Salt Lake County Council Allows MTB Trails, Disallows MTB Parks in Cottonwood Canyons

Two riders at the start of the Big Mountain Trail at Snowbird on July 14,
Two riders at the start of the Big Mountain Trail at Snowbird on July 14, 2014.  Trails like this will continue to be allowed in the Cottonwood Canyons, but mountain bike terrain parks will not. Photo: Dave Iltis

March 10, 2017 – The Salt Lake County Council voted on Tuesday March 7, 2017 to keep mountain bike trails, but eliminate “Mountain Bike Terrain Parks” from potential uses by ski areas in Little and Big Cottonwood Canyon according to a Facebook post by Councilwoman Jenny Wilson.

The Mountain Resort Zone ordinance (MRZ) is being considered by the Council, and according to the agenda, the meeting on March 7, 2017 was to clarify language in the MRZ ordinance. The final vote will be on March 14 to approve the entire ordinance. The MRZ ordinance governs private property at the 4 ski resorts in the Cottonwood Canyons (Alta, Snowbird, Solitude, Brighton). According to Save Our Canyons, “The MRZ is specific to ski resort properties and splits the zoning on those properties between “village” and “recreation” zones with the purpose of ensuring that any additional development occurs only in the appropriate zone.” The MRZ comes on the heels of the Mountain Accord planning process, a several year effort to plan for the future of the Central Wasatch Mountains. The ordinance is not part of the Mountain Accord, but rather an outcome of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee to revise the Foothills and Canyons Overlay Zone (FCOZ).

On her Facebook page, Wilson stated: “You win some, you lose some. In today’s Council meeting I successfully passed ordinance language eliminating mountain bike terrain parks from our canyons but my attempt to pass a zip line length limit was defeated. Compromise is the cornerstone of any healthy process.”

A terrain park is defined in the US Forest Service Recreation Manual as:  “FSM 2300 – RECREATION, WILDERNESS, AND RELATED RESOURCE MANAGEMENT: chapter 2340 Definitions- Terrain Park.  An area with artificial features such as jumps, rails, boxes, quarter- and half-pipes, and other obstacles that is used by freestyle skiers and snowboarders in the snow season and by bicycles in non-snow season.” (The definition applies to the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act (SAROEA) Pub. L. 112-46, 125 Stat. 538)

Currently, of the four ski areas in the Cottonwood Canyons, only Snowbird had been considering a terrain park. This decision will apparently not impact their plans since most of their land is on US Forest Service property, and the MRZ ordinance only applies to private property. Snowbird is looking into the possibility creating a terrain park in Gad Valley as a follow up to the Big Mountain Trail and had hired Gravity Logic, a company that designs “safe, sustainable progressive mountain bike trails for summer resort operations,” to survey the area for possibilities. At this time, they have no concrete plans to actually build the park according to Snowbird’s Brian Brown.

Wilson explained her position on MTB terrain parks, “Regarding my objection: I received hundreds of communications calling for the protection of our “unique and delicate” Wasatch Mountains. Those communications urged me to limit attractions that impact the land and wildlife corridors and generally provide protection. Mountain bike terrain parks take up a large area, provide high impact to the land and are not preservation. Mountain biking trails, although they do impact the land do so without the same amount of impact and density and are, in my opinion a fair compromise.”

At the council meeting, Kevin Dwyer of Salt Lake Valley Trails Society, a local mountain bike advocacy group, spoke out against the language change. He told Cycling West that one of the reasons for keeping the possibility of terrain parks is that usage can be concentrated rather than dispersed, “If people have the opportunity to ride great trails, and have a supportive environment and co-located amenities and their friends, they will be much less likely to disperse to other areas.” Some of the items that need to be considered are sanitation, parking, emergency services, and trail maintenance. If these are concentrated in one area, Dwyer says that this will result in much less impact to the general area of concern.

Solitude does not have plans for a mountain bike terrain park at this time, however spokesperson Sherri Harkin said in an email, “Solitude’s general manager Kim Mayhew, was involved in sharing ideas and providing input to the Salt Lake County Council regarding this ordinance. Solitude currently focuses on mountain bike trails and does not have plans to build a mountain bike terrain park at this time. We do feel it is unfortunate that the Council chose to limit future mountain bike options in the Cottonwood Canyons.”

The Salt Lake County Council vote on the final MRZ ordinance will be on March 14, 2017.

Note: This article has been changed to clarify that the MRZ ordinance was not an outcome of the Mountain Accord Process.

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