Groups working to stop SkiLink, a proposed gondola from Canyons Resort in Park City to Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon are hoping to educate the public on what it could mean for Utah’s backcountry. Saturday, opponents invited the public on a hike to the site of the controversial project.
At 9:30 on Saturday morning a group of hikers is meeting at a trailhead just below the Solitude parking lot.
“We’re standing at the trailhead for the Willow Heights Conservation Area which is an area that we worked with Utah Open lands and Salt Lake City in a public/private partnership to protect these lands for their watershed and their scenic values.”
Carl Fisher, Executive Director of Save Our Canyons then led the small group up the trail to show what he says is at risk if SkiLink gets built.
“So we’re at Willow Lake right now, which is kind of the terminus of the hike for today. We have aspen and pine groves interacting but they would be cut.Then we would have 24 is what they’re saying lift towers replacing all of the trees that they’re taking out.”
But Senate Majority Whip Wayne Neiderhouser who sponsored a resolution last legislative session encouraging an interconnect system up Utah’s canyons admits if SkiLink goes forward it will impact the scenery but he says the state is already working to make sure the impact would be minimal.
“Obviously another lift is going to change landscape somewhat. But, in the resolution that we passed during the legislation session we wanted to make sure that the state was addressing some of the local issues, watershed and environmental issues.”
Proponents of SkiLink like Nedierhosuer argue that SkiLink would help cut down on traffic through the canyons and bring more tourists to Utah.
But Salt Lake City Democratic Representative Joel Briscoe, who went on Saturday’s hike and has voted against an interconnect proposal from the beginning, says seeing first hand what the impacts could look like reaffirmed his decision.
“Every ridge line in the Wasatch Front does not need to be clear cut so that we can put a ski lift on it or a gondola on it. It’s a wonderfully important industry for us but it doesn’t need to take every ridge line in the Wasatch.”
Opponents of SkiLink are hoping to do a lot more educating before the November election. Carl Fisher says a petition has been started to show opposition to the project but he says the most important thing people can do is research political candidates and get out and vote.
“We need people to know that there are people who support the protection of this place but there are also people who are seeking to develop it. And, we want people to know that when they step into that booth...they are voting for the future of the Wasatch, not in twenty years...but tomorrow.”
If SkiLink doesn’t go through, there are several other interconnect proposals on the table. Fisher says his group is not against all plans as long as they can have a seat at the table and watershed and maintaining the landscape are top priorities.