Bonanza Flat: bikers, hikers and bears | ParkRecord.com

Bonanza Flat: bikers, hikers and bears

Park City details issues with the acreage

by Jay Hamburger
THE PARK RECORD

Park City on Monday detailed a series of Bonanza Flat topics, such as the discovery of noxious weeds, the potential for water-quality issues someday and the presence of wildlife like bears and a species of tiny owls, that illustrates the complexities that come with ownership of City Hall's grandest open space parcel.

City Hall in June finalized the $38 million acquisition of the 1,350-acre tract of high-altitude land in Wasatch County just south of the municipal borders. The first major study of the land conducted on behalf of City Hall started shortly afterward. The study, conducted by the not-for-profit conservation group Utah Open Lands, is meant to provide leaders with baseline information about the land.

Officials tapped Utah Open Lands to conduct the study, help craft a management plan for Bonanza Flat and assist as a document is drafted that will outline restrictions on the land, known as a conservation easement. Utah Open Lands will also hold and enforce the conservation easement. The land will remain under City Hall ownership, however.

The City Hall report released on Monday was drafted in anticipation of a Park City Council meeting on Thursday. The elected officials are expected to receive an update about the Bonanza Flat work that has been underway since the acquisition was finalized. Public input will likely be taken. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at the Marsac Building. The meeting on Thursday will be one in a series of discussions about Bonanza Flat as the conservation easement and other polices are crafted.

It has been known for months that municipal ownership of Bonanza Flat would be far more complex than ownership of City Hall's other conservation parcels. The Bonanza Flat acreage's environmental history and status as wildlife-rich habitat were well established prior to the acquisition. It was also known that it would be unique for City Hall to own such a large parcel of land high in the mountains.

Bonanza Flat has long been a popular place for hikers, bicyclists, cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Public access was allowed even though the land was under private ownership until the City Hall acquisition.

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The City Hall report, drafted by Heinrich Deters, who is the trails and open space program manager for the municipal government, broaches topics that have not been widely discussed publicly in the more than a year since Park City leaders began discussing the potential of acquiring Bonanza Flat. Some of the topics outlined in the report include:

  • the quality of water at Bloods Lake, which provides water for a Girl Scout camp on the land. The lake is increasingly popular as a place for camping and to bring dogs to run off leashes, the report says. The report says human and animal feces could someday impact the Bloods Lake water quality. Utah Open Lands is testing water quality at Bloods Lake and other lakes in Bonanza Flat, according to the report.
  • the wildlife that inhabit Bonanza Flat, including, according to the report, mountain lions, black bears and tiny owls known as flammulated owls. There are pikas, which is a small mammal. The species are "of relative concern," the report says.
  • historic mining-era locations, which Utah Open Lands wants to detail in an inventory. Utah Open Lands and an expert in mining are canvassing the land as they create the inventory and search for open mining shafts.

    Wendy Fisher, the executive director of Utah Open Lands, said the research has found access points to Bonanza Flat over the years have been scattered and, without a designated trail system, people have opted to use their own routes across the land.

    "There are some areas of Bonanza Flat that are incredibly pristine," Fisher said, describing other parts of the acreage by saying "overly loved would be a generous term."

    The discussions about Bonanza Flat have been ongoing since the acquisition as a stakeholders group and a group of technical advisors have been convened. Public bodies like the County Courthouse, Wasatch County, waterworks entities in the Salt Lake Valley and the U.S. Forest Service have an interest in the discussions. Water quality is a key concern since Bonanza Flat is located close to the top of the watershed, but the other topics will also be addressed as the conservation easement is drafted.