Grassroots Win Saves 1,350 Acres in Wasatch

Park City to purchase Bonanza Flat for $38 million and conserve the land as open space

In Park City, Utah, a grassroots coalition of local voters, government groups, businesses, nonprofits, and backcountry skiers has secured a victory to save a piece of prized mountain land from being developed.

On Thursday, city leaders plan to close a $38 million deal to purchase 1,350 acres of forests, lakes, and peaks in the Wasatch Range. The transaction ensures this piece of land, called Bonanza Flat, will be preserved as the ecology, wildlife habitat, and place of refuge it is today, forever. Chris Adams, a local backcountry skier and board member of the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, called Bonanza Flat "prime terrain at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon."

Bonanza Flat is a place of winter refuge. A campaign to save it as public land is currently underway. PHOTO: G. Brad Lewis/Utah Open Lands

"We have always been committed to saving this tremendous landscape," said Park City Mayor Jack Thomas in a press release. "We want the community to rest assured that we will step up to the plate and purchase the land, but we are reliant on all of the commitments made to-date to truly get this across the finish line."

Bonanza Flat is a single win in a larger battle over public lands that has reached a fever pitch in Utah the last several months. In February, Outdoor Retailer moved its annual trade show out of Salt Lake City in protest of the state's lack of support for public lands. And yesterday, according to the Washington Post, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended that President Trump "revise the existing boundaries" of Bears Ears, a 1.35-million-acre site in Southern Utah that President Obama designated as a national monument in December. A full review of 27 national monuments is still underway, while Outdoor Retailer found a home in Denver.

The opportunity to save Bonanza Flat from development surfaced last fall, when Park City voters passed a $25 million bond to purchase the land from the bank, which had acquired the property after its owners defaulted. In the Wasatch, more development threatens to tip the fragile balance that currently exists between public and private landownership. Plans had already been outlined to develop Bonanza Flat with homes, condos, commercial units, and a golf course. After the voter bond was passed, the bank told Park City they would sell the land for $38 million, with the intention that it would be conserved, kicking off a flurry of auctions, matching grants, bake sales, and donations, among other fundraisers, to close the $13 million gap in five months.

A single night event at Montage Deer Valley raised $1.1 million in donations. Local artist Bridgette Meinhold donated her artwork to raise $22,000 in one night. A birthday party requested donations instead of presents. Deer Valley and Vail Resorts (owner of Canyons and Park City ski areas) promised a $30,000 challenge grant that was matched in two days. Just this last week, Park City-based businesses, including Skullcandy, Traeger, and Kuhl, pledged $35,000. An online auction hosted by a leadership class raised $25,000.

Park City sold the $25 million voter bond to raise an additional $2.7 million, which gave them enough to move forward and purchase Bonanza Flat from the bank. The city is setting aside $700,000 to cover closing costs and anticipated trailhead enhancements.

"We need to be good stewards of the land," said Park City Councilman Andy Beerman. "We know that the public loves this land, and, because of that, we want to make sure we are able to manage its use in a sustainable manner."