Alta Ski Area was "green" way before "green" was cool.
The silver mining town of Alta, Utah, blossomed during the booms days of the 1870s, growing quickly to a population of 3,000 and a town site with 180 buildings. Most of the trees in the valley and on the steep slopes at the head of Little Cottonwood Canyon were cut for buildings and mine tunnels. Those halcyon days are over - a second boom began in 1917 and petered out by 1930 - but the ecological degradation done by hard-rock mining did not disappear so easily.
When Alta became a ski area in 1939, its founders saw the damage and began what is now known as a revegetation program. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of trees went in, and the effort has morphed into a full-blown commitment to restore and preserve the fragile ecosystem of the Alta area.
"It's been a tradition here to plant trees," Maura Olivos, head of the three-year-old Alta Environmental Center, told OnTheSnow. "It dropped off for a while but, in the last 25-30 years, they've been putting in at least 1,000 conifers every year."
The center has taken the lead in the most recent reclamation efforts, including revegetations of heavily used areas in Albion Basin on the up-canyon side of the ski area. There, the mining disturbances were significant, and the summer hiking traffic can be heavy, Olivos said. Through grants from the National Ski Area Association, coordinators from Alta and the Cottonwood Canyon Foundation have worked to plants grasses, shrubs, and trees to resurrect the diversity and natural vibrancy of small but critical areas, both at the base and up on the mountain.
They insist that only native trees and native seeds be planted, and a conservation consciousness now pervades all segments of the Alta community.
"As the town and the canyon experience growth, it's essential to have a coordinated plan to protect the watershed that is so important to everyone in the (Salt Lake City) valley," Olivos said, noting that frequent avalanches contribute to erosion and water quality problems.
Other programs out of the Alta Environmental Center include native plant classes, a composting pilot program, energy-efficient lighting installation, vehicle emissions reduction, and company-wide energy management system, Olivos said.
"Alta's always made a conscious decision to be ahead of the industry with revegetation and other environmental efforts," she said.