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Regional News

Save Our Canyons Celebrates 50 years of protecting the Wasatch Mountains

save our canyons
saveourcanyons.org
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One of Utah’s first environmental watchdog organizations is turning 50 this year. KPCW’s Leslie Thatcher has a look back at some of the successes and challenges of Save Our Canyons as it moves into its 6th decade...

The current Executive Director of Save Our Canyons Carl Fisher wasn’t even born when Gale Dick, Alexis Kelner, and Floyd Sweat formed the nonprofit organization in 1972 with the mission to protect the beauty and wildness of the Wasatch Mountains, canyons, and foothills.

Fisher says what started with just three passionate advocates has grown to include thousands of members and tens of thousands of people who are now engaged to protect the Wasatch Mountains.

“I think we've seen massive growth over the years and you know, for myself, yeah, I wasn't born but I've definitely enjoyed the fruits of the labors of this organization as I've grown up my entire life here in the Salt Lake area and at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains,” Fisher said.

Fisher started as a volunteer and came on staff in 2005. Today Save Our Canyons has grown to become one of the foremost grassroots advocacy groups engaged in conservation issues in Utah with five full-time staff members.

Fisher says there were many success over the first 50 years, including protecting three wilderness areas in the central Wasatch, and containing the boundaries of the ski areas in the Cottonwood Canyons to limit their footprint on public lands. They’ve been instrumental in stopping Ski Link – which proposed to connect Solitude with the Canyons side of Park City Mountain Resort. They’ve also had a big presence in the Central Wasatch Commission to coordinate and oversee future actions in the Wasatch.

Save Our Canyons advocacy often put the organization at odds with ski resorts and developers, but Fisher says it’s been worth it.

“I think we are a little bit of a pain in the butt, for sure,” he said. “And I think we're fine with that. You know, there are strong pressures confronting the Wasatch Mountains and they need to be met with as equal, if not stronger, opposition to try and protect this place. You know, we try to keep everything above the belt, for sure. But because we are we are members of this community to right. Our members, the people that are proposing projects, you know, we see at the grocery store, so you know, that I think those types of things are certainly part of who we are as an organization. I think that's been part of our success as well.”

Even with all of the successes, there are some failures as well – one of those being unable to stop the land swap at Snowbasin resort before the Olympics came to Utah.

“Yeah, there was legislation that land exchange basically where we thought it was a horrible precedent to, to take lands acquired in Idaho for land exchange, to benefit that ordinary there was just no local benefit to those land exchanges and it resulted in continuing development.”

Due to the pandemic, Fisher says there are no immediate plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Save Our Canyons, but they hope to plan a party outdoors when the weather is nice in late spring or early summer.