Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Central Wasatch Need Better Transit and a Better Fee Plan

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.  


  1. Lack of mass transit and over breeding is the 1,000 pound gorilla at the zoo.

  2. The article did mention that this fee might/should go towards starting summer bus service.

    This particular fee/pass would be covered by the Interagency pass, and would work in the American Fork and Mirror Lake fee areas, which is nice. That's not to say private entities won't charge other fees (Solitude lot?), but the current direction of the proposal is for a unified fee-and-pass structure.

    In theory a fee would also encourage users to go elsewhere, thus reducing traffic. BUT... the resorts are the reason for the winter traffic, and this fee specifically doesn't apply to resort users, so it's not much help with the "powder day problem" there.

    I saw this today on Reddit, maybe a huge bus that drives over normal traffic is the answer we're looking for:

  3. From what I hear, the resorts are not very interested in solutions that involve busses or slugging, or anything "low-class" that commits them into serving the local populace better. Their big margins are from wealthy travelers that come in on airplanes and stay up canyon, and they would rather shift focus to that clientele, which necessarily involves more development in the canyons (of condos etc) and ultimately exclusion of the local populace. Their stated goals are to be more like exclusive resorts like Aspen, Telluride, etc, places where regular joes don't go. Their focus is on connecting themselves to Park City and all its luxury amenities. They are not looking down the canyon to the west.

  4. Jim, I, if course agree with your view here. Bill's comments prompted me to look up resort visitor spending. Apparently, considering all resorts and parks in the state, spending was 8 billion dollars with 6.8 billion of that from out of staters. The ski resorts spending was 1.2 to 1.3 billion. This means that out of state ski spending was around 1 billion (using the overall percentage of in/out spending). It's a no brainier as to who the resorts are looking to. Thats why Vail is buying up mom and pop resorts in the Midwest - get em out here to spend on a cheap Epic Pass.

    Locals spending is at the margin. I wonder if we'll see the resorts put up more employee housing in the Canyons? Then we'll know what they really think.