Wasatch Environmental Update; Cautionary Tale

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Wasatch Environmental Update for June 07, 2015

By John Worlock, Member, SOC Board of Directors

“A Coutionary Tale”

We have a cautionary tale from Moab, our sister city in Southern Utah.

Visitors recently overwhelmed the city and the nearby National Parks. Here is a direct quote from the Moab Times-Independent newspaper on May 29: “As traffic backed up onto US 191from the entrance road to Arches National Park south to the Colorado River bridge and beyond on Saturday, May 23, the Utah Highway Patrol made an unprecedented decision – troopers closed access to Arches.”

This simple declarative sentence tells us that, from time to time, and especially on holiday weekends, Utah’s outdoor playgrounds may be inundated beyond their capacity. The Memorial Day inundation affected not only Arches National Park, but also downtown Moab and the nearby Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park.

The choke-point presumably was at the entry to Arches, as vehicle arrivals outpaced the rate at which they could be processed and allowed into the park. The problem was solved by the state cops, who didn’t allow the vehicles to park and wait on the state highway.

This Memorial Day event is notable, but not unexpected. Anyone who has visited Moab on a holiday weekend will have noticed the consequences of too many vehicles in too small an area.

We want to bring the lesson home to the Wasatch Front, and especially to those who are deep into the negotiations for the long-awaited plan for the canyons and mountains of the Central Wasatch, called Mountain Accord. The process called Mountain Accord has involved a wide variety of stakeholders, balancing the interests of commerce and transportation with those of dispersed and non-commercial recreation and, indeed, the needs of the environment itself!

The lesson from Moab two weeks ago, is a simple one, that any plot of land, and especially a public playground, has limits on its ability to absorb players. Too many visitors will spoil not only the quality of the recreation, but also the reality of the wild land that they have come to visit.

The Mountain Accord leaders must face this ugly question that can’t be avoided: With regard for today’s and even future generations, when and how should we limit and control access to the canyons and the mountains of the Central Wasatch?

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