1/5/2022 Backcountry Shuttle: Q&A with WBA's Jamie Kent
Not news to anyone in the area, Little Cottonwood Canyon has increasingly become a junk show of traffic and congestion these past few years. But things have only gotten more frustrating for backcountry users since Alta’s announcement of paid parking reservations a few months back. Popular areas like Grizzly Gulch, Mount Superior, and Emma's Ridge are being affected by this new reservation system.
In response, the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance has kickstarted a free Saturday shuttle service starting this weekend (Jan 8). While it won’t be the silver bullet to fix LCC’s problem, it is a step in the right direction towards carpooling, community action, and finding workable solutions. WBA’s Jamie Kent answered some questions about the situation, the shuttle program, and how folks can get involved.
First off, please explain the situation with parking in LCC and how it impacts backcountry users.
Alta Ski Area began charging $25 per vehicle to park at and near the trailheads at Alta, Utah and requiring a reservation for any parking before 8:00 am. Fines for not reserving a space and paying the fee are enforced and expensive. Traditional dawn patrol parking is affected by these new parking rules as well. People are furious about these new parking rules that impede free access to public lands.
What is the shuttle service, where did the idea come from, and how will it work?
This service will provide a free ride for early morning dawn patrollers, peak time users, and anyone who wants to carpool up the canyon. Since 2016 WBA has partnered with Utah Mtn Shuttles to put on an annual Free shuttle day event to bring awareness to transportation issues. We have wanted to lead by example and show the community that transportation solutions can be implemented immediately with current technology. We are calling the service the Backcountry shuttle, but it’s not just limited to backcountry users. Anyone that wants to use it can make a reservation through Utah Mtn Shuttles and use the free service.
Why are you all pursuing it? What are the goals of the shuttle service? Intended outcomes?
WBA is the recognized voice for winter human-powered recreationists in the Central Wasatch. One of our goals is to advocate for access to winter backcountry lands and we believe the new parking situation is an access issue. While we continue to have a dialogue with the Forest Service and Alta Ski Lifts to restore the ease of access at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon, the shuttle service will relieve the problem for free and provide ease of access to backcountry lands that so many backcountry users have enjoyed over the years. We also hope to show the community that transportation solutions can be implemented immediately, taking cars off the road is the right thing to do. More of us need to carpool to help ease traffic.
Do you think this will be a successful idea to continue for the future or is it in place until the parking situation can be resolved?
The sky is the limit. Right now the program only offers service on Saturdays. Shall we get the needed support and funding, we will begin servicing BCC and add more days of the week as well.
What does WBA want to happen with the parking situation? What about the traffic congestion in general?
We believe public lands should be readily accessible to all. One group should not be punished for not being a patron of a private entity when it comes to access to public lands. We think there are more equitable ways to manage the parking situation. We should all be making an effort to carpool and not drive up the canyon alone to relieve congestion.
Are there any anticipated hurdles to this program? If so, what are they?
Having a convenient and reliable designated parking hub for riders to park their cars at the mouth of the canyon can be a challenge. Canyon closures could also require patience on part of passengers.
What has been the reaction from the community to the shuttle service idea so far?
Reaction has been 100% positive. So many people have reached out in gratitude. Companies such as Backcountry.com and others want to help fund it and keep it going.
How can skiers sign up, learn more, be proactive, and support WBA’s work?
We plan to run this first year of the program on Saturdays only, beginning January 8th, 2022. Reservations and pickup times/locations can be made on the Utah Mtn Shuttle website.
We also need funding. Donations can be made on our website at www.wasatchbackcountryalliance.org. There are a lot of vacant lots on weekends at office buildings around the mouth of the canyon so if any owners or property managers out there can help provide parking for rider pickups, this would be tremendous. As of now, we plan to take advantage of existing Park and Ride locations for parking and pickup locations.