Central Wasatch Commission Visitor-Use Study

In early 2021, the Central Wasatch Commission released a request for proposals for a visitor-use study for the Central Wasatch mountains. Ultimately this project will provide results to help manage the amounts and types of use to achieve desired conditions. Specifically, the results of this project will provide information for managers and associated decisions-makers to assist in the management of each Canyon prescriptively for different physical, ecological, and social conditions, to plan for and achieve an ideal transportation system, increase recreation quality, appropriately distribute use, and plan for increased recreational visitation while preserving desired conditions.


This project will be the first in the Canyons to comprehensively analyze and determine the current conditions and ideal visitor capacity. This project will evaluate the current temporal and spatial distributions of use, while generating the necessary inputs for transportation modeling, including pedestrian modeling. This information is necessary to ensure that infrastructure and management alterations in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons are legally defensible, sensitive to constituent needs, and incorporate future visitor use projections while preserving desirable and high-quality conditions. Inherent in the interaction of transportation and recreation is the concept of visitor capacity, which is the maximum amount and type of recreation use that can be accommodated without unacceptable impacts to social, ecological, and environmental conditions. Capacity can be social, physical, and ecological, and this study is hopefully intended to incorporate all three.


Social elements are subjective and describe a threshold or range of conditions that are acceptable and desired, such as ’no more than 10 people within view at one time’ or ‘no more than 3 minutes waiting for a parking spot.’ When conditions remain within a social or experiential capacity, the quality of the recreation experience is maintained, provided the ecological system is also sustained. However, without understanding preferences for these conditions, managers do not have defensible information for limiting use or other management actions.


Physical elements are more objective and are the threshold that existing infrastructure can accommodate specific levels of use, such as the number of parking spaces in a lot or the number of sites in a campground. Ecological capacity involves assessing the resilience and resistance of specific ecosystem elements, including endemic species, related to recreation.


On January 21, 2021, the Central Wasatch Commission distributed the visitor-use study request for proposals to: Utah State Procurement and Purchasing Department for website, the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals for website/newsletter, the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education for website/newsletter, 27 of top 100 (Western) academic institutions with Outdoor Recreation Research Departments, and Utah Business for website/magazine.


By February 15, 2021, eight (8) proposals were received and have been sent to the selection committee comprised of Commissioners, CWC jurisdictional staff, and CWC stakeholders. The selection committee will recommend a consultant to the CWC Chair, and during the March 2021 CWC Board meeting, the Commission will deliberate over the recommendation from the selection committee.

Additional information regarding the USU Visitor Use Study can be found in the Budget Finance Audit Committee Minutes and the Central Wasatch Commission Board Minutes of May/June/July 2021 here.


Visitor Use Study framework infographic. To read the entire Phase I Report of the VUS, click this photo or see the link below.


Visitor Use Study Interlocal Cooperation Agreement with Utah State University

Visitor Use Study Proposal

Visitor Use Study Phase I Report 

Visitor-Use Study Phase II Update

Visitor-Use Study Phase II Trails Component Report