Park City dispute could rev up about Bonanza Flat snowmobiles
A dispute about Bonanza Flat could rev up as Park City officials consider what sorts of activities will eventually be allowed on the City Hall-owned acreage in Wasatch County.
Many Parkites see the land as a place to snowshoe and cross-country ski in the winter. Others, though, have long used the land for recreational snowmobiling as well as for snowmobiling as a means for transportation. It seems likely the discussions about the future of snowmobiling in Bonanza Flat could become one of the contentious issues as long-range plans are crafted.
Bonanza Flat was traditionally under the ownership of United Park City Mines. The firm allowed the public to use the acreage for decades with few restrictions. Snowmobiles were permitted. The Talisker corporate family took control of the land through the acquisition of United Park City Mines with few changes to the loose policies that governed Bonanza Flat. City Hall acquired the property earlier in the year from lenders that brought a foreclosure case against the Talisker corporate family. The acquisition, for conservation purposes, puts the municipal government in the position to create a plan outlining the activities that will be allowed.
A representative of the Utah Snowmobile Association recently appeared at a Park City Council meeting requesting that Bonanza Flat remain open to snowmobiles. The elected officials were not prepared to discuss the topic in any detail.
They will eventually address the delicate issue as part of the broader talks about Bonanza Flat.
Russ Mangone, a Taylorsville resident who is the secretary of the Utah Snowmobile Association, said in an interview he has ridden a snowmobile on Bonanza Flat up to five times each winter for the past 12 years. Bonanza Flat offers desirable snowmobiling land and is easily accessible from the Salt Lake Valley, he said.
“There’s a lot of fun hills. You can ride in the meadows there . . . through the trees,” Mangone said. “It’s close. It’s got all kinds of terrain up there to ride.”
He contended snowmobiles do not pollute the air and do not damage the land since they ride atop the snow. Snowmobiles leave “very little footprint, if any at all” on the environment, Mangone said.
“My snowmobile runs a lot cleaner than my car does,” he said.
People who live in places close to the high-altitude Bonanza Flat, in spots like Brighton Estates, have used snowmobiles on the land for decades to get to and from their homes. There are not year-round roads that provide vehicle access. Any discussion about snowmobiling in Bonanza Flat will need to address the people who use the land for recreational purposes as well as those who use it for access to homes.
Park City officials have typically taken a stance against snowmobiling on City Hall-owned open lands, and there have not been indications they are interested in relaxing restrictions. They have instead supported human-powered activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Leaders, though, have acknowledged Bonanza Flat, the largest single tract of land ever acquired by City Hall, is a more complex case than other grounds under municipal ownership.
Officials could encounter resistance if they move toward allowing snowmobiling on Bonanza Flat. A nonscientific survey covering a variety of Bonanza Flat-related topics that was conducted in the summer and fall showed intense opposition to motorized use of the land. Upward of 80 percent of the people who took the survey indicated riding motorized vehicles is inappropriate on Bonanza Flat. The survey did not specify different sorts of motorized vehicles, but snowmobiles are widely derided by recreational users of City Hall’s open spaces.
Utah Open Lands, a not-for-profit organization tapped by City Hall to assist as the Bonanza Flat restrictions are authored, plans to study the wintertime uses on the land during the upcoming season. Wendy Fisher, the executive director of the organization, said it appears people riding snowmobiles on Bonanza Flat are doing so for recreation purposes, to access private lands close to Bonanza Flat or to access public lands like Wasatch Mountain State Park.
City Councilors are expected to make a decision about snowmobiling by the end of March, as they finalize a document known as a conservation easement that will detail the restrictions. They will also craft a management plan for the land.
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861 acres have been placed under a conservation easement, protecting the land from development in perpetuity.