New Wasatch Canyons Master Plan may limit recreation use

The Wasatch Mountains. Photo by Jared Hargrave

The Wasatch Mountains. Photo by Jared Hargrave

The canyons of the Wasatch Mountains may look a bit different in the years to come as new land-use policies are being drafted to replace the Salt Lake County 1989 Wasatch Canyons Master Plan. The plan essentially is the Bible for how we use the land in City Creek, Emigration, Red Butte, Parley’s. Mill Creek, Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood Canyons.

Over the summer Salt Lake County, through Envision Utah, has been asking for public input as part of a planning process called Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow. They’re hoping to get an idea of how canyon users want to protect and recreate in the Wasatch Mountains while still protecting the natural environment. Some suggestions have included decreasing the number of cars and increasing public transportation, adding bike lanes, and limiting new development.

Save Our Canyons, a non-profit organization that works to protect the Wasatch Mountains, has been extremely vocal about land-use issues in the canyons. They’ve especially been outspoken against the Wasatch Powderbird Guides heli-skiing operation and have been looking for ways to limit their area of operation. The U.S. Forest Service recently renewed the permit that allows the Wasatch Powderbird Guides to drop skiers off on top of Wasatch peaks, only this time around the permit has been bumped up to ten years as opposed to the five-year duration of past permits.

What does this all mean for the new Wasatch Canyons Master Plan that is being developed? One course of action Save Our Canyons will pursue is recommending more legal wilderness areas in the Wasatch. If wilderness designation is assigned to vast swaths of land in the canyons, it could seriously limit the places a helicopter could fly. Other entities, including Salt Lake City Public Utilities, have also proposed increased wilderness designation.

More legal wilderness in the Wasatch would have a detrimental effect on outdoor recreation in the canyons, not limited to heli-skiing. Any form of mechanical recreation, including mountain biking, would be banned within wilderness boundaries. To see what new wilderness boundaries are being proposed, take a look at the Save Our Canyons Proposed Wilderness Map.

Land use in the Wasatch is a complicated issue with many competing interests. Aside from the permit renewal for the Wasatch Powderbird Guides, nothing has been decided. In fact, public comment is still being taken by Envision Utah this week at the following events:

Wednesday, November 4th 6:30-8:00 p.m.
Skyline High School (Cafeteria)
3251 East 3760 South, Salt Lake City 84109

Sandy City Hall
10000 Centennial Parkway, Sandy 84070 (Second floor multipurpose room)

Thursday, November 5th 6:30-8:00 p.m.
West High School
241 North 300 West, Salt Lake City 84103 (Commons Area)

West Jordan High School
8136 South 2700 West , West Jordan 84088 (Media Center)

You can also complete a survey online at


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