Bonanza Flats: Current uses, and how they could change
September 9, 2016
It's a Sunday afternoon atop Guardsman Pass. Cars are parked to the cliff's edge, trying to make room for the many weekend warriors. Spandex-suited road cyclists make small talk with mountain bikers who adjust their saddles before hitting the Wasatch Crest trail. College students carry inflatable paddleboards on their backs for an afternoon float on Blood Lake, while motorcycle mavens rev engines before descending to Midway. Everyone is here for a different reason, but everyone is certainly enjoying the view.
The green expanse stretching from the Guardsman Pass overlook to Empire Pass is called Bonanza Flats. The 1,400 acres of high-altitude land in Wasatch County could be sold, possibly changing its recreational uses.
The current owner, Redus, LLC, allows the public to openly enjoy the land. Although it's private property, the well-worn trails to Blood Lake would suggest otherwise.
James Walker, 36, rides his motorcycle up Guardsman Pass from his home in Holladay about once a week during the summer. Each time, he is "blown away" by the undisturbed nature that stretches toward the Heber Valley. Accompanied by his father-in-law, Owen Biddle, the two agree that development on Bonanza Flats would ruin their favorite vista.
"I would love to have a cabin up here if I could afford it," Biddle said, "but I'd rather make this land national forest."
Ryan Bastian, 33, brings his two kids, ages 4 and 6, to Blood Lake. The family drives from Saratoga Springs to get a slice of alpine paradise without the backcountry commitment. Bastian loves the spot because it's "almost car camping," and his chocolate Lab is welcome.
Bastian said he's always wondered if he was trespassing. The rusty, spray paint-covered "No Trespassing" signs don't seem to deter any of the 30-some people and their dogs who were enjoying the lake on a recent Sunday afternoon.
"There's a lot of value in allowing the public to enjoy this place," Bastian said.
He hopes the land can be preserved by the Forest Service so his kids and dog can always splash around in the lake.
It had been about 20 years since Cheryl Fox, executive director of the Summit Land Conservancy, visited the green expanse of Bonanza Flats. Fox remembers the first time she and her family visited, in 1984.
After consulting a roadmap, her family decided that Guardsman Pass would be the quickest route to a restaurant in Salt Lake City. The road, unpaved at the time, made them late for their reservations, but provided quite the view.
Thirty years later and the road is now paved, but the distant view of Mount Timpanogos and lush forests are still the same.
"It's just beautiful," said Fox, who regrets not revisiting the spot enough.
Bonanza Flats reminds Fox of the discussions that led to the Empire Pass development in Deer Valley. Before Empire Pass was built, Fox remembers backcountry skiing in the aspen glades of "Petticoat Junction," named after an old sitcom that shared the same iconic rusting water tower.
"Zoning doesn't work. You have to buy it to protect it," Fox said.
Which is why the Park City Council has crafted a $25 million ballot measure meant to fund the acquisition of Bonanza Flats if it becomes available to City Hall.
However, outside developers could be placing bids as well. The Discovery Land Company of Scottsdale, Arizona, has expressed interest in Bonanza Flats, Park City officials have said.
"You can imagine there would be gate codes, fences, and security," Fox said, describing the prospects of no more camping at Blood Lake, sunset hikes or early morning backcountry ski sessions.
Currently, the Bonanza Flats area is inaccessible by car in the winter months. If potential owners decide to develop similarly to Empire Pass, the environmental effects will be severe, Fox said.
"Not only do you have the people who live in the condos, but the construction workers, wait staff, housekeepers, and so on," she said.
Fox said protecting the natural resources, watershed, wildlife habitat, and allowing non-invasive recreation, is the best use for Bonanza Flats.
"We love to ski, we love dogs, we have more toys than cars, and we value open space," Fox said, adding, "[This land] is why we came, this is why we are here."