Work just begun on conservation easement | ParkRecord.com

Work just begun on conservation easement

Utah Open Lands and Park City to take on partners to save land for future

Monika Guendner
Park Record

A Venn diagram of how the Park City staff envision working with stakeholders to craft the conservation easement for Bonanza Flat.

Park City Municipal Corp.'s acquisition of the 1,350-acre Bonanza Flat area will need more than a signed title and the intention to leave the land undeveloped.

The parcel, which lies in Wasatch County, will need intensive research and a management plan with the change to public access, according to Heinrich Deter, PCMC Trails and Open Space Program Manager, and Wendy Fisher, director of Utah Open Lands, who presented a preliminary framing framework to the City Council on Thursday.

Fisher heads the process though Utah Open Lands' holding of the conservation easement. ""I think one of the things I want to stress, right out of the gate is something that we've had consistent questions about from a public perspective. That is, what's taking so long and what's all this mean? And I want to stress that Utah Open Lands has been doing conservation easement work for 27 years and this is a pretty standard process.

"You can't go out and draft a conservation easement until you really know, and fundamentally understand, some the intimate details of the land. Otherwise you don't do a good job coming up with a forever protection."

Staff provided a six-month timeline, encompassing the various aspects of creating a conservation easement, as well as community outreach, meetings with stakeholders, and active and passive management items.

"That land will be better cared for than it was under its previous owner," Park City Manager Diane Foster said in an interview after the meeting.

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Some of the deep details being looked at include: mine hazards and environmental concerns, flora and fauna surveys, land boundaries, land use studies of both wildlife and humans, adjacent landowners' impact, and water-quality measuring.

City staff has already begun surveying the land, spending about four hours a week of staff time on the property That is expected to increase with a new Trails and Open Space Coordinator coming on board this week, according to the staff report.

Fisher explained the need for this exploration. "[With] the identification, we see what the historic and current use patterns are, and where there might be anticipated conservation value conflicts. Why? Because we want to address that and manage prohibited uses of the conservation easement, as well as the adaptive management plans to create a framework for how we're going to create action items for dealing with those items.

"You can imagine, it's everything from noxious weeds, to noxious weeds, to noxious weeds," she added.

In addition to this research work, the property has a unique set of circumstances to deal with before an easement can be written.

"Anytime you have a landscape of this scale, and a landscape with so many different jurisdictional boundaries, i think you end up with more of a process…. The timeline in no way is different from any other timeline. The timeline is fairly aggressive, but one I think we can achieve," said Fisher.

Stakeholders and advisors to the process were grouped into four categories: Technical Resource Advisors, including Mountain Trails Foundation and Summit Land Conservancy; Jurisdiction Agency, eight agencies including Salt Lake County, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forrest and Metro Water; Drafting and Executive Team, including Mayor Jack Thomas, Council Member Andy Beerman and Fisher, and public input. City council, representing the landowner, will serve as the final decision making authority.

According to Foster, active study and maintenance of the land that has done so well left alone in the past is a necessary part of the city's plan.

"It's the one thing that we can do that will keep it the way it is right now," she said. "Historically people were in the land, but it was trespassing," because it was private land, she said. City management can bring about improvements, such as trailhead restrooms and official trails that direct human traffic, rather than having hikers bushwhack through brush, she said.

Public engagement and input is also a large part of the framework, Fischer said, with plans to include education pieces about the land, such as citizen-science events and dedicated website and social media sites about the parcel that will link from the Park City, Utah Open Lands and other websites.

One thing not on the plan, however, is to annex the lands into Park City proper, said Foster. Annexing land within another county is a long process that requires approval from the Lieutenant Governor's office, so the city's current plan is to act solely as the landowner.