"Just up the road is some of the most stunning landscapes in the Central Wasatch, from conifer forests to alpine lakes," Park City Mayor Jack Thomas said Thursday during a news briefing at City Hall.
"It's breathtaking in another way," Thomas said. "It is one of the largest developable pieces of land in the Wasatch. All of us here have a special relationship with this land. This land has always been in question. Now there is a chance to save it."
The acquisition, unanimously approved Thursday night by the Park City Council, would be financed in part by a $25 million bond Park City voters approved in November. Some of the balance would come from donations raised by Utah Open Lands (UOL) and other conservation groups that have joined forces to help conserve Bonanza Flats. The city has until March 15 to close the funding gap.
The land, located in Wasatch County along its borders with Summit and Salt Lake counties, would be the largest private inholdings ever acquired for preservation in the Central Wasatch, according to UOL executive director Wendy Fisher.
"There have been so many planning efforts to deal with the fact that we love our canyons," Fisher said. "This is an implementation of what so many people have said in so many studies."
She said she believes other governmental entities, such as Salt Lake and Summit counties, should be expected to kick in $10 million, with private donors making up the final $3 million.
Summit County is in active discussions with Park City on its participation in financing the deal, according to County Councilman Roger Armstrong.
Had it gone ahead, proposed development at the site would have severe impacts on air and water quality, add to traffic congestion and sacrifice valued open space, Armstrong said.
This area is also an important corridor for wildlife movement between Big Cottonwood and American Fork canyons and the Wasatch Back.
"Having protected areas between developed areas is more important than ever," said Jamerson Kent of Wasatch Backcountry Alliance.
Bonanza Flats was previously owned by United Park City Mines and had more recently come into ownership by Talisker, which envisioned building a resort with 260 units. However, Wells Fargo Bank and Midtown Acquisitions Inc. foreclosed on the property a few years ago, prompting negotiations with Park City officials who hoped to put an end to development threats.
"They were going to have a massive exclusive subdivision and golf courses," said Carl Fisher of Save Our Canyons. "We know what this could become and we know what the community wants it to remain, and that's open space."
The Save Our Canyons official said Park City outbid several developers for the property.
"If the offer fails," he said, "it will be immediately snatched up by someone else. We have one shot to get this done. There is a lot of urgency surrounding this."
Other non-profits involved are The Nature Conservancy, Summit Land Conservancy, Winter Wildlands Alliance, Friends of Alta and Mountain Trails Foundation.
"We will need everyone's help," Thomas said. "We need to roll up our sleeves and fill the funding gap."
The public may visit the groups' web sites to pledge donations. They intend to launch a joint web site, www.savebonanzaflats.org, sometime Friday for this purpose.
Brian Maffly covers public lands for The Salt Lake Tribune. Maffly can be reached at email@example.com or 801-257-8713.