General

Unique terrain should not just become a busy road.

Unique terrain should not just become a busy road.

Unique terrain should not just become a busy road.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fall colors bring a lively ride along Mill Creek Canyon on Thursday, October 7, 2021.

The peaceful retreat of Millcreek Canyon is unique. Tucked between the endless traffic of Parleys and the busy highway of Big Cottonwood, Millcreek Canyon is narrow, natural, and serene by comparison. Millcreek’s winding riverside road does not lead to a town, nor to a resort, or even to any other road, but ends in a parking lot at the top of the road – a place where people travel specifically to enjoy nature. to enjoy.

So it’s a tragedy that Salt Lake County, the US Forest Service, Millcreek City, several city councils, and a group of engineers and contractors have plans to turn upper Millcreek Canyon back into a busy road.

Using $20 million in federal FLAP grants plus an additional $5 million in local tax dollars, the group’s design options range from adding a bike path to the upper canyon road to nearly tripling the road width in certain areas. Their plans require cutting down countless trees, replacing hills with ugly retaining walls, and even diverting the Millcreek stream in some parts.

Disregarding the creatures that live there and with minimal regard for the countless people who use the Upper Gorge as a cycling, hiking and skiing trail eight months a year when the Upper Gorge road is closed, this group plans to go on forever. to change the landscape from above Millcreek.

Admittedly, the group did not come together for nothing: to increase road safety and accessibility for canyon users. Still, the planned road extension isn’t necessary at all, as the safest and best way for people to enjoy the Millcreek headwaters is not to add retaining walls that disrupt the natural landscape and wildlife habitat; not to widen the road in a way that would dangerously increase vehicle speeds; not to straighten the road and thus destroy the seductive curves of the road like a track; not to divert the beautiful springs and creeks so recently replenished with native fish; not to add more vehicles, noise and exhaust fumes to this scenic place; but instead to keep the upper canyon gate closed all year round.

Closing off the upper canyon to cars year-round allows canyon users to enjoy the natural environment they seek, and allows the Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) to provide funding that can be used in ways that demonstrate goodwill. managing the unique environment of Millcreek. The upper canyon pedestrian walkway would need minimal improvements, which will keep funds available for the heavily used road in the lower canyon. All canyon users would benefit from improvements to the lower canyon, including the inadequate bike path, numerous potholes, crumbling berm, and dirt parking lots for popular trailheads such as Grandeur Peak, Porter Fork, and Birch Hollow.

Funding could certainly be used to reduce general car traffic in the canyon by adding a park-and-ride area at the bottom of the canyon (perhaps where the glass recycling and virtually unused Mill Creek “Park” is currently stuck between the roaring traffic of I-215, Wasatch Boulevard and 3800 South).

Another thoughtful investment would be an e-bike rental station at the canyon bottom and at the top canyon gate, giving people a fun and easy way to access the trails in the top canyon. Renting e-bikes equipped with large transportation bins allows canyon visitors to transport kids, dogs, and picnic supplies to the upper canyon sites, while adding bike racks with locks to the trailheads and picnic areas helps keep bikes from getting lost.

As the current administrators of Millcreek Canyon, we are all responsible for preserving this pristine place for current and future users. Right now we have the opportunity to create something special: a footpath for all people to enjoy, a path that preserves the natural beauty of Millcreek’s unique mountain environment. While this plan may be an extreme change from the current canyon road, it is significantly preferable to the alternate extreme of forever damaging the upper canyon’s slopes, forests, springs, and creek with retaining walls and culverts.

Anyone who cares about Millcreek Canyon – whether you’re in favor of improvements to the lower canyon road, would like to see e-bike or park-and-ride options, or want to keep the road as it is now or as a footpath – should now act by giving feedback on slco.org/planning-transportation/millcreek-road-improvements

Melanie Topham is a lifelong hiker, trail runner, cyclist, skier, advocate, and volunteer in the canyons of Salt Lake County.