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Hole in the Rock Foundation asks Utah lands agency to auction area near Bears Ears

First Published      Last Updated Oct 19 2016 07:32 pm


Trust lands » Auction nets $3.7 million for Utah school fund, but putting Comb Ridge parcels up for sale could spark a fight.

State trust lands officials reaped nearly $3.7 million Wednesday in a land auction that included 2,491 acres of farmland straddling the Emery-Grand county line along the Green River.

Officials with the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) are now considering a proposal to sell a 640-acre section on the southern tip of Comb Ridge in San Juan County. This scenic spot, located 6 miles west of Bluff on State Route 163, is included in the proposed Bears Ears National Monument and the conservation area proposed under the Utah Public Lands Initiative. The historic Hole-in-the-Rock Trail passes through the property.




The sale comes at the request of the Hole in the Rock Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts historic pioneer re-enactments celebrating southern Utah's heritage. The foundation will host a public meeting on the proposed sale in Bluff on June 7, according to SITLA Deputy Director Kim Christy.

If SITLA approves the sale, the parcel would go on the block at the agency's October auction in Salt Lake City. SITLA hosts auctions once or twice a year to sell some of the 3 million acres of trust land that remains in state hands. Proceeds are deposited in a $2 billion endowment supporting Utah schools.

The Hole in the Rock proposal is already sparking opposition from Friends of Cedar Mesa, the stewardship group based in Bluff.

"We don't want it to be in private hands because it's a place the public has used for a long time," said the group's executive director, Josh Ewing. "It doesn't matter who is proposing this."

The Hole in the Rock Foundation, he said, is "not guaranteed to be the successful bidder."

The land includes places used for camping and a trailhead accessing the distinctive sandstone fin separating Comb and Butler washes. This ridge extends about 30 miles north, almost to Bears Ears Buttes.

"This area deserves to be protected as proposed in the Public Lands Initiative," Ewing said.

Christy and three other SITLA staffers plan to attend the June 7 meeting. The agency is sensitive to the public access concerns and archaeology associated with the property, according to Christy, and hopes to construct a sale that addresses them. Before a sale would be authorized, the land would be surveyed for cultural resources.

"In the event we find archaeological sites, we implement deed restriction so that those areas are appropriately protected," Christy said.

For Wednesday's sale, the big prize was land that Green River Farms has leased for growing alfalfa near Green River. Known for its melons, the farm nominated the land for sale with the intent of acquiring it to expand its operations. But Green River was not the only one interested in acquiring these noncontiguous lots that totaled nearly 2,500 acres. Bidding started at $1.7 million and climbed to $2.1 million by the time the gavel fell with Green River winning the property, according to Christy.

A 1.1-acre lot in Manila sold for $40,050, while four 1-acre lots at Garfield County's Widtsoe townsite sold for $8,000 apiece. A 240-acre lot in the Big Plain area, 18 miles east of Hurricane on State Route 59, fetched $540,000. Two parcels in Daniels Canyon, south of Heber City, sold for $150,000 and $325,000. Both are along U.S. Highway 40 and are located in steep terrain near Daniels Summit.

Three parcels in Beaver County's Indian Creek failed to attract the minimum bids, pegged at about $725 per acre.

All told, 11 of 16 of the parcels on the block sold, covering 4,047 acres scattered around the state.

Brian Maffly covers public lands for The Salt Lake Tribune. Maffly can be reached at bmaffly@sltrib.com or 801-257-8713.

Twitter: @brianmaffly

 

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