The Keepers of the Land
We can all agree that the landscape here at Alta is a beautiful thing. It’s fall now and the plants are all changing, showcasing a mosaic of beautiful colors along the hills. What you may not know is that there is a substantial amount of effort going on behind the scenes to keep it this way.
The Alta Environmental Center (AEC) is sort of an unsung hero up here. Whenever a modification to the land is made at Alta Ski Area, whether it be laying new infrastructure, installing new equipment, or any recreational action that disrupts the land, equal efforts are put right back in. Whatever gets taken out must be replaced, and that’s a lot more work than it sounds.
Since the late 1990’s the ski area has been running a very elaborate and dedicated seed collection program. Seeds are collected from native plants in various types of habitats up at Alta and are collected in segments every 500ft in elevation. Since 2009 the Alta Environmental Center has continued the practice and expanded the program to meet ecological restoration best-management practices. So beyond the seed collection and sorting, they are planted back on land based on their specific growth needs by slope, aspect, elevation, and plant community type.
Once the seeds are collected and sorted, they go to local nurseries where they grow for 6 months to three years depending on the species, until they are strong enough to be planted and survive. Once the plants are ready, species that are a good match for a disturbed site are planted.
The Alta Environmental Center works closely with the University of Utah and their environmental program in a wonderful symbiotic relationship. Students have access to the onsite woody plant nursery as well as surrounding land to get hands-on experience with their education, and in turn their research is shared with Alta. Such a relationship not only helps the students get real-world experience, but also allows Alta to be the best it can be in keeping the area we love healthy and beautiful.
Some of the other programs at the Alta Environmental Center include volunteer-supported non-native weed pulling, an annual tree planting with TreeUtah, as well as a very special memorial tree-planting program with Friends of Alta. In that program the Environmental Center will supply native tree seedlings for a group planting and individual memorial trees and help identify locations for trees to be planted in memoriam of loved ones and forest health needs.
The Alta Environmental Center often has fun and educational events going on for Alta is an incredible place, and many work very hard to sustain the land and preserve the nature that constantly leaves us breathless. If you are interested in learning more, or volunteering and supporting the efforts, please visit the Alta Environmental Center on the Alta website or like the AEC Facebook page. You can also follow the AEC on Instagram (@altaenvironment).