An interesting environmental battle is being fought in Utah and kites have become one of the many voices raised to save Steep Mountain. Steep Mountain, South Mountain, or Point of the Mountain is an iconic landform south of Salt Lake City that, for years has been a popular destination for local outdoor enthusiasts including mountain bikers, hikers, and runners, but is a world-renowned location for hang-glider and paraglider pilots. Its reputation as the U.S.’s prime spot for paragliding is borne out by the increasing numbers of pilots who come here to earn their flight ratings and then return to enjoy the almost magical winds. (The mountain formation creates a unique microclimate perfect for the safe pursuit of the sport. Generally the winds push over the Point toward the Great Salt Lake in the morning hours and then, as things heat up, they return to the south in the afternoon. Normally, they are an ideal velocity, steady, and almost eerily predictable.)
The Point is threatened by the mining operations of Geneva Rock Products, an employer of over 1,000 people and supplier of construction materials used by the Utah Department of Transportation, among many others. The Geneva Rock’s mining operations began over thirty years ago at a time when Draper, Utah was not even incorporated (the surrounding population in 1990 was only 37,939 and by 2010 the population was over 164,000). The company has rights to mine the land for the next 70 years, but local groups hope to convince city officials to halt excavation of the mountain and to preserve its unique microclimate. At least one idea proposed is for the Salt Lake County government to purchase permitted land or facilitate a land swap that will be mutually beneficial to the surrounding communities and Geneva Rock Products.
Kites have come to this fight in the hands of long-time kiteflier and paraglider instructor, Blake Pelton, who has periodically flown an Airbanner™ system with the highly visible message, “Save Steep Mountain.” The busy I-15 corridor passes within a mile of the flying site and the airborne message is hoped to dramatically raise awareness and visibility of the issue. If I read the chart in the I-15 Mobility Alliance document correctly, between 100,000 and 200,000 drivers pass the Point every day (perhaps that number is 200,000 to 300,000 if Draper falls within the Orange zone of the map). Blake’s use of the Airbanner cannot be more appropriate, as many of his fellow flyers are recreational kitefliers or kite traction enthusiasts.
This is an interesting battle and has gained notice from publications such asThe Atlantic, The Daily Herald, the Airline Operators and Pilots Association’s Aviation eBrief, as well as numerous local Utah media outlets. It is a fight between an admittedly responsible business with enormous impact in the community and a relatively small, but worldwide group of wind-elevated pilots. Destruction of the Point might be an inevitable reality to the tens of thousands of Utahans who drive by Steep Mountain every day, but it would be an irretrievable loss for paragliding enthusiasts the world over if it is continued unchecked.
– Scott Skinner
For more information see www.savesteepmountain.org