Bonanza Flats Conservation Deadline Approaching

Bonanza Flats Conservation Deadline Extended

By Tom Diegel

 

The Central Wasatch mountains have always been an complex patchwork of ownership, use, claims, and jurisdiction: three counties, a dozen cities, two state highways, three watersheds, seven ski resorts, thousands of residents, and thousands of acres of wilderness are all packed into a very small area.   And that small area also contains some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities in the West, and many of the million-plus nearby residents regularly hike, ski, snowshoe, ride, and run in the mountains. But despite the fact that many of the parcels of land that we recreate on has changed hands many times over the years, there has never been an opportunity for the community to step up to purchase and permanently preserve lands for conservation or recreation. Until now!

Bonanza Flat is the big area that lies below Empire Pass at the top of Park City and to the east of Guardsman Pass where it goes over into Big Cottonwood Canyon. Many Wasatch recreators have ridden, hiked, or driven up to Guardsman Pass and looked down towards Midway and probably thought “wow, that is beautiful, and there’s a lot of great trail potential down there!” and indeed it is and there is. In fact, Park City’s Mountain Trails Foundation could have a huge canvas to put in not only a big network of great mountain bike trails but also winter fat bike and Nordic trails, and the terrain also includes parts of Clayton Peak and Peak 10,420, both popular backcountry skiing areas. But there’s a big catch: it is currently privately owned, and developers are salivating at the opportunity to take those rolling meadows and turn them into a golf course and adjacent high end hotels and homes. But this winter an opportunity opened up to avoid this fate, and the local community has the chance transform this opportunity into reality!

Bonanza Flat has long been a target for developers; not only is the gently rolling terrain fairly easy to build on, it’s adjacent to the tony areas of Park City and Deer Valley, and has great views into the Wasatch Back. It also has water rights, which is the golden egg for real estate developers in the local mountains. Talisker – the Canadian company that owns The Canyons and much of Park City Mountain Resort, which it has in turn leased to Vail Resorts – was the owner of this 1350 acre parcel at the top of Big Cottonwood, and had grand plans to develop it a la what they did to The Canyons. Fortunately for The Community, Talisker was unable to develop the land, which went into foreclosure, such that a bank ended up with the land, and now the bank wants to sell it. The agreed-upon price is $38 million, and once The City of Park City (not PCMR) found out it was available, the City immediately put up a $25M bond to the PC voters who overwhelmingly approved it. That left a $13M shortfall to be raised. Since then Summit County has committed almost $6M, Park City itself has committed another $1.5M, Salt Lake City has committed $1.5M, and there is a fairly high level of confidence that other local government entities will be able to come up with more.

Here is a 2002 image of what a developer planned on putting on the Bonanza Flat parcel:

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Utah Open lands is spearheading this effort, and they are being supported by nine other local organizations: Save Our Canyons, Mountain Trails Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Summit Land Conservancy, Sierra Club, Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, Friends of Alta, and Winter Wildlands Alliance are all rallying their members for donations. And this effort has some unlikely supporters as well: the Montage hotel is a supporter, as are the Deer Valley and Solitude ski resorts.

According to Mountain Trails Foundations’ trail master Rick Fournier, Bonanza Flat represents a huge opportunity for new hiking and cycling trails. Not only is the rolling terrain almost perfect for a mountain bike park, but it has the opportunity to put this park in as a connection from the Crest and Park City’s trails to the recently-completed WOW trail, for an unprecedented connection from the Wasatch Front to the Back on killer singletrack. It’s important to note that the existing Crest parking area at Guardsman Pass is within the Bonanza Flat parcel, and though Park City’s developers have generally been good about maintaining trailheads, it’s likely that they will be more focused on creating an “exquisite mountain experience” for wealthy homeowners than they are on improving traffic-challenged trailheads. If the Bonanza Flat area is preserved, Fournier estimates that there will be multiple nearby trailheads with connections to the Crest to disperse the parking load. And if you think that global warming may not necessarily be a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, note that Park City’s wintertime fat biking and Nordic ski opportunities may need higher elevations than Round Valley to create viable snowy trails, which Mountain Trails is looking forward to generating as well.

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At this point all the local municipalities have invested in this save one important one: Salt Lake County. In a recent vote, the county commissioners – despite considerable pressure from County Mayor Ben McAdams and SLC Mayor Jackie Biskupski – voted 5-4 against any kind of funding for Bonanza Flat preservation. Although they want to commit to $4M to pave a path along the rim of Dimple Dell Park that none of the local residents want, they neglected to acknowledge that arbitrary county lines established many years ago don’t necessarily define our community, and that Salt Lake County residents stand to benefit dramatically from preservation of Bonanza Flat. At this point West Valley City’s Aimee Winder-Newton, Cottonwood Heights’ Max Burdick, Magna’s Michael Jensen, South Jordan’s Steve DeBry (also Council Chair), and at-large councilman Richard Snelgove are not supporting any funding; if you feel strongly about your elected representatives’ positions, contact them now and encourage them to support funding Bonanza Flat.

The Wasatch has long had a history of private entities generating development plans and fighting against the public that wants to maintain mountainous open spaces for all. With few opportunities for large parcels to be purchased and preserved for public use, this is the best time in recent memory for local mountain lovers and others to step up and purchase valuable land that will result in new trails, permanent protection from development, and preservation of valuable backcountry terrain.   The deadline for donations was extended from March 15 to June 15, so take the opportunity now to go to Utah Open Lands website (www.savebonanzaflats.org) and create a donation – and lean on your representatives – to finally be able to call an important part of the Wasatch mountains your own.

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