Recap of 2020 and looking forward to 2021
Despite the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to 2020, the Central Wasatch Commission was able to fund seven short-term projects, finalize three public comment periods, and make progress on the Environmental Dashboard and Mountain Transportation System projects.
In late-March, 2020 the Commission opened a call for project ideas that would implement transportation solutions and protect the ecosystems and watersheds that originate in the Central Wasatch, steward recreational access, and sustain the economic viability of the Cottonwood Canyons. On May 4th, 2020, the Commission’s Board approved funding for seven project proposals that could be implemented in 2020.
The following projects were funded and complete in 2020:
- Maintenance of three U.S. Forest Service (USFS) trailhead bathrooms at Donut Falls, Mill B, and Temple Quarry trailheads. This project built upon the partnership between the Central Wasatch Commission, Salt Lake City Public Utilities, and the USFS to clean and maintain existing bathroom facilities at popular trailheads. This funding ensured that the USFS could continue to provide public access to restrooms during COVID-19 pandemic, to make sure the watersheds of the Central Wasatch were not getting overrun with human waste.
- Co-sponsored “Chipper Days” throughout Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons, Millcreek Canyon, and the Parley’s Canyon Corridor. This project allowed for a partnership among the Central Wasatch Commission, local jurisdictions, and the State’s Division of Forestry Fire, and State Lands to help mitigate potential fire risks throughout the project area by reducing fuels and educating the public on best fuels management practices.
- The Commission assisted in Utah Open Lands’ fundraising efforts to acquire a 26-acre parcel of land at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Other supporters of this project were Central Wasatch Commission member jurisdictions Cottonwood Heights and Salt Lake County. This land acquisition will protect vital viewshed and provide an opportunity to create a trailhead for access to adjacent trails and recreational areas as well as connect a portion of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.
- The Commission supported the ongoing maintenance of the Lone Peak Wilderness Wag Bag Kiosk, sponsored by Save Our Canyons, the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance, and the Gear Room SLC. The funding provided by the CWC allowed Save Our Canyons staff to continue replenishing wag bags at the Jacob’s Ladder trailhead, allowing hikers to pack out their human waste rather than leaving it in wilderness and watershed areas.
- A stewardship project at the Gate Buttress trail in Little Cottonwood Canyon to improve and define trails leading to popular rock climbing areas. This project also included the replacement of aging fixed hardware on climbing routes using a combination of professional trail crews and volunteers. The CWC partnered with the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance to make this project idea a reality.
- The construction of two bridges to allow the rerouted Dog Lake trail to cross a ravine the east side of Reynolds Peak. This project built upon a partnership among the CWC, Trails Utah, and the U.S. Forest Service to address erosion, watershed protection, and safety of the trail.
- The Commission provided funding to the Wasatch Graffiti Busters to remove around 300 graffiti tags that appeared on rocks, bathroom doors, and trailhead signs. The CWC was able to provide funding for the watershed-safe solvent used to remove tags as well as a power washer, making the removal easier and faster.
The Central Wasatch Commission also provided $20,000 to Trails Utah in 2020 to complete needed trail maintenance work on the Desolation Trail. That trail work will begin in late spring 2021, weather permitting.
Mountain Transportation System
Early in 2020, the Commission set out to further refine and develop the transportation principles outlined in the Mountain Accord Charter
and create a Mountain Transportation System for the Central Wasatch Mountains, including Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, Parley’s Canyon, and connection to the Wasatch Back.
The CWC held two public comment periods in 2020 and received roughly 600 comments. The first comment period was from February 7th through March 4th, aimed at gathering public input regarding the scope, goals, and attributes of an MTS. On September 18th, the CWC held a virtual
Mountain Transportation System Expert Panel discussing the MTS Report that came out following the first public-comment period in March and released the MTS Draft Alternatives Report and the Design Your Own MTS Survey. Following the panel, another 30-day public comment period was released aimed at gathering public input about the report.
On November 13th and 14th, the CWC hosted the MTS Virtual Summit,
where the board and public discussed the MTS Draft Alternatives report. Finally, in December, the CWC Board had their annual retreat and discussed options for a future MTS for the Central Wasatch. The Board
decided that they will continue to meet bi-monthly to discuss a future plan for an MTS through April 2021.
To read more about the MTS process, click here.
The Environmental Dashboard project was resumed in 2020 after a hiatus. This project started in 2015 with a Mountain Accord environmental system group. When complete, the Dashboard will serve as a centralized access point for information about the ecology of the Central Wasatch Mountains. The Environmental Dashboard is projected to be online and freely available to the public by late December 2021.
For more information on the Environmental Dashboard, click here.
Central Wasatch National Recreation Area Act (CWNCRA)
On October 27, 2020, the most current draft of the CWNCRA was released. This consensus-based bill is aimed at protecting drinking water sources, preserving recreational opportunities for the future, and ensuring enjoyment of the Central Wasatch Mountains in the face of pressures from a growing population.
All the drafts of this legislation reflect proposed changes being considered. Each time a new draft is released, the CWC engages the public for comment and works with stakeholders to attempt to resolve components of the legislation in a consensus-based approach. In 2020, the CWC opened a 30-day public comment period on the draft bill. To read more about the CWNCRA and the comments, click here.
Looking forward to 2021
In 2021, the Central Wasatch Commission aims to arrive at a consensus recommendation on a Mountain Transportation System. Following the 2020 Mountain Transportation System process that included two comment periods, two reports examining the Scope, Objectives, and Attributes of a proposed MTS and the draft Alternatives under consideration, an expert panel, and the MTS Summit in November, the Commission lengthened the year-long process until April 2021. Between January and April 20201, the Commission will consider each transportation mode and alternative in more detail during twice-monthly public meetings.
In late 2020, the CWC released a new draft of the CWNCRA legislation and opened a public comment period. CWC staff and Commissioners will continue to refine the draft legislation over the first half of 2021.
The CWC will open a second call for project ideas in late January/early February for the public to respond to. The Short-Term Projects Committee will convene in March to consider projects for funding during the 2021 work season.
Over the course of 2021, progress will continue on the Environmental Dashboard. The project team will develop a prototype of the Dashboard that the public will be invited to view, use, and provide feedback on. The goal is to have the Dashboard functional by the end of 2021.
Written by Quinn Graves and Lindsey Nielsen
Header photo by Sebastian Callahan