A land to discover: 910 Cattle Ranch offers a world of opportunity to Summit County
Nearly 9,000 acres near Jeremy Ranch is a blank canvas, but are officials prepared for the responsibility?
An unsuspecting, winding dirt road near Jeremy Ranch leads up to a sparse row of pastel buildings, worn and faded. A steel, ranch-style home adorned with green piping stands several hundred yards away. Just a bit further down, a rustic stone cabin with a weathered wooden side and a patchwork roof is nestled into the valley.
A herd of cattle grazes on grass coated by the morning frost off in the distance, and there’s probably a flock of turkeys or a curious coyote scrounging around somewhere further in the groves of golden aspen trees. East Canyon Creek cuts through the land with quiet, steadfast trickles as wildlife flourishes around it. Almost 9,000 acres of nearly untouched open space exist here, and there’s so much to be discovered.
But is Summit County ready to keep the world-class land from being loved to death?
The County Courthouse has long had its sights set on the 910 Cattle Ranch property in East Canyon for its continuous, open landscape. Officials were first approached with the possibility of purchasing the land around a decade ago, but the negotiations fell through while questions lingered about whether the county was truly ready for the responsibility.
David Bernolfo, who owned the property at the time, had dedicated more than 30 years to making it a wildlife sanctuary in the area. He operated the cattle ranch for some time before leasing the land to the Osguthorpe family for their cows.
The 910 Cattle Ranch remained a point of interest throughout the years, particularly whenever the Basin Open Space Advisory Committee received funding. The county then formed the Open Space Advisory Committee in the spring of 2022 to identify land that should be preserved using the $50 million open space bond overwhelmingly approved by voters.
Summit County Lands & Natural Resources Director Jess Kirby, who works closely with the group, said officials knew from the beginning they didn’t want to spend everything on one purchase — especially given the amount of existing open space on the West Side.
Yet the timing seemed to work out with Bernolfo, who is approaching 80 and experienced challenges with managing the substantial property last winter.
“He’s ready to hang up the spurs,” Kirby said.
County Councilor Chris Robinson helped negotiate the arrangement. The $55 million, four-year option agreement to acquire the land, which has around 100 entitlements, has been characterized as a “good deal” and a legacy opportunity for Summit County.
Community members were eager to support the purchase. Though their ideas differed about how the open space would be best used, they expressed a desire to protect the land and shared fears of overuse.
“If you build it, they will come,” Kirby said. “We have a great responsibility to do this right and we only have one chance to do that.”
Everything past the home base of 910 Cattle Ranch is a blank canvas, and county officials are dedicated to taking a slow approach as they learn about the land before they officially own it.
Summit County launched the Lands and Natural Resources (L&NR) Volunteer Ambassador Program last month as the first step to establishing a baseline assessment. More than 60 applications were submitted in the first month with around 25 ambassadors selected. So far, the group has logged more than 180 hours and hiked 30 miles while mapping game trails, exploring the land and collecting garbage. They’ve also made some discoveries, such as the forgotten SNOTEL site and bear tracks in the snow.
The county is partnering with local, state and federal organizations to collect vital data, which leverages limited staff and funds.
Team Rubicon, a veteran-led humanitarian organization, will help clear roads and chop wood to improve forest health while volunteers receive skills and training in return. There’s a stretch of stream that the Utah Division of Natural Resources has never tested and portions of the creek that have rarely been fished. The water may sustain a recreational fishery, but that’s something still to be determined.
A woman who has walked on the public trails for 20 years submitted a bird list with over 180 species. Leslie Miller, Bernolfo’s partner and director of the Reimagine Western Landscapes Initiative, supplied a record of flowers and aspen carvings.
That information, and more, will be crucial to officials as they look to develop an adaptive management plan. It would address areas such as forest management, weed mitigation and wildlife habitats. It should also help the county determine the sites in need of attention and the ones that should be prioritized.
“This is a dream come true. I’d consider it a win just to plan and work on this project for the rest of my career,” Kirby said. “We’re all excited to learn. … Nothing is quick, but we’ll focus on smaller things first that will make a big impact.”
Overall, the property is in decent condition. However, Kirby sees a few areas of improvement.
This might include creating a buffer zone for wildfire prevention and developing a 10-year plan for the watershed. Officials also have to decide whether cattle will remain on the property after a historic run there and whether it’s possible for beavers to return to the area.
Managing wildlife without hunting in the area could be a challenge. There have already been some changes to the animals’ movements with the new ambassadors around, and county officials don’t want to force the creatures off the property so introducing people may bring additional problems.
Poaching has also been a real concern at nearly every open space owned by Summit County. Officials banned activities such as riding motorized vehicles, dumping or burning on property that’s been protected through deed restrictions, conservation easements or other methods. However, it can be difficult to enforce the rules.
Kirby said they’ve found signage ripped down and rogue bike trails built at numerous locations in Summit County. Officials have started taking creative approaches to patrolling the land, including collaborating with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District ranger program, as well as increasing their ability to prosecute the crimes through the Summit County Attorney’s Office.
Some residents have called for 910 Cattle Ranch to be transformed into another Round Valley. Allowing public access would also open a portion of the Great Western Trail, a 4,455-mile trail system with immense Utah pioneer history that spans from Canada to Mexico.
But Kirby encouraged the community to manage their expectations. It’s a fine balance between a wildlife sanctuary and a recreational haven, particularly as other local sites such as the “Church of Dirt,” have been forced to close due to popularity. County officials are sensitive to that.
“Maybe we treat this one differently,” she said.
It will likely be years before the property opens to the public, and that’s if the county can formally purchase it. Officials are seeking to fund the bulk of the purchase through a large grant, which they’re applying for in December. They’ll have three more chances across four years to earn the award. If it doesn’t work out, the County Courthouse could try to fund the project through donations and smaller contributions like when City Hall acquired Bonanza Flat in 2017.
County officials plan to host several roundtable discussions with conservation and recreation groups, as well as organizations and experts dedicated to topics such as ranching and wildlife to brainstorm the goals and visions for the 910 land. Staff will analyze the discussions and invite the public to participate in a similar format. This long process would be repeated as necessary.
Until then, the property will remain private.
On the second day of racing in Ruka, Finland, Stifel U.S. Cross Country Ski Team athlete Rosie Brennan of Park City took home her first individual classic podium in the 10k classic.
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