Summit County slated to purchase 834-acre farm in the Kamas Meadow for open space
Officials will use $5 million in GO Bond money to go toward the total $25 million purchase price of the Ure family farm
Brothers David and Kent Ure still vividly remember their schoolboy days when they would wake up around 5:30 a.m. so they could make it to the family’s cattle barn by 5:45 a.m. to start work. The next two hours were spent milking the cows before the boys “ran like heck” back to the house. Their next challenge was to eat breakfast and get cleaned up by the time the bus arrived at 8:20 a.m. – or face the 2-mile walk to school.
Running the Ure farm was a family deal for more than a century, ever since James Ure homesteaded the Kamas property in 1892.
But as agriculture became less equitable for the modern Ures, the family was faced with a difficult decision about parting with the 834-acre farm. Rather than attempt to divide the land amongst the 197 descendants, the family has opted to sell it to Summit County in hopes of preserving the legacy of agriculture and open space established by their ancestors.
The Summit County Council during its Wednesday meeting was expected to approve an option agreement with the Ure family to secure the property. The county will use $5 million in general obligation bond money, which was passed by voters in November of 2021, as an option fee to go toward the total $25 million purchase price. Officials plan to raise the additional funds through the Summit Land Conservancy, state and federal grants and other open space partners during the estimated four-year closing time.
The County Council in late January approved the first rollout of GO Bond funds to acquire a conservation easement for the 99-acre Andrus family farm in the Kamas Meadow. The property remains privately owned.
“The Kamas Meadow is a critical part of the Summit County water ecosystem and its preservation has been prioritized by the County as well as the Open Space Advisory Committee’s guidelines for open space acquisitions in the South Summit region,” County Council Chair Roger Armstrong said in a statement. “This purchase is an important step in preserving the Kamas Meadow and supports the preservation of agricultural values in the Kamas Valley. Collaborating with Summit Land Conservancy allows us additional financing options, which enables us to leverage our open space monies, and the county will have flexibility in overall land uses in the South Summit region.”
The Ures started to consider selling their farm about three years ago. Kent, the sixth of seven boys, said there were multiple suitors – including developers from Los Angeles and Las Vegas – interested in the land, but various reasons for why they never worked out.
“Growing up, I was excited to see the mailman. He was one of five cars on the road,” Kent said. “It’s been difficult to farm as Kamas and the surrounding area grow. And that’s continuing to happen on the East Side.”
The county, meanwhile, was also interested in working with the Ure family to preserve the property, but could not because the farm was regularly under contract. The land was highly sought after for its size, location in the Kamas Valley and gateway to the Uinta Mountains, connection to the Weber River watershed – an important water source for Summit County – and agricultural heritage.
Armstrong in an interview said he’s wanted to preserve the area in response to the development pressures on the East Side since taking office in 2012. He equated the importance of the Ure family farm to the 160-acre McPolin Farm, located along the S.R. 224 entryway. It’s critical for the East Side property to be preserved, Armstrong said, particularly as the Utah Legislature attempts to restrict local land use authority.
Jess Kirby, the county’s public lands manager, said the acquisition may help highlight links and connections in the area, potentially inspiring other property owners to conserve their land.
Summit Land Conservancy Executive Director Cheryl Fox agreed. She said preserving a property of this size, which serves as an important cornerstone piece, allows others to stay in agriculture.
The sale of the Ure farm is bittersweet for David, the fourth son, and a former county councilor and state representative. His dream for the property is that it still retains some agricultural uses. There are ongoing discussions about a regenerative agriculture venture that would use grazing cattle to improve soil and plant health and increase carbon sequestration. The property has remained beautiful because it’s been well maintained, he said.
David admitted he was reluctant to sell the property because he didn’t think it would be well received, but said he’s heard high praise since the announcement. Many people have commented they are grateful and excited for the land to be preserved. He, too, is thankful the farm will remain a hometown base rather than a money-making opportunity for outsiders.
The agreement between the county and the Ure family came together within the last 60 days, County Councilor Chris Robinson said. The Open Space Advisory Committee, which oversees how the $50 million open space bond is spent, met to review the property and determined it meets the qualifying criteria.
Rather than use half of the bond dollars to purchase the property, Robinson and Armstrong said county officials will seek other funding mechanisms to help leverage the money. The county will pay 4% interest on the purchase price balance.
It will be business as usual at the Ure farm in the meantime. Once the agreement is finalized, the family will have the option to lease the property back for one year. It will not be accessible to the public.
The county will then determine how it wants the land to be used. The property ranges from green meadows to rocky soil with a few farmstead buildings still operational. Officials are planning to completely document the Ure farm for historical records.
The property will help preserve open space, but it may someday be opened to the public. Those involved in the acquisition were excited about the prospect of connecting the property to nearby Utah Division of Wildlife Resources land and the Jordanelle Reservoir for hiking, mountain biking or equestrian uses, but they were also mindful of finding the balance between agriculture and recreation. They expect to have a more concrete strategy when funding is secured.
There are many properties on the West Side that are publicly owned for open space, Fox said, but the numbers are more limited on the East Side because property owners often utilize conservation easements rather than an outright sale. However, she noted the Ure family farm has value beyond the potential for public access.
Summit County property owners who want to learn more about protecting and preserving their land through acquisition or a conservation easement should visit https://summitcounty.org/1268/Public-Lands.
“We were shaking the couch upside down looking for coins,” Summit County Manager Shayne Scott said.
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