Rose Canyon Ranch an open-space prize
Final piece» Families waited until county could buy the land
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The two families met at the University of Utah law library, became friends and bought 1,700 acres in the Oquirrh Mountains above Herriman that decades later would become an open-space prize.

The story of the Kunklers and Wrays' purchase of the isolated Rose Canyon Ranch in 1971 is one of many tales of the pristine tract of high-mountain timber and sagebrush slopes that is now permanently open to the public.

Its history, however, is sketchy. The Rose name comes from a family "who burned coal in the canyon at an early day," according to brief account in a state periodical published in 1886.

For the past several years, William Wray, 65, of Milford, had it in the back of his mind to sell the tract to the county, but officials were unable to make the purchase until last year.

The price tag of $8.7 million came from a voter-approved $48 million bond passed in 2006 for parks and open space. Rose Canyon Ranch is the final piece of county and federal lands that have created a massive, 4,000 acre recreation area for hiking, horseback riding and back-country bicycling.

The region also is home to wild turkeys, cougar, fox, blue grouse, mule deer and a herd of 750 elk.

Jackie Bowers of Riverton remembers hiking in the area as a child. Her parents, Jack and Joan Kunkler, who purchased the parcel with the Wrays, often brought their children and friends there for cook-outs and camping.

Then tragedy visited the family. Jackie's mother was killed in a automobile accident in 1982 and three years later her father died, leaving three minor boys. Each of their three older children raised their younger siblings.

"It was a learning curve for all of us," said Jackie, who was 23 when she took over parental duties of her 14-year-old brother. "Nobody gets to know the whole hand they get, you just have to figure out what to do with what you've been dealt."

She also lost her sister, Cindy Westerfield, to cancer in 2003 and her brother-in-law, Darren Westerfield, to a fatal car crash in July.

The surviving Kunklers see the county's purchase as part of their family's legacy.

"My parents would have wanted the land to be used in this way," said Jackie. "It is something the public will enjoy -- and we can continue to enjoy, as well."

The Kunkler-Wray partnership began when Jackie's father met William Wray's wife, Eunice Buckland, when the two were attending law school. Both became lawyers, as did Wray. The Wrays later divorced.

William Wray remembers purchasing the property from developers Roger Boyer and Ellis Ivory, who had bought the land from a sheepherder in the 1960s.

"In those days, the purchase was pure speculation," said Ivory. "I never dreamed that in my lifetime there would be development out there."

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon has called the purchase a dream come true, "especially on that side of the valley where there is such tremendous growth."

Rose Canyon Ranch, along with the nearby Yellow Fork Park and property from its partner, the Bureau of Land Management, forms one of the largest contiguous parcels of land set aside in Salt Lake County.

But there's a glitch.

In November, the county signed off an agreement with Kennecott Utah Copper allowing the mining giant to prospect on the Rose Canyon Ranch. The county, under federal law, cannot stop Kennecott from probing for profitable ore beneath the publicly owned preserve.

If Kennecott finds enough ore to mine long term, it will have to buy the land or provide the county a comparable parcel elsewhere.

Said Wray, who also is a geologist: "I would have thought that had there been any valuable minerals, Kennecott would have looked and found it many years ago."

Farming and ranching were the mainstays of the Rose Canyon basin and Herriman until the 1870s, when ore hauling became the main industry. The Bingham Canyon copper mine opened in the early 1900s and today, Kennecott Utah Copper is the single-largest property owner in the valley's southwest corridor.

The first known white settlers to area were Samuel Egbert and Thomas Butterfield, who on a hunting trip spotted a stream that flowed from the mouth of what became known as Butterfield Canyon.

Butterfield and Henry Herriman moved their families to the area in 1852. The next year, 20 other families joined the settlement and built a fort near what is now 12700 South and 6000 West in Herriman.

The only remaining evidence of the fort are two black locust trees believed to have been planted at the west entrance, according to a county history.

By 1880, the population of that part of the valley had grown to 342. Today, about 1,600 people live there, while vthe population of Herriman tops 20,000.

dawn@sltrib.com