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Preserve in Park City is USU’s largest private gift

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

The board of directors of the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter has bequeathed a state-of-the-art education center and land worth more than $30 million to Utah State University, which is the school’s largest private gift, according to university officials.

Though the arrangement transfers ownership of the 1,200-acre nature preserve at Kimball Junction to Utah State University, the center will still bear the Swaner name as a tribute to Leland and Dr. Paula Swaner who operated a working cattle ranch on the land.

Swaner officials said they hope their association with the university will help place the preserve on the map as a world-class research site. The nature center offers unique study opportunities because it sits at the edge of a bustling development.

"There is a model there for how wetlands and open space can coexist next to a thriving residential and commercial location," said Annette Herman Harder, executive director of the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter. "In our minds, that is a model that should be duplicated in other communities throughout the country."

Nearly $2 million will still be owed on the new $7.4 million education center at Swaner when the university takes ownership of the preserve this week, Herman Harder explained.

The Swaner board of directors will remain in place as an advisory panel and to do fund-raising for the preserve. University officials said owning the preserve will help them expand the school’s scientific and educational mission in the Park City area.

"We now have access to presenters and professors to come and enrich our adult education program," Herman Harder said. "It could be the researchers that are looking at elements of wind energy and how to pinpoint where the windmills should be."

Swaner began in 1993 with a land donation of about 190 acres. It has grown to about 1,200 acres of critical wetlands and foothills, which is mostly protected by conservation easements.

"The board feels that being part of an organization with the standing like USU has, makes our obligation to protect the land into perpetuity even easier for us," Herman Harder said in a telephone interview.

The not-for-profit group’s five-person staff will become employees of Utah State University, she said.

In 2009, the preserve completed a 10,000-square-foot education and community center at 1258 Center Drive, which was certified platinum by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a group that rates green buildings.

"The gift of the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter will be renowned as one of the most important in Utah State University’s history," Utah State University President Stan L. Albrecht said in a prepared statement. "USU’s expertise, coupled with the commitment of the Swaner family and the Park City community, will ensure that the Swaner commitment to the ecosystem will be fulfilled."

Now the preserve will be used for academic research in ecology, wildlife and human interaction with nature.

"When we began creating the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter nearly 20 years ago, we had the goal of finding a partner that shared our vision for this land," said Dr. Paula Swaner. "This is truly a dream come true to know we have found one in USU that will help us conserve and maintain this land as open space forever."

Funding for Swaner currently comes from donations, grants and fees paid by those who use the education center at the preserve.

"We do get some efficiencies just by being part of a larger organization. It brings our operating costs down and that’s a good thing," Herman Harder said. "Basically the staff and the board are now going to be able to really focus on the mission and doing what the intent of the preserve was all along."


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