Outdoor thrift cofounder Amy had the opportunity to guest write an article for save our canyons about a cause that we care so much about: protecting our great outdoors by becoming better stewards of our canyons. Continue reading to see why outdoor thrift opposes the building of gondola b in little cottonwood canyon and how UDOT could focus on improving our canyons in different, less invasive ways instead.
"I was the lucky kid who grew up with the Wasatch Front as my backyard playground. It is a privilege to have such easy access to so many trails, rivers, lakes, and canyons as a child (and now an adult), and for that, I am humbled and grateful. Like so many others from the area, these mountains have played a vital role in shaping me and my family’s lives, and I believe they have the power to do the same for many generations to come, so long as they are protected and cared for responsibly. As a lifelong Salt Lake County community member, outdoor enthusiast, and business owner, I unequivocally oppose the proposal of Gondola B due to the variety of threats it poses to the greater good of our community.
I remember hiking to Lisa Falls with my grandma and cousins when I was small. She would pack us drawstring bags full of granola bars, fruit snacks, a water bottle, and an extra pair of socks. My grandma had a way of making everything magical and full of adventure! We hiked the root-ridden trail practicing careful foot placement so we wouldn’t trip and wake the sleeping mountain giant. We looked for tadpoles in the pools and listened quietly to hear the sounds of nature we couldn’t hear otherwise. And boy did we have fun!
The outings with my grandma are my first recollection of ever learning about stewardship. We packed out what we packed in; we took time to appreciate the majesty of our surroundings; we understood that nature is a gift, and to leave no trace. These simple lessons I learned as a child span the boundaries of adolescence in a profound way. What I have come to know now is, nature is not ours to claim. Anyone who has spent more than an hour unplugged and beyond the sight of the city should know this, too. Rather, we have the opportunity, and responsibility, to be stewards of it. An 8-mile mechanical footprint from a gondola system in Little Cottonwood Canyon is not steward-friendly. The “World’s Longest Gondola” seems more like a publicity gimmick than anything else, and it is very disappointing.
UDOT is proposing Gondola B as the preferred method to “substantially improve roadway safety, reliability, and mobility on S.R. 210 from Fort Union Boulevard through the Town of Alta for all users on S.R. 210.” The identified need is “to reduce 30% of the vehicles in peak hours in order to reduce travel times, congestion, and queuing on the current road.”
However, it appears that many of the reasons to explain this method of choice are spoken in tones of ideal scenarios. For example, the total cost of constructing the project is budgeted at $550 million. But what happens when the market turns like it did in 2020-2022 and the cost of materials sky-rocket? Or the cost of labor? Or Supply-Chain issues perpetuate? Will citizens be taxed more to cover the costs, or will the project be abandoned as an open wound? I have worked for the past several years at a local real estate development company, and not one of our projects has ever finished on time and on budget to our original projection. It is simply the nature of construction to have change orders, schedule delays, and other contingencies.
Another example of UDOT having a dangerously idealistic analysis is that they say “the gondola can operate independently of S.R. 210, avoiding delays related to adverse weather”, including avalanches. There are 64 slide paths in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and a proposed 22 towers and 2 angle stations crossing those paths throughout the canyon. It takes just one structure to be damaged for the gondola to not be operational. Then it is likely to take several days to clear the avalanche, repair the damage, and get the system back up and running again. Of the 50 peak days the gondola is supposed to serve, it is highly unrealistic to expect that it would be operating all of those days.
I speak for the community at Outdoor Thrift when I say that we unequivocally oppose the Gondola B proposal. We urge UDOT to prioritize stewardship over industrialism in the approach to finding solutions to the traffic issues in Little Cottonwood Canyon. We believe that through education, tolling, rideshare programs, parking reservations, micro-transit, incentives, and traction requirements, we can avoid the need to undergo such a catastrophic project as Gondola B.
We stand with Save Our Canyons and the 80% of Utah voters who oppose the plans to spend $600M of tax-payers money to construct the invasive machinery. We will also be standing with them as we oppose further taxation for maintenance, repair, and gimmicky marketing operations. Part of our mission at Outdoor Thrift is to help make the outdoors more accessible to people. The Gondola could not be farther from that as it only serves ski resort users, paying customers, and a handful of dignitaries who are sure to be invited to experience the luxurious new toy.
Eventually, I want to be able to take my grandkids on hikes throughout Little Cottonwood Canyon and give them the same kind of experience I was given as a child. I fear that their stories will be far different than mine: navigating around cement blocks, staying out of the polluted water, and listening to the constant hum of machinery.
We can and we must do better.
I call on all users of the canyon to take your stewardship seriously and maximize our opportunity to make a lasting change during UDOT’s phasing period. I also call on UDOT to stop idealizing the data and capitalize on the non-invasive structures already in place to resolve the issues. Have faith in our future, consider the lasting impacts of your choices, and enable us to be stewards to this land that we love: Little Cottonwood Canyon and beyond."