It's a bluebird powder day a few years in the future and you're heading out for a backcountry tour. You haven't picked a destination yet, so you bring your Mill Creek Pass in case you tour in Mill Creek, your interagency access pass in case you go to Cardiff Fork, your UDOT Snowpark Pass in case you tour Butler Fork, and your Town of Alta Snowpark in case you decide to up-and-over from Alta to Big Cottonwood.
You pick up your buddies, decide to tour Wills Hill due to the high avalanche hazard, and decide to park at one of the Park-n-Rides at the bottom of Big Cottonwood. Unfortunately, you got a late start and the lots are full. You decide your best bet is to drive.
Double unfortunately, it's total gridlock at the bottom of the canyon. That used to be a thing in Little Cottonwood, but now it's a thing in Big Cottonwood too.
So, you inch up Big Cottonwood, but when you get to the Solitude Lot, not only is it $10 to park (that's not covered by your fee plans either), but the lot is full. You'd park on the road, but that's impossible. Cars stretch as far as the eye can see.
All of these fee programs, but none of them have addressed the most critical issue in the canyons: Improving the accessibility, frequency, and reliability of mass transit.
These were my thoughts when I picked up the Salt Lake Tribune this morning and learned that the US Forest Service is considering implementing a fee program in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon.
To be sure, I'm not opposed to fees. I buy a National Parks and Interagency Access Pass every year. For me, the proposed US Forest Service fees in the Cottonwoods would not be an additional financial burden (although I am sensitive to how such a program might reduce recreation access for other groups and individuals).
No, what concerns me is the potential for piecemeal implementation of these and other fees while having little impact on the real challenges facing the central Wasatch. The US Forest Service desires to improve parking lots, picnic areas, and trails. While a laudable goal, it is the automobile that is despoiling public recreation in the Wasatch. It's difficult to imagine that the proposed $6 three-day or $45 annual fee is going to do anything about that, especially since there is no public transit in the Cottonwoods during the hiking season.
What is needed is a real transportation plan, a strategy to fund it, and a unified, non-balkanized fee program to broadly support recreation infrastructure in the central Wasatch. Yes, I know I live in a dream world, but this is what I want, as opposed to a litany of fee programs that fail to address the 800 pound gorilla in the zoo.