The importance of the Wasatch canyons to Salt Lake City has become obvious in recent years as flood, drought, and proposals for winter Olympics surfaced. The canyons are critical sources of recreation, tourism, and high-quality water for the entire Salt Lake Valley.The public now faces a unique opportunity to determine the direction of future growth in our precious canyons, especially Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. A canyon master plan draft document is now available for public comment at the following locations:

(1) Salt Lake County Government Center, 2001 S. State St. Room N3700; (2) Whitmore Library, 2197 E. 7000 South, Main Desk; (3) Bear West (Consultant for the master plan), 9 Exchange Place (Boston Bldg. - at 355 South), suite 1000.

Public hearings are scheduled for July 27 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Olympus Jr. High (2217 East 4800 South) and on August 1 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Salt Lake County Government Center, room N1100 (2001 S. State).

The public will have a chance to select from a range of alternative options contained within four scenarios described in the draft master plan. However, as the plan notes, much future development is beyond the control of the master plan.

For instance, Solitude Ski Resort already has preliminary approval for a 320-unit condominium proposal and related Big Cottonwood sewer line which the master plan barely mentions, as it assumes to have no jurisdiction over these projects.

In addition to these projects, the master plan draft assumes no jurisdiction over numerous private cabins that have existing water rights. And Solitude's Phase 1, which will increase its lift capacity by about 30 percent, also has preliminary approval.

Likewise, Brighton is seeking approval for a similar increase in lift capacity and wants to install snowmaking equipment which will add to the urban noise level at night in Big Cottonwood Canyon and may also increase the number of skiers it serves.

So, it may seem as though the battle to stop the urbanization of the canyons has already been lost. But this simply is not true. The master plan remains an important opportunity for the public to direct future growth and management policies for the canyons.

To achieve this, I urge citizens to voice support for the "Green Scenario," a proposal from conservationist groups along the Wasatch Front.

The Green Scenario is in conformance with the existing Wasatch-Cache National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, which was approved in 1985 after extensive input from all parties, including the ski resorts and the public. The Green Scenario will allow ski resorts to expand in the future, but only to the level permitted in the Forest Plan and only within existing boundaries.

The Green Scenario will keep our canyons green by utilization of bus pullouts and limited new parking on widened shoulders at trailhead access sites and implementing bus or shuttle bus service to trailheads during peak summer and winter periods.

In contrast, all four scenarios in the county's draft master plan would add at least 4.5 acres of new parking lots (between Emigration, Mill Creek, Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon), detracting significantly from the existing charm of the canyons.

The scenic quality of the canyons would also deteriorate noticeably if ski interconnect were built. Ski interconnect, if approved, would link the Park City Ski Resort and all the resorts in the canyons into one massive web by building lifts over strategic passes between the canyons.

Unfortunately, three of the four scenarios in the county's draft master plan include some form of intrusion by interconnect. This is true despite the fact that the town of Alta is prohibiting any ski lift development in Grizzly Gulch, which is ski interconnect's preferred link to Little Cottonwood Canyon.

No new overnight commercial lodging facilities will be permitted in the canyons under the Green Scenario. This could be a plus overall to Salt Lake's economy since canyon lodging can diminish valley lodging utilization. In addition, overdevelopment of the canyons adversely impacts on the quality of life in the valley.

Year-round use of the canyons will be emphasized under the Green Scenario. New camping and picnicking facilities will be encouraged, with provisions made for preventing oils, grease, and trash from entering our water supply. Increased bus use would be encouraged in the short run to alleviate canyon traffic problems.

Under the Green Scenario, the drive up the canyons will continue to be pleasurable. Fishing and hunting will remain enjoyable, as will hiking, sledding, ski touring, showshoeing, picnicking and camping.

Recreation's role as the dominant and most important use of the canyons will be recognized. Mining and grazing will be phased out. Winter Olympics will be discouraged within the canyons since they can be entirely accommodated in areas which are less sensitive environmentally, such as Park City and Snowbasin.

Land-use alternatives having effects on water quality which cannot be mitigated will not be considered. Thus, the valley will be assured a continued source of high quality water balanced with a continuation of numerous opportunities for high quality recreational experiences.

The Green Scenario presents a vision of our canyons for the future. It offers Salt Lake Valley residents a real opportunity to save something which is dear to all of us. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up.

(Michael Budig is co-chairman of the Save Our Canyons organization.)