Sam Werstak

Sam Werstak

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

Shortly before the Wasatch Mountains began to see snow, Save Our Canyons joined with the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation to conduct an invasive species weed pull along the newly constructed Cardiff Fork boardwalk. The day began with the customary introduction and signing of waivers.

20 seventh-grade students accompanied our volunteers and descended to the boardwalk, where an abundance of Canadian Thistle grew near the pathway.

To guard against the Thistle, gloves and hand shovels were distributed, and the effort began. After approximately two hours of pulling, the soil became more compact, making it challenging to extract the remaining plants.

Given that the Canadian Thistle is a perennial, it resurfaces seasonally, perpetuating the cycle with readily dispersible seed pods. By day's end, the dedicated volunteers, including Ashley and his students, extracted nearly 200 pounds of dispersing thistle.

A heartfelt thank you goes out to all participants for their commitment and eagerness to protect the Wasatch. With your dedication, completing this crucial work was possible.

Save Our Canyons has been actively engaged in a series of impactful conservation projects and partnerships to protect the beauty and wildness of the Wasatch Mountains. Here is an overview of our 2023 summer season:

Trail Maintenance in Upper Millcreek Canyon (SLRD, September 9th): In collaboration with 13 dedicated volunteers from Goldman Sachs and the Salt Lake Ranger District, SOC embarked on a trail maintenance project in Upper Millcreek Canyon. The teams worked diligently to trim overgrown vegetation along the trail, enhancing safety and accessibility. This effort ensures the well-being of both hikers and cyclists.

Little Cottonwood Trail Cleanup (SLRD, September 1st): With the popularity of the Little Cottonwood Trail, SOC recognized the need for conservation efforts to protect this beloved area. SOC and a group of volunteers joined forces with the Salt Lake Ranger District to address and remove illegal fire rings and garbage and report graffiti in the area.   

Memorial Grove Trash Cleanup with Keep Nature Wild, Women of the Wasatch, and HOKA Running (July 31st): SOC collaborated with Keep Nature Wild for a successful trash cleanup in Memorial Grove Park. This event was supported by over 30 enthusiastic volunteers and folks in the neighborhood who took trash bags to assist on their walks, resulting in 216 pounds of trash collected. The collaboration emphasized the importance of local initiatives to help keep our city parks clean.

Road Cleanup in Big Cottonwood Canyon (July 20th): SOC and Keep Nature Wild collaborated to organize a road cleanup event in Big Cottonwood Canyon. With the help of volunteers from CNG Healthcare, we met at the park and ride, and carpooled up to the Spruces Campground. We covered a stretch of approximately 2 miles along the highway's edge. The group collected nearly 200 pounds of roadside garbage, including plastic items, wrappers, cigarette butts, and other debris. After completing the cleanup, the group reconvened at Spruces Campground for a group photo and expressions of gratitude.

Trailhead Cleanup in Little Cottonwood Canyon (SLRD, June 12th): In partnership with the Salt Lake Ranger District, we focused on cleaning up major trailheads in Little Cottonwood Canyon, including the Park and Ride lot, Grit Mill, and the White/Red Pine trailhead. A remarkable turnout of 12 volunteers gathered at the Little Cottonwood Park and ride, dedicating thirty to forty minutes to each trailhead and working in small groups to tackle the task. Our efforts resulted in removing various litter, including granola bar wrappers, straws, a rusted car bumper, a rotting pumpkin filled with Halloween candy, blocks of concrete, and numerous beer cans. As the winter's effects became evident with exposed trailheads, the importance of packing in and packing out diligently was emphasized to preserve the Wasatch. 

National Trail Day in Big Cottonwood Canyon (SLRD, June 12th): The Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, The Salt Lake Ranger District, and SOC brought together enthusiastic volunteers on National Trail Day to conduct a multi-project event on the new section of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail that connects Dogwood Recreation Area and Ferguson Canyon. 60 participants gathered together for introductions and waivers before splitting into two groups: one focused on removing the invasive Money Plant, while the other worked on constructing a trail by removing large rocks and stumps while adhering to the Forest Service's trail construction standards for a three-foot-wide pathway with a forty-five-degree uphill slope to ensure the long-term stability of the trail. After three productive hours, the trail team successfully dug 120 feet while the weed removal crew eliminated several hundred pounds of Money Plant. Save Our Canyons expressed gratitude to all involved and encouraged others to join their Wilderness Stewardship efforts.

Money Plant Weed Pull in Big Cottonwood Canyon (SLRD, May 27th): SOC, in collaboration with the Salt Lake Ranger District and the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, organized a project to remove the invasive species Money Plant from a new section of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, connecting Big Cottonwood Canyon and Ferguson Canyon. The Money Plant (Lunaria Annua) has grown exponentially in the area, most likely due to its use in gardens. While aesthetically pleasing, Money Plant hinders the growth of native Utah species in their natural habitat. Six community volunteers and several members from both organizations participated, collectively removing 260 pounds of the invasive plant matter.

Dyer's Woad Weed Pull in City Creek Canyon (SLPU, May 20th): SOC partnered with Salt Lake Public Utilities for a weed pull in City Creek Canyon, aimed to prevent seed dispersal before the height of its growth during the summer. Nicole Smeeding from Salt Lake Public Utilities (SLPU) led the day with members from Salt Lake County and a small group of volunteers, working to eradicate a dense section of the invasive Dyer's Woad off the main road. After three hours of hard work, the team successfully removed Dyer's Woad from this specific section of City Creek Canyon. Throughout the day, participants learned about toxic species in Utah from experts at Salt Lake Public Utilities and the Salt Lake County noxious weed program. 

2023 Totals:

  • We worked with over 100 volunteers, including an average of 8 individuals per project during our Wilderness Stewardship Projects and an average of 2 volunteers during each Advocacy and Grassroots events
  • During the 4 major cleanup events we had this season, each averaged 200 lb of garbage collected, making it nearly a total of 800 lb of garbage collected
  • During the 4 major weed pull events we had this season, each averaged 250 lb of weeds collected, making it nearly a total of 1,000  lb of weeds pulled and collected.
  • During the 25 grassroots and advocacy events this season, Save Our Canyons shared its efforts and helped educate over 2000 individuals on the importance of stewardship and active engagement within policy.

These projects reflect SOC's commitment to protecting the beauty and wildness of the Wasatch Mountains. Through volunteer efforts, community collaboration, and educational outreach we continue to make a significant impact in ensuring these natural spaces remain protected and accessible. 

We extend our gratitude to all volunteers, partners, and supporters who have contributed to these efforts, and we look forward to further initiatives. 

 

Image Gallery:

 

 

On September 9th, Save Our Canyons and 13 fantastic volunteers from Goldman Sachs partnered with the Salt Lake Ranger District to do trail maintenance in Upper Millcreek Canyon.

Upon meeting at Rattlesnake Gulch at 9 am, we piled into three cars and followed the Rangers up the canyon to the Big Water Trailhead. We were separated into two groups, each equipped with hand saws and large clippers. One group hiked ahead on the trail while the other stayed towards the bottom.

We trimmed back the woody shrubs, brush, and saplings within a few feet of the trail or overhead. The goal was to cut back enough vegetation so this wouldn't have to be maintained for another five years. Many of these woody shrubs can grab a biker's handlebars and send them off the trail. The two groups were able to cover lots of ground, and both rangers were very appreciative of our time and efficiency.

We had beautiful weather all day, which led to plenty of laughter and gratitude. We love to hike in our Wasatch Mountains, but oftentimes, we aren't aware of the work it takes to maintain these trails that bring us to some of the most beautiful places. After three hours of trail maintenance, everyone had a more significant appreciation for the well-kept trails we have so accessible. Volunteering with the Forest Service is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the places we love and how to take care of them so others can enjoy them as we have!

Save Our Canyons would like to give a thank you to Goldman Sachs and the CTW team for being such wonderful volunteers.  Also thank you to the Ranger District for being an exceptional partner in stewardship.

 

Written By: Ben Klein

In the last several years, there has been an increase in people enjoying the Little Cottonwood Trail. From hikers to bird watchers, this area is loved by many. And there’s no substitute for nature. Together, we can protect it from impacts like overuse, packing out trash, removing illegal fire rings, and cleaning graffiti off the granite walls. Last Friday, Save Our Canyons and a wonderful group of volunteers worked alongside the Salt Lake Ranger District to deconstruct illegal fire rings, report graffiti, and generally clean up the area to assist the Forest Service in increasing accessibility.

The morning weather looked gloomy, with rain clouds looming overhead, but the enthusiasm and dedication were there. The crew got to work in two groups, seeking mapped locations of Illegal structures in the area. After deconstructing the marked fire rings, we continued to search the area for additional rings. By noon, we had completed all the marked structures and a similar amount of unmarked structures.

This event was a testament to the power of collaboration and grassroots conservation efforts. Next time you lace up your hiking boots and venture into the Wasatch or anywhere else, remember that it's up to all of us to be stewards of these spaces. Together, we can ensure they remain wild, beautiful, and accessible.

 

The 2023 Kimball Arts Festival was an incredible success, with a diverse array of talented artists and vendors. Each booth offered something unique. Save Our Canyons had the honor of being a part of the festival as a vendor in the kids area, Creation Station. Together with other dedicated volunteer groups, we organized various activities for the young ones, including painting, button making, and coloring posters and cards inspired by the Wasatch Mountains.

The festival drew interest from both locals and visitors, with several individuals and families from out of state keen to know more about Save Our Canyons and its mission. Their enthusiasm and appreciation for our cause were heartwarming, and many expressed a desire to participate in our volunteer opportunities. We provided them with our latest Newsletter, and they eagerly signed up for our email list to stay informed about upcoming events and our ongoing policy efforts.

The Kimball Arts Festival served as an excellent platform to not only celebrate art and creativity but also to raise awareness about the significance of preserving our canyons. The support from attendees and their interest in getting involved demonstrated the impact of connecting art, nature, and community for a greater cause.

 

On Saturday, July 29th, Save Our Canyons collaborated with Keep Nature Wild, a dedicated volunteer organization that fosters community engagement and encourages individuals to contribute to protecting the environment.

The project was a garbage cleanup in the extended Memorial Grove Park area, and it turned out to be a great success with an impressive turnout. During the event, we were also joined by Women of the Wasatch, a local running group that promotes running in the Wasatch and fosters connections within the running community through meetups and activity events. To add to the event, HOKA provided shoe demos, allowing participants to test various footwear models.

Thanks to the support of nearly 20 enthusiastic volunteers, we were able to collect a total of two hundred and sixteen pounds of trash. We were thrilled to see numerous people passing by, saying hello, and willingly grabbing a bag to contribute to the cleanup efforts. The availability of resources plays a crucial role in making these cleanups successful, as it encourages more people to actively participate in preserving our natural spaces.

Thanks to everyone for your help with this event. Cheers!

On July 20th, Save Our Canyons and Keep Nature Wild joined forces to host a road cleanup event in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Carrying the collective goal of preserving the natural beauty of this scenic area. The volunteers from CNG Healthcare gathered at the park and ride with a mission to clean up the canyon's roadside.

We started at the Spruces Campground, a popular recreation spot where we gathered after carpooling up the canyon. Ready with gloves, trash bags, and a shared passion for preserving nature, the group set out along the highway's edge for approximately 2 miles. The mission was simple but crucial: to pick up roadside garbage and litter that had accumulated over time, preventing it from harming the local wildlife and environment.

We collected nearly 200 pounds of trash, ranging from plastic bottles and wrappers to discarded cigarette butts and other large pieces of debris. The amount collected was a reminder of the impact of human activity on our outdoor spaces. However, it also served as an inspiration to the power of community and collective action in making a positive change.

Once we finished the cleanup, the group returned to the starting point at Spruces Campground. We then gathered for a group photo, and a few minutes of chatting, thank-yous.

This was the fourth Stewardship Project of the season, again partnering with the Salt Lake Ranger District.  We met at the Little Cottonwood Park and ride with the plan to conduct a trash cleanup at some of the major trailheads in Little Cottonwood Canyon(Park and Ride, Grist Mill, White/Red Pine).  

The turnout for this date was exceptional with twelve people attending from Save Our Canyons outreach.  We spent about thirty minutes at each trailhead and split into groups of two or three to conquer each area.  We came away with mostly the corners of granola bars and straws, but we also managed to collect a few larger items.  An entire rusted out car bumper, a rotted pumpkin filled with halloween candy, a few blocks of concrete, and a whole lot of beers cans.

It was a heavy winter with lots of activity and now that the trailheads are exposed, the remnants were clear as we saw on Saturday.  That being said, Save Our Canyons feels that diligence toward packing in and packing out is critical to continue with the goal of preserving the Wasatch.  It can be easy to disregard the small things but we’d like to encourage you to take part in this during your daily activities.  Us here at Save Our Canyons will be making a more active effort to continue this type of work with our outings as it's an easy task but often is overlooked.

Thanks again for all of your hard work in giving back to the special place we call home. We wouldn’t be able to do it without your dedication.

The Cottonwood Canyons Foundation and the Salt Lake Ranger District planned a collaboration with Save Our Canyons and other various groups of enthusiastic volunteers for National Trail Day. There was a lot of excitement as nature lovers united for a day of stewardship. 

It started with a gathering of like-minded individuals. The crowd was impressive, totaling sixty people. Following an introduction and a quick signing of waivers, the groups split into two teams, One conducting a weed pull for the invasive Money Plant, and the other working on digging a new segment of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.

The Standard for trail construction by the Forest Service is a pathway about three feet wide, with a forty-five-degree slope on the uphill side, ensuring a level surface that mitigated erosion risks. This conscientious design aims to allow for a diversity of users, from cyclists to runners, ensuring equal access.  Time flew by, and after three intense hours of labor, both teams packed up their tools and headed down. The trail team had successfully dug an impressive one hundred and twenty feet. In the process, they conquered three stubborn stumps and two large boulders.  Simultaneously, the weeds crew had pulled several hundred pounds of Money Plant.

Save Our Canyons extends a thank you to everyone involved and everyone who came out to help!  If you’re interested in joining, check out our Wilderness Stewardship Page.

 

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