New park in Oakley protects public’s Weber River access in perpetuity
The second big step in a plan that dates back a decade or more to establish a trail network across Oakley and protect the Weber River got a big boost Wednesday night, as the Summit County Council freed up $270,000 to help establish a new riverside park in the city.
The money will go toward purchasing a conservation easement to protect the land from development. The complicated land transaction essentially gives the Summit Land Conservancy a year to raise $150,000 to complete the purchase of the 5 underlying acres.
The money allocated Wednesday night is the balance of a $500,000 grant set up by the county in 2017 to support what it calls the Oakley River Corridor project. The first $230,000 was used to help pay for Steven’s Grove — 23 protected acres west of the current project that includes about a half-mile of riverfront.
The land conservancy’s executive director, Cheryl Fox, said the transaction ensures the public will have access to the river in a way it currently does not.
Within the last year, Oakley has created a campground north of its new Rodeo Grounds adjacent to the Weber River. But there is a stretch of private land between the river and the campground, so the water is off-limits.
That will change as the plan goes into effect, protecting in perpetuity the public’s right to fish, swim and recreate in this stretch of the Weber River, said Tom Smart, an Oakley City Councilor who worked extensively on the project.
“If you go down there, it’s really in the center of Oakley City. It’s beautiful, there are trees, a river next door,” Smart said. “It just is one more element in getting kids and families outside enjoying nature and away from their phones.”
Fox said the deal helps the environment by protecting natural wetlands and preventing developments that can pollute waterways with runoff. The deal also calls for new fencing to prevent cattle from getting into the river, which Smart said has been a persistent issue.
Fox added that healthy habitats are better for humans, too.
“The work that we do is really protecting the human habitat, and the human habitat really includes healthy rivers and streams and habitats for lots of other species as well,” Fox said. “Kids can go throw rocks in rivers and people can fish. More and more there are studies that show we are just not healthy if we don’t have those kinds of opportunities.”
Smart said this land deal is about three years in the making and had overcome initial resistance from the landowner until an equitable solution was reached. But it’s an extension of a plan started a dozen or so years ago by former Mayor Doug Evans, whom Smart said laid out the maps and figured out where trail connectivity would be possible and who owned the underlying land.
Smart said the first big step was the acquisition of Steven’s Grove in 2017. The idea is to connect the trails between the two parks and extend eastward to the Franson Lane Trail system, eventually connecting across the city’s entire five or so miles.
Smart said the next steps involve talking to the five landowners who hold land along the contemplated route. He reported that they’re favorably disposed to the preservation project.
“The beauty of (the plan) is it seems doable. We have a window — if we do it now, they’ll look back and say I’m so glad they did it,” Smart said. “As development creeps in, it gets harder and harder to do. Now it’s within our grasp.”
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