Salt Lake Valley Trails Society Objects to Trails Portion of 2016 Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Bill

The Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act of 2016 would protect and preserve the Central Wasatch in Utah. While the bill is for the most part balanced, it may impact several key mountain bike trails. This trail is Alta, and would not be impacted by the bill. Photo by Dave Iltis
The Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act of 2016 would protect and preserve the Central Wasatch in Utah. While the bill is for the most part balanced, it may impact several key mountain bike trails. This trail is Alta, and would not be impacted by the bill. Photo by Dave Iltis

Trails Group Wants to See Boundary Adjustments to Accommodate 3 Trails

November 12, 2016 – The Salt Lake Valley Trails Society is objecting to certain provisions in the Mountain Accord’s key outcome, the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act of 2016 (H.R. 5718) bill (CWNCRA) that is being introduced into Congress by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). In particular, the SLVTS objects to the alignment of the proposed mountain bike trail in Parley’s Canyon, the Little Cottonwood Canyon Trail, and the alignment of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail at the foot of Mt Olympus in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.

The Mountain Accord is a planning process that has led to a consensus outcome for the future of the Central Wasatch. It considered environment, economics, recreation, and transportation. Many stakeholders met over a couple of years to come together and discuss the key issues in preserving the Wasatch Mountains. 

According to Chaffetz’s press release, the CWNCRA would do the following:

This bill designates approximately 80,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land including critical watershed, scenic ridgelines, treasured landscapes and recreation areas while facilitating ski resorts to own more land in their established base areas. In this bill:

•  All existing recreational uses and permits will continue;
•  Natural resources and watersheds will be protected;
•  Existing Wilderness Area boundaries will be adjusted for the Bonneville Shoreline Trail alignment and for transportation improvements.
•  Approximately 8,000 acres of wilderness will be added;
•  The U.S. Forest Service will maintain ownership and management of the lands;
•  Land exchanges between the U.S. Forest Service and the four Cottonwood Canyons ski resorts are authorized;
•  Ski resort permit boundaries on U.S. Forest Service land will be fixed permanently after some adjustments through the existing permitting process;
•  New roads for automobiles will be prohibited on U.S. Forest Service land;
•  No restrictions will be placed on U.S. Forest Service management for fire suppression, vegetation maintenance, avalanche control or other emergency measures;
•  Private land within the area or adjacent to the area being designated will not be affected;
•  Future transportation improvements are not precluded and can be made on an as needed basis.

In a statement released today, SLVTS takes a position on each of the three trails mentioned above.

On the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, perhaps the keystone trail in Utah, the Mountain Accord had recommended a realignment of the Mt. Olympus Wilderness Boundary to accommodate mountain bikers on the foot of Mt. Olympus. As it currently is, since mountain biking is not allowed in wilderness, mountain bikers must detour onto Wasatch Boulevard in order to bypass the off-limits section of the trail.

In Little Cottonwood Canyon, the SLVTS is asking for a realignment of the right of way at the base of White Pine Canyon. This will allow mountain biking to co-exist with potential transit solutions, and with the riparian area of Little Cottonwood Creek. This would allow the existing Little Cottonwood Canyon Trail to connect to Snowbird.

In Parley’s Canyon, a soft-surfaced mountain bike trail is proposed on the southside of Interstate 80 from the mouth of Parley’s Canyon to Mountain Dell, approximately halfway up the canyon. The current Mt. Aire and proposed new alignments of the wilderness boundaries would preclude a trail from ever being built in this area. 

The full statement by SLVTS can be found here and also is pasted below in this article.

SLVTS is asking interested mountain bikers to write letters of support for their position to some of Utah’s House of Representatives delegation:

[email protected]
Mia Love’s legislative aid for natural resources

[email protected]
Chris Stewart’s legislative aid for natural resources

[email protected]
Jason Chaffetz’s legislative aid for natural resources

[email protected]
Natural Resources Committee Clerk

Editor’s Note: Cycling Utah has not yet taken a position on the bill or on the final version of the Mountain Accord process. We did sit on the recreation committee, and provided a great deal of input, some of which was incorporated.

Full Statement by SLVTS on the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act of 2016

Salt Lake Valley Trails Society

Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Bill Position Statement

The Salt Lake Valley Trails Society (SLVTS) is appreciative of its opportunity to engage the Mountain Accord (MA) process on behalf of the more than 50,000 active mountain bikers in the Salt Lake Valley, as well as the tens of thousands of cyclists who visit the Wasatch from around the state and across the country. While we appreciate that the MA is actively considering ways in which to provide sustainable recreational opportunities for cyclists in the Central Wasatch, the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area (CWNCRA) bill as proposed by Rep. Chaffetz is flawed with respect to historic and planned mountain bike routes.  Without MA curing the three primary deficiencies outlined below, the SLVTS will be unable to support the CWNCRA.

  1.       The Bonneville Shoreline Trail (BST). Statutorily designated as Utah’s Millennium Legacy Trail, UCA §79-5-503, the BST is the primary trail resource for the vast majority of Salt Lake Valley residents.  A cherished trail by the residents across the Wasatch front, the BST is intended as a multi-use trail (see, BST Trail Design Memorandum of Understanding). However, its functionality as a multi-use trail is interrupted by wilderness areas as it skirts the edges of the Mt. Olympus, Twin Peaks and Lone Peak wilderness areas.  One of the stated objectives of the CWNCRA is to adjust the boundaries along small portions of wilderness that interrupt the BST, but, unfortunately, the revised wilderness area boundaries, as presently drafted, are insufficient to achieve the goal of creating mountain bike accessible trail connectivity. The boundary adjustments are based on bad data, inconsistent with existing Forest Service work and plans, and would require the building of trail in unsustainable or infeasible locations, such as across cliff faces.  The MA team was alerted to these problems through written correspondence at least as early as April of 2016. The SLVTS requires that adequate accommodation for the preferred alignment of a sustainable multi-use trail be facilitated by the wilderness boundary adjustments
  2.       Parley’s Canyon. Parley’s Canyon is the principal travel route between the Salt Lake Valley and Summit County and has been studied extensively for development of alternate modes of transportation, principally cycling (see Parleys Canyon Trail Feasibility Study 2012). As part of this analysis, Salt Lake County proposed and sited a soft surface trail running along the south of Interstate 80, extending from Wasatch Boulevard to Interstate 80’s Mountain Dell exit. As presently drafted, the CWNCRA-proposed Mt. Aire wilderness area includes arbitrary-drawn “corners” that approach the Interstate 80 right of way near the mouth of Parley’s Canyon, where the canyon is narrow and steep and would require segments to be built across cliff faces, effectively precluding construction of a usable trail. The lack of consideration for trail construction in this heavily congested area (and lack coordination with existing trail plans) in favor of arbitrarily drawn “wilderness” areas will effectively permanently preclude any constructing of a soft surface cycling route through Parley’s Canyon. As discussed below, the SLVTS proposes that the arbitrary wilderness “corners” that prevent trail construction be removed and the Mt. Aire wilderness area boundaries be slightly revised in a manner that will allow for the construction of a usable and sustainable multi-use trail.
  3.       The Little Cottonwood Canyon Trail (LCCT). The LCCT has long been a favorite summertime recreation area for many user groups, including mountain bikers.  As currently constructed, the LCCT suffers from user conflict due to gradient, trail design and constriction caused by existing rights of way (ROW) along the canyon floor. As presently drafted, the CWNCRA proposes to establish a Special Management Area (SMA) in and around White Pine Canyon that would disallow bicycles.  This SMA designation would essentially manage the area as wilderness, but allow helicopters. In addition, the CWNCRA would revise existing wilderness boundaries to permit a transit corridor to the west (or down-canyon) from the White Pine SMA.  The SLVTS would like to see the CWNCRA slightly revised to allow for improvements to be made to the existing LCCT and permit the LCCT to continue through the northern edge of the White Pine SMA to connect the trail to Snowbird. In order to minimize user conflict and create sustainable trails in a riparian area such as this, it is necessary to have a right of way that is substantial enough to accommodate proper and sustainable trail design. The proposed removal of wilderness for a transit corridor right of way and designation of the White Pine SMA make a sustainable LCCT through this area impossible. The SLVTS members need a minimum 60-foot ROW for this trail across the mouth of White Pine and in addition to the transit corridor.

Resolution of these three challenges will involve detailed mapping, which the current draft of the CWNCRA contemplates will come only after the bill has passed. This presents an opportunity for two possible solutions:

  1.      “Snap to” wilderness boundaries determined by an offset (50 ft.) from the centerline of an environmentally assessed trail alignment.
  2.      Give the above identified opportunities a wide berth by ensuring that wilderness and SMA lands provide for a robust multi-use trail right of way.

Interestingly, these all of these issues arise because of totally arbitrary, usually rectilinear, boundaries which do not reflect on-the-ground realities. Furthermore, the solutions proposed above would affect less than 1% of lands conserved under the bill and will not affect the wilderness characteristics of the areas. Instead, all of the adjustments to wilderness boundaries will be in and around existing roads, houses and other development.  There is a great opportunity to create sustainable trails which will be lost for generations if the CWNCRA is not amended to provide for the environmentally sustainable construction/reconstruction of the Parley’s Canyon soft surface trail, the Little Cottonwood Canyon Trail and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. SLVTS membership believes that now is the time to get this right.

 

 

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