If citizens step forward in time, an integral swath of Alpine wildlands will be preserved as public open space. Thanks to a creative proposal involving Summit County, Park City, the Snyderville Basin Recreation District, the Basin Open Space Advisory Committee and Utah Open Lands, 781 acres in Toll Canyon could be purchased from a private landowner and protected from future development.

The land is an integral part of the natural ecosystem in the increasingly populated Basin. Next time you are driving over Parley's Summit toward Kimball Junction, look southward and you will see dramatic evidence of the residential growth among the evergreens and aspens. While the twinkling Christmas lights adorning residents' homes in Timberline, Pinebrook and Summit Park are lovely, they provide a stark outline of the shrinking patches of wildlife habitat and publicly accessible open space.

Preservation of those dwindling undisturbed areas is vital to residents' quality of life for many reasons. Most importantly, the wooded slopes and grassy meadows help to prevent erosion, restore air and water quality and serve as a bank of natural resources for future generations. More selfishly, they are our playgrounds, knitting together neighborhoods with trails and viewsheds.

But those amenities come with a price tag. Closing the deal on Toll Canyon will cost $6.1 million and representatives from all of the agencies mentioned above are scrambling to gather the necessary funds.

They are almost there.

According to tentative agreements that have yet to be formally approved by Park City and Summit County, the money would come from the Basin's voter-approved open-space bonds and from a unique land swap between the city and the county using, in part, revenues from Park City's Resort City Sales Tax recently increased with voters' support.

The complex agreements laid out this week required a unique level of cooperation among sometimes competitive government agencies, and they accurately reflect citizens' repeated support for open-space acquisitions. But they don't cover the full purchase price.

Even with all of the city and county handshaking and valuable support from Utah Open Lands, individuals are being asked to step forward to help close a quarter-of-a-million dollar gap to secure the deal by the end of the year. Utah Open Lands is hoping to raise that amount in pledges. If that effort is successful, the landowner has agreed reduce the price by more than half a million dollars.

It is a reasonable request. While citizens throughout the city and county have contributed to the purchase through their taxes, those who use open space, especially those who live and recreate in the area, should be willing to contribute a little more.

The opportunity to preserve Toll Canyon is extraordinary. The city, county, Basin Recreation, BOSAC and Utah Open Lands are to be congratulated for their hard work to bring this option to the table, and we would urge residents to tell their elected leaders to green-light the the agreements when they come before them in the next two weeks.

Finally, we would like to remind everyone, as they look up at the Wasatch Mountains that provide a stunning backdrop on the way home from other more cluttered places, to add Utah Open Lands' Toll Canyon Fund to their Christmas shopping list.

For information or to contribute, go to www.utahopenlands.org