clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Save Our Canyons vocal about Wasatch

Save Our Canyons and the National Forest Service have a love-hate relationship. They work together to rebuild trails, but Save Our Canyons also has a lawsuit against the Forest Service.

"We can be a real nuisance," said SOC President Gale Dick.

Meet Save Our Canyons, a local, nonprofit organization focused on protecting the Wasatch Mountains above Salt Lake City. It is about 1,000 members strong. It gives written and vocal input to the Forest Service, volunteers to do work on trails, picks up trash on the side of a canyon road and occasionally takes the Forest Service or some other organization to court.

SOC currently has a lawsuit asking the Forest Service to take a harder look at whether helicopters carrying skiers should be allowed to operate in the mountains near Salt Lake City.

SOC is concerned about the impact the helicopters and the explosives used by the helicopter-ski companies for avalanches has on wildlife and other people who are hiking or skiing in the backcountry, Dick said.

Without pro bono work done by lawyers, it would be impossible to bring the lawsuits, Dick said.

Still, the organization racked up $35,000 in legal fees fighting Salt Lake County to keep a road out of the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. SOC lost that battle.

Lawsuits are often what put SOC in the limelight, but it has only launched a handful of lawsuits over the years, said SOC trustee Alexis Kelner. It isn't the first course of action.

Members try to influence the Forest Service through submitting written comments and attending public meetings, he said, because the Forest Service makes many of the decisions affecting the canyons.

Federal agencies like the Forest Service often ignore the advice of citizens like the members of SOC, Dick said, and that leads to lawsuits.

"I don't envy Forest Service personnel at all," Dick said. "They've got people like us and other organizations yammering on one side. They've got Congress and individual senators yammering at them. They've got an industry demanding that they do thus."

Sometimes SOC can't stand what the Forest Service does, and the Forest Service probably feels the same way about SOC sometimes, Dick said.

But when it comes to volunteer work, SOC has a close relationship with the Forest Service, SOC volunteer coordinator Gayle Parry said.

During the past year, SOC volunteers have come out for four weekends to work on four different trails: the Mill B North and Mill D North trails in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Catherine Pass near Alta and the Lake Mary Trail at Brighton.

The Lake Mary Trail, which reopened Sept. 29 after being closed for three years, was in large part funded by a $2,500 grant that SOC received from REI, Parry said.

With shovels, rakes and axes, about 12 SOC volunteers helped volunteers from other organizations to rebuild the trail.

"It's manual labor," Parry said.

The Forest Service did most of the work and paid for a big part of it, too, Parry said.

SOC started working with the Forest Service four years ago to help maintain trails because there were so many people calling SOC, asking if they could volunteer, Parry said.

Now SOC doesn't publicize when it's going to do trail maintenance, because the Forest Service can only supervise so many volunteers, Parry said.

"We're actually afraid that we're going to get too many volunteers," she said.

Volunteers do many other things, Parry said, like research and write about important issues, set up tables and pass out literature, bookkeeping for SOC and picking up trash along the two miles of highway that SOC has adopted in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

In fact, SOC is run by volunteers, Dick said. It only has a staff of two. Up until about five years ago, it was a loosely held together volunteer organization, he said.

They decided to make the change to a more organized group so they could accomplish more, Dick said. Now members pay dues: $15 for students, $35 for regular members and $50 for a family. SOC is run from donations and the membership dues.

"It took awhile for us to figure out what we could do except run around in circles and go AHHH!" Dick, who helped start SOC over 30 years ago, said.

But they did things in the early years, too.

Save Our Canyons was formed in 1972 to stop the Forest Service from allowing Snowbird to build its resort, Dick said.

They saw Snowbird as part of the "urbanization" of the canyons, and the resort was also going in a favorite backcountry ski spot, he said.

"We're all skiers," Dick said. "We were never anti-skiing or anything like that. We just didn't like the direction things were going."

As part of its goal to keep urbanization out of the Wasatch Mountains, SOC has been active in the forming of wilderness areas.

It had a lead role in forming the Lone Peak Wilderness Area in the '70s and also helped form other wilderness areas, including the Twin Peaks, Olympus, Timpanogos and Nebo wilderness areas, said Kelner.

SOC is now trying to get about 30,000 more acres of Utah designated as wilderness area. Some of the acres were originally cut out of other wilderness area proposals. The other areas are already being treated like wilderness area, so they might as well be classified that way, Dick said.

Wilderness area cannot have any wheeled vehicles, roads or airplanes, he said.

"So basically, it's keep it wild," Dick said.