swapping approximately 1,400 acres of forest area for 416 acres of land in one of American Fork Canyon’s more popular recreation areas.
Critics contend that Snowbird has plans for expansion in Mineral Basin, installing a gondola at Tibble Fork and building condominiums on Miller Hill as well as the Utah County land swap that is part of the Mountain Accord process in Salt Lake, Wasatch and Summit counties. If approved, the swap would give the resort a contiguous connector to land it already owns in the canyon area.
In February, Mountain Accord, a consortium of public and private entities, released its proposed plan for future development of the central Wasatch recreation areas. The overall plan noted economic centers and transit routes, and asked the public to give specific feedback about what Utah should look like in the future.
Mark Allen, co-founder of a group called Protect and Preserve American Fork Canyon, said this most recent development proposal is troubling to many who fear they might lose access to some of the most scenic open land in the region.
“If you want to see the hand of God, come over to American Fork Canyon,” he said. “The views are undisturbed and it’s absolutely fantastic! It’s the reason why 1.2 million people (visit) American Fork Canyon.”
He queried about the impact of commercializing one of the most naturally appealing recreation areas in the state.
“What happens if the mouth of the canyon becomes like Springdale by Zions — a gateway community to a recreation area?” he asked. “It might be beneficial to Cedar Hills perhaps, but it’s detrimental to the whole (American Fork community).”
Allen said he believes Snowbird is being evasive about its plans for potential development of the land they are considering trading with the Forest Service.
“We just want to know what their intentions are,” he said. “What’s the end game?”
He also voiced strong concerns about the lack of inclusion of Utah County in the ongoing Mountain Accord planning process, noting that Utah County civic leaders have been mostly removed from the discussions concerning the possible land swap.
Utah County Commission Chairman Larry Ellertson said commissioners were recently notified of the proposed land deal and are eager to learn more about what the potential impacts of such a swap might be, though no specific plans have been introduced thus far.
“We need to have information meetings and learn the facts to make sure we’re all straight and then have the discussion of where we go from here,” he said Tuesday.
Ellertson said the commission hopes to organize meetings with various stakeholders, including concerned residents and Snowbird representatives, to come to a complete understanding of what is being proposed and what would be acceptable as a possible compromise if the proposal moves forward.
“In terms of making a final decision, it’s prudent that we all take the time to understand what is intended to be done,” he said. “We have a genuine interest in working through this and making the best decision for everyone involved.”
Snowbird officials did not respond Tuesday to calls and emails for comment.
Meanwhile, the Mountain Accord executive committee is expected to have a meeting July 13 to gauge support from stakeholders on proposed suggestions for future development, said Dave Whittekiend, supervisor for the U.S. Forest Service and member of the committee.
There will also be a concerted effort to involve Utah County stakeholders in the discussion regarding the land swap proposal, he said.
“The executive committee is aware of the controversy surrounding this and there are lots of alternatives out there (to consider),” Whittekiend said.
As for the upcoming meeting for Mountain Accord, he said it would mark a pivotal point in the planning process and the future of the Wasatch Front recreation areas.
“It could include the potential land exchanges, broad proposals for transportation solutions for the canyons over to Park City, a train network proposal and a lot of different things,” Whittekiend explained. “It’s everything we’ve been looking at at Mountain Accord.”
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