December 20, 2023

A Farewell Letter to the Wasatch and its Community

Written by

To The Save Our Canyons And Broader Community,

Earlier this year, I wrote about changes in our newsletter. It was a little foreshadowing, I suppose. While I wasn’t entirely sure it was a reality, I’d begun to realize it was an inevitability. Cutting through the inverted smog, my family and I made the difficult choice to no longer call Utah the Wasatch, thus Saving Our Canyons, our home. 

A couple of short months ago, I let the staff and board know that 2023 would be my last in the role of Executive Director of Save Our Canyons. Since that time, I’ve toiled about this message I’m writing to you. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with so many upstanding and passionate people in this community. Some of them staff, others trustees, elected officials, partners, teachers, students, and business owners. Some of them call themselves democrats, republicans, or independents. Still others are climbers, skiers, boarders, bikers, hikers, birders, hunters, and fishers. I’m forever grateful for the care and support you’ve shown to SOC and the Wasatch.

Save Our Canyons will only be as good as the community that rallies around the Wasatch. Our common bond and purpose is to care for the Wasatch. I don’t fully understand why we divide ourselves into user groups, its diverse interests coming together under a common and higher purpose, where strength is found. The CITIZENS’ COMMITTEE to Save Our Canyons allows all walks of life to care about the wildness and beauty of the Wasatch Mountains. We love to indulge in the individual subjectivity of the wild and the beautiful. 

Together, we’ve seen through quite a few challenges and defeated a number of threats while creating some opportunities. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Stopped rollercoasters careening down Mt. Superior as proposed by Snowbird
  • Prevented numerous iterations of the Tavaci development at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon
  • Introduced two pieces of legislation to the US Congress: Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act and the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act
  • Prevented Alta from expanding up Grizzly Gulch
  • Stopped the “SkiLink” connection between Solitude and Canyons Resort
  • Helped to unify all local jurisdictions and communities around the Mountain Accord and established the Central Wasatch Commission
  • Worked to advance a framework for the protection and stewardship of our forests, wildlife, and watersheds from the catastrophic impacts of climate-fueled wildfires
  • Lead the campaign to Keep Baldy Bald and protect ridge lines from unnecessary development
  • Prevented hundreds of miles of RS 2477 road claims in Cache and Salt Lake counties.
  • Lead out on stewardship project maintaining, inventorying, weeding and picking up trash on hundreds of miles of trails.
  • Helped to protect Bonanza Flat through advocacy and fundraising
  • Served on commissions and testified at numerous commission meetings to improve ordinances and shape developments to lessen their impact on the Wasatch 
  • Helped to drive over 50,000 comments opposing the construction of a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon

That last one is acutely important and personal to me for several reasons. First and foremost, it demonstrates our community’s conviction, comprehension, and care for the issues that confront the Wasatch. It saddens me greatly that State leaders and self-serving gondola grifters do not — but I’m proud of our community for showing up. Please keep showing up; don’t get apathetic! I’ve witnessed first-hand that citizen engagement matters. 

Second is the importance of Little Cottonwood Canyon to me. When I was in college, I worked a few seasons at Snowbird. When I wasn’t working or in class or working my other job, I was volunteering for Save Our Canyons. I worked parking at Snowbird, which usually found me one of the canyon's first people. I spent countless mornings setting up frozen cones in parking lots. As I suspect many college kids still do, I spent a bit of time wondering what it was I wanted to do with my life (full disclosure: I’m still trying to figure it out). But just as I did as a high school kid growing up in Davis County, I found myself going to the Wasatch to grapple with the big questions of life. So it was alone one morning in a parking lot, watching the alpenglow reverberate off of Mount Superior, Gad Valley, then the Lone Peak and Twin Peaks Wilderness Areas, that it dawned on me… I should at least be trying to give back to and help protect the haunts I visit to figure things out, or else I might not be able to figure things out.  

I’ve often joked that it’s not the politics, the horrible air quality, the backward liquor laws, or the dying inland sea that led me to call this place my home for 42 years. It has been unquestionably the Wasatch. I never thought of myself as much of a people person, but as my family and I get our things ready to leave Utah and our Wasatch range, I realize the only thing harder to leave than the Wasatch are the friends and family, the frolicking Wasatch warriors. 

Much of what we enjoy today is because of what others have had the foresight to steward and protect. That fueled and inspired me, as did all of the incredible people I met along the way. It is important for people to organize and align themselves for a higher purpose, something bigger than ourselves. For the Wasatch, there’s no better community than Save Our Canyons. As I leave as Executive Director, my family and I join thousands as members. 

We wanted to do one thing before leaving, and upon discussing it with Rachael, my incredibly supportive wife, and our daughters, we would like to ask those who have not taken the time to join as members to do so. We want to match the new member dues for all new members through the end of the year up to $2,000. The Wasatch and the SOC community have given so much to us, but we recognize the challenges ahead and want to see the community strengthen. 

Contribute Today

Massive challenges are on the horizon, the organization, awareness of issues, and engagement must continue to grow! My friend and mentor Gale Dick always cautioned that every loss is permanent and every victory is temporary, necessitating perpetual defense — thus the need for Save Our Canyons. I worked every day for 15 years as a director and another 8 years in various capacities, with a naive conviction that I was working myself out of a job. I knew it was naive, but I stubbornly persisted. It’s beautiful to imagine a society that cares for the land, water, wildlife, and community, realizing that what we have (not what we build or engineer or how much we charge to enjoy the outdoors) is worth being saved and thoughtfully protected. It is not a question but an expectation.

The geologic forces that yielded the Wasatch Mountains we enjoy today took place over 1.7 billion years. Faulting, folding, glaciation, freezing, thawing, erosion, fracturing, and mountain building are all violent processes that created the recreation and resources we have become dependent upon. There is no doubt in my mind that the past 200 years of human modification — development, mining, deforestation, industrial recreation, commercialization, fire suppression, all compounded by the climate crisis — has had more impact than the prior 1.7 billion.

The mountains, their native inhabitants, and the communities they host and inspire are too important not to fight for. While much has been lost in these mountains, so much more will be found if we restore the balance of their wild heart. What is found won’t make you rich, but their preservation will enrich society. The cost of developing and modifying the Wasatch far exceeds the cost of protecting it. Apprentices of nature, adventure, and the wilderness will always have an ally in Save Our Canyons. 

Because of our community's passion, values, and vision over the past 51 years — the Wasatch is a better place. It was both hard and fun to be a part of it. May our collective pressure to protect and steward the wildness and beauty of the Wasatch always be stronger than the forces seeking to tarnish this incredible landscape. Engage the new staff and each other on these issues of importance, and be better than Congress and our governor in resolving disagreements.

Cheers to all those who have been part of the story,  thank you for your support and care. Welcome to those awaiting to be inspired to action, who will help push it forward. Rally behind something big, something that secures a future for the Wasatch rather than the next iteration of a gratuitous gimmick that threatens a range, which inspires people well beyond its humble geography.

Yours For The Wasatch,

Carl Fisher

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