Two of the largest swaths of protected open space near Park City may soon find a connection. And for the region’s ever-increasing throngs of hikers and mountain bikers, it could be love.
Extell Development, builder of the new Mayflower Resort located west of the Jordanelle Reservoir along Highway 40, has agreed to commit more than 3,100 acres of the future ski area to a conservation easement. Utah Open Lands will oversee the easement, and executive director Wendy Fisher said her organization wants to use it in part to connect trails in the Bonanza Flat area with those in Wasatch Mountains State Park. Some pockets will also be set aside to create protected ecosystems and habitat for wildlife, Fisher said.
The first trail, which would connect with the Spin Cycle trail to form a loop, is expected to be open in September. Brooke Hontz, the vice president of development for Extell’s Utah properties, said plans exist for a network of more than 50 miles of trail.
“I think the regional connections are going to be really amazing as an opportunity for people starting in the Park City area and ending up in Wasatch County in the Upper Valley,” Fisher said.
Some community trails and former mining roads exist now on that land, which sits at the intersection of Wasatch and Summit counties. Those who rode or hiked them, however, were technically trespassing. Yet a bigger threat those recreationists faced, according to Fisher, was the development of those lands into homes or hotels at any time. She pointed out that the land donated by Extell had already gone through entitlements that would allow it to build almost 700 units in the area.
“Sometimes it can be beguiling because there’s all this open space,” Fisher said. “But when that open space gets development entitlements, and then goes through the development process, even if you were trespassing and nobody caught you in the past, those recreational opportunities are gone because the development is going to come in and take over.”
By granting the easement, Extell has agreed to never build anything, not even a ski lodge, on those acres, which constitute half of the roughly 6,000-acre property. The land will be known as the Forty-Fifth Star Conservation Preserve. It is named after one of the mining claims on the land, which in turn got its name from Utah’s admittance to the Union as the 45th state.
The easements allow for nonwinter public access, which extends from May 1 to Sept. 30 but can be delayed by the presence of snow or mud on the trails.
During the winter months, up to 4,100 acres of the land will serve as the terrain for the Mayflower Resort. Mayflower is still looking for an operator but Hontz expects skiers — though potentially not snowboarders, depending on the operator — to be on its slopes by the 2024-25 season. It will be the first public, all-season destination resort built in the United States since Deer Valley in 1981 and the first ski area built in Utah since Woodward Park City in 2019.
The growing demand for real estate and recreation in Utah initially drew Extell founder Gary Barnett to the property, according to a news release. Yet after witnessing the beauty of the land and the recreational pressures put on the area, Barnett said he realized Extell’s land acquisitions could serve a greater purpose.
“I was struck by the scale of the Wasatch Back and just how many people get out into the mountains,” Barnett said in the news release. “It is impressive, and I felt some of that experience should just be protected,
He added, “Perhaps it isn’t the best business decision to pay for land based on its development rights and then turn around and retire those rights in favor of conservation.”
Extell still has plans to develop about 1,000 acres of the property. The Mayflower Resort, or whatever the operators end up calling it, will have three luxury hotels, condos and a mountain village with an ice ribbon. Various developers are selling residential lots and homes on plats they bought from Extell. One is adjacent to Deer Valley Resort’s Deer Crest neighborhood and another grants membership at a new Tiger Woods golf course being constructed on the opposite side of the Jordanelle. Prices start at $2 million.
Hontz said that kind of money is what Barnett gave up when he donated the land, which Fisher said will be legally protected in perpetuity. Extell will receive a tax break and will retain ownership and water rights to the property.
“When Gary started to consider this it was mind blowing,” Hontz said. “Amazing that he would give this gift to, in my opinion, the state of Utah.”
The Forty-Fifth Star Preserve is about twice the size of the Bonanza Flat, which was purchased for conservation in 2017 for $38 million thanks to a public-private fundraising effort. The preserve is the 111th land protection project taken on by Utah Open Lands since the nonprofit trust began preserving open space within the state in 1990.