HOW WE STARTED
The Citizens’ Committee to Save Our Canyons was founded in 1972 in response to the threat of urbanization of the Wasatch Mountains just outside of Salt Lake City. The opening of Snowbird Ski Resort along with its plans for tramways accessing satellite villages throughout the Wasatch, catalyzed the movement to protect the remainder of this beautiful area in its natural state. Save Our Canyons went public in January, 1973, after Mayor Jake Garn volunteered Salt Lake City as the proud host of the 1976 Olympic Games which had just been rejected by the citizens of Denver, Colorado. The day after this announcement, Save Our Canyons held its first press conference announcing their mission along with their opposition to Salt Lake hosting the Games. The first SAVE OUR CANYONS bumper stickers were distributed along with stickers reading, “Utah Yes, Olympics No”. The International Olympics Committee later selected Innsbruck, Austria as the alternative games site.
Just 3 years before, in 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed by Congress. NEPA defined a framework for public commentary under which all citizens could for the first time make their voices heard, allowing Americans to directly influence the outcome of critical decisions and the re-formulation of policies that concern public lands. In the years since then, Save Our Canyons has made full use of NEPA provisions to represent the convictions of citizens who are concerned for the future of the Wasatch and its treasures–primarily working with the US Department of Agriculture’s US Forest Service, which manages Wilderness and National Forest jurisdictions in the Wasatch range.
We have had important successes and some disappointments in our 40-year history. We worked hard and successfully for wilderness designation of the Lone Peak, Twin Peaks, and Mt. Olympus wilderness areas in the Wasatch. Save Our Canyons, along with other local environmental groups, was instrumental in getting Salt Lake County to formulate and adopt a Canyons Master Plan to guide the granting of building permits on both public and private land in the canyons. This Master Plan, adopted in 1989, is now in the process of revision. Using all available avenues for public input, we have been participants in a wide variety of controversies through the years: heli-skiing conflicts, the perpetual pressures from commercial ski resorts for more development, private land construction projects, trailhead access to public lands, location and size of sewer lines in the Wasatch canyons, avalanche control techniques and public transportation into the canyons.
We have had a board member who has served on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for the Public Utilities Department of Salt Lake City that has important powers in maintaining the watershed role of the Wasatch Range. We worked closely with the Salt Lake Olympic Bid and Organizing Committees to keep Olympic venues out of sensitive environments such as Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. We know and work with city, county, state and federal officials and citizen advisory committees as well as the people who plan and run the ski resorts in our mountains. We also have worked with the Sierra Club, the Wasatch Mountain Club, the Great Salt Lake Audubon Society, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Utah Wilderness Coalition, the High Uintas Preservation Council and many other environmental and mountain recreation organizations. A significant victory connected with joint with these groups was convincing Salt Lake County to give up its RS2477 highway right of way claims in the Wasatch and Oquirrh Ranges where the legitimacy of the claims was patently absurd.