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Rep. Jim Matheson pitched his Wasatch wilderness vision to mixed reviews at an open house Monday evening in east Millcreek, and gathered comments on his plan to offer permanent protection to part of Salt Lake City's watershed.

About 60 people at a time huddled around maps and talked to city and county officials, the congressman and others during the 2½-hour meeting at Skyline High School. Some came away convinced Matheson, D-Utah, has the right idea in expanding wilderness designations generally east and north of the Lone Peak, Twin Peak and Mount Olympus wilderness areas.

"We need to have [the land] more protected" as the Wasatch Front's population grows, University of Utah city planning graduate student Christina Smithers said after viewing the maps. "Once our water and wilderness are gone, it's a closed door."

Salt Lake City special projects manager Laura Briefer, at the meeting to answer public questions, also put the need in terms of watershed protection. The water that flows from the Wasatch canyons and into city taps is clean now, she said, but there's no telling how future politics might affect development proposals above the creeks.

"It makes us a more secure and resilient community," she said of Matheson's wilderness bill, which would add roughly 26,000 acres of protected wildlands.

Matheson said he heard from constituents who worry they won't be able to access and maintain their water systems if land around them becomes wilderness.

"There's no intent to deny that," he said, and he'll rewrite that portion of the bill so it's clear.

But some Big Cottonwood Canyon landowners remained worried about the added bureaucracy a wilderness could bring. Cyle Buxton said he already needs a permit to move a tree or boulder that falls on the road that accesses his land.

"In a wilderness, oh my gosh," he said, "that's one more level of red tape. Less liberty. No liberty."

Buxton is on the Big Cottonwood Canyon Community Council and said he was never notified of bill negotiations that Matheson has mediated between interested parties during the past few years.

Other landowners also protested they weren't notified, though Matheson's office and county officials said they did notify the community council.

Silver Fork area cabin owner Lanette Phillips said local regulation is protecting the watershed well.

"It's all masked under watershed protection," she said, "but Silver Fork water was just voted the best water in the state."

Phillips worries about recreation restrictions under expanded wilderness. The bill maintains key mountain bike trails, though Phillips worries about access to less technical paths for her 9-year-old daughter near their Silver Fork cabin.

Snowbird Ski Resort participated in Matheson's negotiations and agreed to trade lands it owns around Little Cottonwood Canyon for about 310 acres on the back side of its ski mountain. The resort owns about 550 acres that it will appraise for potential trades, General Manager Bob Bonar said, mostly on the north side of the canyon road.

"It's a fair deal to try to ensure the quality of recreation for the future," he said of the bill, "and a fair deal to ensure the watershed for the future."

Matheson said he will consider comments gathered Monday before he finalizes his bill.