The U.S. Forest Service is looking to improve access to the world-renowned rock-climbing routes in lower Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Its Salt Lake Ranger District is proposing to remove a dilapidated Grit Mill and equipment from the north side of the canyon road, just uphill from the park-and-ride lot and below The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' vaults, and replace them with a better parking lot and an improved trail system for reaching the granite faces that attract thousands of climbers to Little Cottonwood.
Public comment will be accepted through June 14 on the proposal, which likely will require an environmental assessment before any action is taken. But if the formal scoping process identifies issues of greater magnitude, a more-detailed environmental impact statement may be required, District Ranger Cathy Kahlow said.
The goal, she added, "is to provide improved access for climbers, maintain or improve scenic quality, preserve and interpret historical and cultural contexts, minimize impacts to adjacent private landowners and address transportation issues."
Climbers have flocked to the lower canyon for more than 50 years to test their skills on routes bearing colorful names such as Bong Eater, The Coffin, Dragon Arch and Mission to Moscow. But with increasing usage during the past couple of decades, road-safety issues arose as recreationists parked along the canyon road and erosion increased as informal trails were cut through the steep hillside leading up to the granite buttresses.
In addition, the abandoned Grit Mill and equipment became "an unattractive nuisance as a site for graffiti," Kahlow said, particularly since this area is "the gateway to the canyon."
After consulting stakeholders from the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance and the Unified Police Department to the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation and the LDS Church, the Forest Service proposed to remove the mill remnants, erect a historic monument recounting their role in building the church's historic Salt Lake City temple and build a 35-vehicle parking lot there.
The Forest Service also would develop 1.4 miles of new trail linking the Grit Mill lot to the park-and-ride lot at the canyon base and upgrade three-quarters of a mile of existing trails and short spurs that connect these trails to climbing routes.
A mile of trails susceptible to erosion would be reclaimed and roadside parking would be eliminated between the Grit Mill and the park-and-ride lot, Kahlow said.
"Watershed protection is a central theme," she added.
The Climbers Alliance has supported this concept for a decade, said Executive Director Julia Geisler, and it is eager to see "the development of sustainable access to the crags and boulders that takes into account the needs for centralized, transit-friendly trailheads, traffic safety and watershed protection."
Jessie Walthers, the nonprofit Cottonwood Canyons Foundation's executive director, praised the plan as a "smart look" at converting a run-down, pre-existing use into something beneficial.
"To have such a neglected structure has been a concern, so it's a great step to restore that area. It is so visible at the gateway to this magnificent environment," she said.
"I like that it's a comprehensive look at parking, trail use, native plant restoration and mitigating invasive species."
Implementing the proposal, one of 17 in a 2012 parking study of Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood canyons, is expected to cost about $350,000.
To comment, write to Cathy Kahlow, Salt Lake Ranger District, 6944 S. 3000 East, Cottonwood Heights, 84121, or send an email to email@example.com.
The scoping notice and future documents in the environmental-review process will be available online at www.fs.usda.gov/projects/uwcnf/landmanagement/projects.
The nonprofit Salt Lake Climbers Alliance will hold its fourth-annual fundraiser May 30 at Black Diamond Equipment Ltd., 2084 E. 3900 South, in Holladay. Cost is $25 in advance, $30 at the door.