A first draft of Salt Lake County's preliminary Wasatch Canyon Master Plan stops short of endorsing the so-called Ski Interconnect proposal to link Park City with Big and Little Cottonwood canyon ski areas.

But the preliminary draft is just a starting point for further discussions and public hearings. Much of it will be thoroughly debated and possibly changed before a final plan is adopted.The interconnect issue is only one of many addressed in the 45-page document, which was discussed Tuesday for the first time by a 25-member citizens advisory committee appointed to assist in the master planning process.

The proposal to link ski areas drew by far the most focus during public hearings held in July and August. Gov. Norm Bangerter, the ski industry and Park City business interests wholeheartedly endorsed the concept as creating a "mega-resort" that would rival European ski areas in size and boost the state's economy by creating new jobs.

Environmental groups oppose the interconnect, saying it will bring increased commercialization, heavier traffic and greater potential for permanent environmental damage into the Cottonwood canyons.

The draft plan walks a line between the two sides of the battle. It says a system of chairlifts linking the ski resort areas is not desirable and that a year-round road over Guardsman's Pass is also not the solution.

The draft does not rule out linking the resorts in the future, but says any ski interconnect proposal should be considered only in a broader context as part of a comprehensive canyon transportation system.

The citizens committee will spend the next month studying, debating and revising the preliminary plan before it is sent out for a first round of public comment. A public hearing on the preliminary plan is scheduled before the Salt Lake County Planning Commission on Nov. 22 at Olympus High School.

Following that hearing and any planning commission revisions, a final plan will be sent to county commissioners for another round of public hearings. The county hopes to have a plan adopted by the end of the year.

The canyon master plan seeks to balance development with environmental protection, and will "more clearly guide the allocation of future uses within the seven major Wasatch canyons," the draft says.

The plan focuses primarily on the Cottonwood canyons but also will affect land uses in City Creek, Red Butte, Emigration, Parleys and Mill Creek canyons.

Protecting canyon watersheds, which provide water for nearly all the Salt Lake Valley, is identified as the plan's foremost consideration. But more pages of the first draft are devoted to skiing and transportation issues than to any others.

A comprehensive mountain transportation system is needed to address all canyon transportation issues. But at this stage the system should not be promoted as single transportation mode - such as a tram, a cog rail system or the so-called "Supertunnel," the draft said.

A transportation system should efficiently move people between the Salt Lake Valley, the Cottonwood canyon ski areas, other ski areas and the Heber Valley, but should not be used to promote ski resort expansion.

Canyon ski resorts should not expand their skier capacities beyond those already established by the U.S. Forest Service land management plan for the canyons.

The draft also calls for incentives to encourage more skiers to ride the bus and to carpool to canyon ski areas, and disincentives to otherwise discourage the driving of private vehicles.

The possibility of holding future Winter Olympic events in the canyons is not ruled out by the draft. But it calls construction in the canyons of any new facilities needed to stage Olympic events "undesirable."