Reservations and shuttle buses contemplated to deal with Wasatch mountain congestion

Posted at 3:56 PM, Jul 05, 2024

MILLCREEK, Utah — To help deal with massive amounts of congestion and crowds in the central Wasatch mountains, a group tasked with helping to protect them is exploring the idea of timed entries and shuttles.

The Central Wasatch Commission, made up of local governments and others with a stake in preserving the Wasatch mountains, confirmed to FOX 13 News that it will discuss the concepts as potential solutions during a meeting of a transportation subcommittee next week. No decisions have been made, but the commission is exploring the ideas as a way to possibly help with crowds and traffic congestion.

"The Central Wasatch Commission, and its stakeholders council are discussing possible transportation solutions for the Central Wasatch, including transit programs and timed-entry reservation systems, both of which have been implemented in national parks across the western United States," the commission said in a statement to FOX 13 News on Friday. "The Central Wasatch is a unique place, home to world-class hiking, biking, and skiing, all within a 30-minute drive from a major city. The headwaters for a local watershed that nearly half a million people rely on for drinking water also originate in the Central Wasatch, so for a traffic management system in the Wasatch to be successful, it should be adaptive over time, help facilitate equitable access to the public lands across the Range, and work to preserve the wildlife, natural resources, and majesty of the Central Wasatch Mountains."

Timed entry reservation systems are being tried elsewhere with success, including Arches National Park. Shuttle buses are heavily utilized in Zion National Park to get people around. With the dreaded "red snake" of vehicle brake lights in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons every winter and packed trails in the summer, it's easy to understand why this could be viewed as a potential solution. Minutes from prior commission meetings show that Millcreek Canyon in particular is being eyed for either shuttle service or a timed entry system. The U.S. Forest Service has raised concerns about the feasibility of a shuttle in Millcreek Canyon, but expressed that timed entry might be a better solution.

But each solution also presents its own issues, such as where a parking lot would be located for a shuttle stop and the logistics of getting people up and down the canyons easily. Transportation solutions in Little Cottonwood Canyon has been controversial since Utah's Department of Transportation advanced the idea of a gondola (but only after other transit options are explored).

In Millcreek Canyon on Friday, hikers FOX 13 News spoke with had mixed feelings about the ideas before the Central Wasatch Commission.

"I do not like it, either one," said Mike Westover. "I like to come up when I want to come up. The parking’s usually good. I know when the times are to get a parking space. I don’t like it."

Sophia Tannata said she tries to take the bus up the Cottonwood canyons as much as possible in the winter.

"I think continuing the UTA bus shuttles throughout the year would definitely help with parking a lot and just getting people up the canyon who don’t have cars in general," she said. "It would make it a little more accessible as well."

If the Central Wasatch Commission decided to push for either a timed entry reservation system or shuttle service, the environmental group Save Our Canyons said it would want to ensure it was equitable.

"For any transportation ideas that we support in the Wasatch, Save Our Canyons is dedicated to ensuring that transportation investments help connect to other transit hubs across the Salt Lake valley to ensure equitable access to the canyons. Each canyon is part of one interconnected ecosystem, and transit infrastructure should take into account the impacts that those investments will have on wildlife habitat, our watershed and the beauty and wildness of the Wasatch mountains," said the group's executive director, Spencer Shaver.