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There are a few places left not far off the Wasatch Front where a hiker, skier or equestrian rider can easily leave behind the sights, sounds and smells of modern life and luxuriate in nature.

Toll Canyon is one of those. Nestled between the residential areas of Summit Park and Pinebrook on the south side of Interstate 80 in Parleys Canyon, nearly 800 acres remain as much a spectacular natural sanctuary as they have been for centuries. A bubbling year-round stream cascades through towering forests and open meadows.

Residents of nearby homes have come to think of Toll Canyon as their own. Hikers, often accompanied by dogs, can walk or jog for hours on the well-worn path. In winter, Toll Canyon is popular with cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Horses carry riders up the uneven terrain high into the mountains.

One huge pine tree with a hollow space in its trunk near the ground has been turned into a "fairy tree." Children place tiny toys and other treasured items into the tree for the fairies, and throw in nuts for the squirrels.

The canyon provides forage and year-round water for the moose, elk and deer that call it home.

An intrepid hiker can, in an overnight expedition, reach parts of Big Cottonwood Canyon and, more quickly, the Canyons ski area in Park City.

This precious bit of wilderness so near to Park City and Salt Lake City should be protected for those who already love it and for future generations. The owners have given Utah Open Lands an option to purchase the property and lowered the price tag by $610,000, to below market value. But the deal has a deadline.

And that deadline is rapidly approaching.

The option is good for two years, but the conservation group must show it has the total purchase price — $5.49 million — in hand or pledged by donors before Dec. 31.

After collecting funds from Summit County, Park City and the Snyderville Basin Recreation District, Utah Open Lands still needs $250,000 from individual donors.

If the option expires, the property owner, RE Investment Holdings LLC, will start development plans. Once trees and other vegetation are removed, the stream tamed and the canyon walls bulldozed to make way for houses, this magical place will be lost forever.

That should not be allowed to happen. Someone — or many individuals — should step forward with the means to protect this unique treasure.

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