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Home GCS 2020 Student Projects: Environmental & Social Issues in Little Cottonwood Canyon

GCS 2020 Student Projects: Environmental & Social Issues in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Our SUST6000 Spring 2020 class theme was centered around Little Cottonwood Canyon. The class was challenged to thoughtfully and collaboratively consider, propose, and implement a project or projects related to the complex environmental and societal issues of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Our goal as a class was to intervene in an impactful and effective way. 

Three student groups participated in the creation of projects ranging from photovoice projects, invasive plant education through social media, and a food waste pilot project at various ski resorts.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have shifted our methods to produce a photovoice project. We have decided to center our project around the connection we have with the environment during these trying times.  This project highlights this theme through photos and descriptions of community member’s own connection to their environment.  We hope to display a sense of community engagement through a variety of beautiful photos.

Below, you can read about the projects that students developed, and the speakers who provided background for these efforts.

Conflicting Values: Economic Growth and Ecosystem Sustainability

Little Cottonwood Canyon (LCC) currently sees approximately 2.1 million visitors per year putting stress on both canyon ecosystems and the built resources needed to properly absorb visitation.  The adjacent Salt Lake Valley is expected to grow dramatically in the coming decades and the planned improvement by the Utah Department of Transportation of the State Road 210 into LCC is expected to further increase visitation by 45%.  These predictions bring to fore conflicts between two cherished values in the Utah community, those of economic growth and ecosystem sustainability.  Policy choices are often difficult to discuss and effectively plan for due to the fraught nature of the conflict in values.  Our team planned to utilize a social science research tool called Photovoice to openly address these conflicts. Through this tool, the dominant themes and areas of concern affecting users and stakeholders of LCC can be conveyed both quantitatively and qualitatively via images. Through these images, a variety of outreach materials can be developed in order to inform a wide variety of stakeholders including policymakers.

Click here to read the student proposal for this project.

Food Waste at Ski Resorts

Wasted food accounts for 8% of US greenhouse gas emissions. Annually, the United States of America sends 22% of food to landfills, which is the least recommended way to deal with food waste since GHG emissions produced inside of the landfill.  Inspired by a food waste pilot project run by the Alta Ski Area in the 2018-2019 ski season to divert food waste from the Salt Lake landfill to the Wasatch Resource Recovery food digester, a team from the Global Change and Sustainability Project Course planned to revamp the program. This included finding and implementing upgrades to the infrastructure to make the program operationally feasible and efficient, as well as providing educational materials to help with waste sorting, raise awareness of reducing food waste and train employees on the implementation of food waste management. This is a scalable program that can expand through LCC and other ski resorts along the wasatch or even country.

Click here to read the student proposal for this project.

Invasive Plants

Increased tourism and recreational use in Little Cottonwood Canyon threaten to exacerbate ecosystem impacts in sensitive, high elevation environments, as well as advance the spread of invasive species due to visitors’ lack of awareness of appropriate actions to reduce impact. We want to promote outdoor ethics education and sustainable visitation to these environments, focused on the Wasatch front. We researched and recommended a two-pronged approach, both boots on the ground and awareness through social media. Education and awareness were to be via a long-running social media campaign focused on best practices, Leave No Trace ethics, and sustainable visitation; provision of boot brushes as intervention tools to stop or slow the spread of invasive species by removing hitchhikers from recreators’ footwear.

Click here to read the student proposal for this project.

Guest Educators

Our class gained from a series of guest speakers who generously shared their expertise, knowledge of and connection to Little Cottonwood Canyon. Their insights served as a springboard for class project ideas and discussion as well as developing relationships to carry the projects forward.

Speaker Topic
Dr. Brenda Bowen, Director, Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC) and Associate Professor, Geology & Geophysics Geology and History of Little Cottonwood Canyon
Beth Yetter, Director of Sustainability at Alta Ski Area Sustainability at Alta
Emerson Andrews, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) Coordinator SCIF funding for student projects
Dr. Gannet Hallar, Associate Professor, Atmospheric Sciences Dust and Snow Implications on the Wasatch Front
Dr. Jim Ehleringer, Director, Stable Isotope Ratio Facility for Environmental Research, Distinguished Professor, Biology, and Adjunct Professor, Geology & Geophysics Central Wasatch Commission Environmental Dashboard
Patrick Nelson, Salt Lake City Public Utilities, Watershed Division Wasatch Front Drinking Water System
Kyle Maynard, Friends of Alta Implementation of Sustainability Efforts
Hilary Arens, Director of Sustainability at Snowbird Sustainability at Snowbird and Little Cottonwood Canyon
Dr. McKenzie Skiles, Associate Professor, Geography Dust and Snow Implications
Chris Cawley, Town of Alta, Assistant Town Administrator and Intergovernmental Coordinator Town of Alta - Overview

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