This week: Answering your questions on Little Cottonwood transportation issues

Because of the recent and seemingly never-ending onslaught of rain, Saturday nest box monitoring was postponed. So, we will have to wait a bit longer to see if there have been any developments with owl and songbird boxes. Hopefully, there will be more vegetation and, maybe, a Mountain Bluebird nest when we check back!

Apart from that, this update is meant to help answer questions about Little Cottonwood Canyon transportation issues and provide a platform to ask more questions. So, please make a comment if you have any questions and we at Friends of Alta will do our best to answer them.

What’s happening with UDOT?

The Utah Department of Transportation and the Central Wasatch Commission are working on an Environmental Impact Statement that will determine future solutions to transportation in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The goal? Improve transportation. Eliminate the “Red Snake.” Provide access without impacting the canyon environment.

Ideas to achieve this goal range from adding a third lane to a train running up the canyon. While the comment period for the Transportation Action Plan is over, comment for the Environmental Impact Statement can be made here until June 14, 2019.

What’s an “Environmental Impact Statement?”

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, anytime there is federal money involved that may impact the environment, you have to do what is called an Environmental Impact Statement, or an EIS. We can thank the early 1970s for this. The original intent of the act was to make sure that the entire environment that would be impacted by the expenditure of federal dollars would be evaluated before the impact happened. So, you could anticipate any adverse results before they occurred.

Why should you make a comment?

While UDOT is performing an EIS, they have narrowed the definition to include the impact of just the highway itself. Not the canyon ecosystem or, most importantly, the canyon watershed. UDOT’s adjusted scope of the EIS addresses immediate challenges of traffic congestions at key intersections, trailhead parking and canyon closures.

Specific improvements moving forward include:

  • Avalanche Sheds
  • Lake Improvements from SR-210/SR-209 intersection to Wasatch Resorts Driveway
  • Trailhead parking will be evaluated at Bridge, Lisa Falls and White Pine
  • Wasatch Boulevard improved mobility for commuters and adjacent neighborhoods

What does Friends of Alta think?

Friends of Alta has openly objected to this narrow definition of an EIS and insist that it really has to look at the impact of the environment overall. And, also importantly, we have to understand the impact that an increase in population would have on Alta and the watershed due to an improved transportation system.

We have stated that we would require a visitor capacity study that would see how many people visiting Alta and the environment of Alta could be reached throughout the year before there was an adverse effect on the flora, the fauna or the watershed. Friends of Alta feels that improving the bus system is the most attainable means of transportation that will have the least amount of impact on Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta, and the Albion Basin. And, Friends of Alta supports using a toll to incentivize public transportation use, so long as there is an affordable option for all to get up the canyon.

Back to basics: What is the Little Cottonwood Canyon Watershed?

Mountains naturally have an area where any precipitation that falls on the mountain will go and, following gravity, will flow out of that watershed. With Little Cottonwood, it’s the mountain boundary line between American Fork and Little Cottonwood Canyon. To the East, it goes into Wasatch County. That drainage area is the watershed we keep talking about. Alta’s Albion Basin is the headwaters of this watershed.

Why protect it?

Little Cottonwood Canyon is home to the watershed that provides 100 percent of Alta and Snowbird’s water, 33 percent of Sandy City’s culinary water, and 12-14 percent of the culinary water needed to serve Salt Lake City’s service area. Damaging this supply would have a detrimental impact on the availability of potable water for Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. It is in our best interest, and in the best interest of the Little Cottonwood Canyon environment, to protect the watershed.

Enough about that. Here are a few upcoming events from our valley partner, Tracy Aviary:

  • Want to get up close and personal with songbirds? Every nesting season, Tracy Aviary studies nesting birds in the Alta Ski Area. Volunteers are accompanied by Tracy Aviary staff to check 40 nest boxes posted across the canyon in hopes of finding cavity-nesters that use these boxes as their summer shelters. The Conservation Science Program is using the data gathered to understand what cavity nesters are in the Alta Ski Area and what time of the breeding season they begin to make nests, lay eggs and raise their young. Nest box checks take place on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. Volunteers may sign up to participate at what their schedules allow.

Department: Conservation Science Program

Time commitment: Afternoons for 3.5 hours

Dates: Thursdays and Saturdays in June-September

Contact: Lucila Fernandez, Conservation Outreach Biologist,

Sign up here:

  • Hummingbird Hikes: Did you know that endorphins are the body’s natural feel-good neurotransmitters? Hone the power of endorphins to promote new learning while on a hike! Tracy Aviary is hosting a series of hummingbird hikes to share on Project Broadtail, a search for the Broad-tailed Hummingbird. Join Tracy staff on an easy to moderate hike to enjoy some quality time outside, learn about some of the feathered friends we share space within Salt Lake City, and an easy way we can all help species like Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. Go to learn of upcoming hikes and to RSVP.

Department: Conservation Science Program

Time commitment: Wednesday or Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. Program tends to run for 1.5-2 hours

Dates: Hikes will be offered between June-September

Contact: Lucila Fernandez, Conservation Outreach Biologist,

RSVP here: