What is the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act?

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash – Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

According to Central Wasatch Commission (CWC), the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act is a “locally driven, consensus-based bill” that has been worked on over the past four years by a wide range of local government agencies, businesses, transportation officials, nonprofit and environmental groups, recreation interest groups, and residents. The act has several goals: 

  • “protecting water sources
  • preserving recreational opportunities for the future, 
  • and ensuring enjoyment of the Central Wasatch Mountains in the face of pressures from a growing population”.

Nestled between Salt Lake City and Park City, the Central Wasatch Mountains are a haven for recreationalists of all kinds, and the area is becoming increasingly more populated. Home to four world-class ski resorts, skiers, trail runners, hikers, and rock climbers, will travel to the Wasatch Front from all over the country in order to recreate on these lands. Not only is this area high trafficked by tourists, but hundreds of local recreationalists come into these mountains from Utah’s metropolitan hub to spend time on public lands on any given day. According to the CWC, “The Central Wasatch Mountains are more heavily used than all five of Utah’s National Parks combined.” If you have ever visited Zion National Park or Arches National Park during peak season, you can imagine how crowded that must make the canyons during the middle of the ski season. 

At this point, the act is still a working draft, but in its current state, it intends to preserve approximately “80,000 acres of US Forest Service land including watershed, scenic ridgelines, treasured landscapes, and recreation areas” while also helping ski resorts to better utilize and own more land in their established base areas. Some specific points made in the bill are outlined on the CWC’s website:

  • “All existing recreational uses and permits will continue;
  • Natural resources and watersheds will be protected;
  • Existing Wilderness Area boundaries will be adjusted for the Bonneville Shoreline Trail alignment and for transportation improvements.
  • Approximately 8,000 acres of wilderness will be added;
  • The U.S. Forest Service will maintain ownership and management of the lands;
  • Land exchanges between the U.S. Forest Service and the four Cottonwood Canyons ski resorts are authorized;
  • Ski resort permit boundaries on U.S. Forest Service land will be fixed permanently after some adjustments through the existing permitting process;
  • New roads for automobiles will be prohibited on U.S. Forest Service land;
  • No restrictions will be placed on U.S. Forest Service management for fire suppression, vegetation maintenance, avalanche control or other emergency measures;
  • Private land within the area or adjacent to the area being designated will not be affected;
  • Future transportation improvements are anticipated. The legislation enables transportation improvements to meet growing demand”

What’s happening now and how to take action:

While the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act is still in the drafting phase, state representatives John Curtis and Ben McAdams have been weighing in to tweak the language and help prepare the draft to be taken to Washington and shared with Congress. While the Act is on its way to being solidified and taken to Washington, there is still reason to act in support of the legislation. As a Utah resident living near the Wasatch, it is especially important to make yourself heard throughout this process. The easiest way to stay up to date on meetings that are accepting public comments is by following the CWC website as well as checking the Utah Public Notice Website. Keep an eye out for when this important public lands bill hits the floor of the House in the coming year. 


NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail team@outdooradvocacy.com to write your own.

Amelia Howe
Amelia Howe

Amelia Howe is an environmental advocacy and policy professional based in Salt Lake City. She analyzes complex legislation, creating digestible summaries that inspire thoughtful engagement. Coffee and climbing fill her time when she isn’t nerding out over the latest policy news. 

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