Midway resident Jonathan Clegg, whose Wasatch County roots reach back generations, came to the town council last week asking for money to help Park City buy a piece of his county.
Backing Clegg were conservation groups pledging to match whatever the town put up toward the $38 million purchase price for Bonanza Flats, destined to become a private gated resort unless the money can be mustered to buy the scenic alpine mosaic of meadow and forest on Guardsman Pass.
"It's a special place worth preserving," he said Friday, fondly recalling trips to the area through the decades.
The town council agreed to kick in $10,000, a small sum, but far more than the Salt Lake County Council is willing to contribute toward the deal, regarded as the most important land conservation acquisition in decades for the Wasatch Mountains.
In a 5-4 vote on Tuesday, the council's Republican majority rejected a $3 million funding request that would have pushed the campaign inches from the finish line after private groups raised $2 million and Summit County pledged $5.7 million.
The council listened to three hours of pleas from residents and Mayor Ben McAdams, but Republicans voted no, citing the 1,350-acre parcel's location outside Salt Lake County and the need to fund parks and recreation projects closer to home.
The land is on the Wasatch Crest where Summit, Salt Lake and Wasatch counties come together near Brighton. Among the last pieces of undeveloped land in the central Wasatch, Bonanza Flats is crucial habitat for wildlife and a popular outdoor recreation destination for both Salt Lake and Summit county residents who reach it from both sides of Guardsman Pass Road.
Buy-out proponents were dismayed with the vote, calling it short-sighted.
"If that property were to be developed and if road is open year-round, there would be an awful lot of impacts running into Salt Lake County down Big Cottonwood Canyon," said Cheryl Fox, executive director of Summit Land Conservancy. "A county boundary was set a long time ago and it might not reflect modern reality."
Fox's Park City-based group is one of 11 conservation organizations joining forces to raise money for the deal.
The parcel, an old mining claim surrounded by national forest, was proposed for a luxury golf-and-ski destination known as Bonanza Mountain Resort, but the land fell into foreclosure and wound up in the hands of Wells Fargo. In a deal announced in January, the bank agreed to a conservation buy-out for $38 million after Park City voters approved a $25 million bond for the purpose. That launched a crash fundraising campaign led by Utah Open Lands, facing an initial March 15 deadline to raise the $13 million balance.
"The amount of support that has been raised is beyond any other campaign we have seen. It is truly historic and heroic," said Wendy Fisher, UOL executive director. "This property affects Salt Lake Valley though it isn't in the valley and it affects watershed for many communities on Wasatch Front. The solution needs to be collective."
"This is a critical landscape," she added. "Losing this would be a loss for generations."
Park City had put $1.5 million down, and handed over another $1.5 million earlier this month, earning a three-month extension to June 15. If the deal falls through now, the city would forfeit its $3 million.
This is not the first time the affluent Utah resort town, which hosts the Sundance Film Festival and boasts three major ski areas, has ponied up millions to preserve open space enjoyed by people who live on the other side of the Wasatch divide.
Park City residents put up most of the $45 million over the years needed to buy up 2,000 acres of hilly terrain known as Round Valley just east of town. A network of trails there is now used heavily year-round by hikers, skiers, dog walkers and cyclists, many of them from Salt Lake City.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake County Council's out-of-county argument for not contributing to the Bonanza purchase seems out of sync with Summit County, which pledged $5.7 million, and Wasatch County, which has declined to pledge anything.
Like Salt Lake leaders, Wasatch County has other open-space priorities, such the North Fields farmlands along the Provo River west of U.S. Highway 40, according to Wasatch County Manager Mike Davis, who believes his taxpayers will help pay for Bonanza Flats by forgoing future property tax revenues. He estimates that the proposed 260 luxury home Bonanza Mountain Resort development would generate $6 million in yearly revenue that would be mostly used to support schools.
"In essence, we would be contributing $6 million a year forever," Davis said.
Wasatch County does not oppose the land remaining open space, he said, but harbors concerns that a conservation easement might preclude hunting and snowmobiling, or that the site might one day be annexed into Park City.
Annexation, which occurred with Round Valley, would mean no rifle hunting since shooting is not allowed within any Utah city's limits.
Davis also believes Park City is partly responsible for the deal's high price tag, thanks to development pacts struck decades ago with the land's then-owner United Park City Mines. The city agreed to provide water and sewer services to UPCM's Wasatch County holdings to the south — if it would leave open its Summit County holdings, according to Davis.
"If Park City hadn't committed water resources," he said, "that property would only be worth a fourth the price they are paying now."