Oakley leaders agree to accept nature preserve along Weber River
Project protects a 23-acre swath of land
Oakley City on Wednesday agreed to accept the Stevens Nature Preserve, a 23-acre swath of land along the Weber River, to preserve riverfront access and prevent future development from occurring.
Oakley City Council members voted 3-1 to accept the nature preserve, with Tiny Woolstenhulme dissenting. Councilors Joe Frazier, Steve Wilmoth and Tom Smart supported the project. Councilor Lorrie Hoggan was not present. Nearly 30 people attended the meeting.
In February, the Summit Land Conservancy closed on the purchase of the half mile acre of land as part of the Weber River Watershed Initiative and Oakley River Corridor Project after the Summit County Council offered a $500,000 grant for the project.
City Council member Tom Smart said “this is something the city would never be able to afford without the county and the conservancy.”
“I think they (Summit Land Conservancy) have acted in good faith in order to sell this and I believe we need to give them some reassurance that if they will go ahead and put the trails in and make these conservation things for Oakley, we will indeed accept this land.
“I feel it is a partnership that works toward the benefit of Oakley as a whole and, I think, we need to act in good faith,” Smart said.
The property includes an existing house, which the organization plans to resell, with the remaining property becoming a publicly-owned 20-acre natural park. It will include public trails, maintained by the South Summit Trails Foundation.
“Our vision is something that would not be a whole lot different than the way it works right now,” said Cheryl Fox, executive director of the Summit Land Conservancy. “We are partners in the ongoing stewardship of that property forever and we are really here to alleviate any undue burden on the city.”
After three years, the Summit Land Conservancy will deed the land to the city. However, the conservancy, with the help of the South Summit Trails Foundation, will be responsible for maintenance of the property.
“I think we understand the town doesn’t want to be left holding the bucket,” Fox said.
Woolstenhulme expressed that concern before he cast his vote.
“What kind of guarantees are there that this won’t create a burden for the city in 10 years when everyone isn’t so excited about it?” Woolstenhulme said.
Oakley resident Elsbeth Gugi said she didn’t understand Woolstenhulme’s vote. She added, “I can’t believe that there was actually a ‘No’ vote.”
“I’m European and it is a very different idea about land ownership than it is here. Here it is about my land and don’t put a foot on it,” Gugi said. “But the land is for everyone and that’s what this does.”
Howard Sorensen, a member of the South Summit Trails Foundation board, with the help of former Oakley Mayor Doug Evans and Smart, have advocated for a trail system in the Kamas Valley and the preservation of open space.
“I’m just a grassroots person who has supported this since the beginning,” Sorensen said. “We are seeing a lot of growth and we expect a lot of growth will happen so we want to preserve open space for our children and future children to come.”
Sorensen’s wife, Lisa, echoed his statements. She added, “It is important to preserve the land around us because everything is moving in our direction and if we don’t do it now it would be too late.”
The project is the seventh of the Conservancy’s Weber River Watershed Initiative in seven years and will help “preserve land along the Weber River and its tributaries, which provide 21 percent of state’s population with irrigation and drinking water,” according to news release. It is the first time the conservancy purchased the fee title to a property, in addition to the development rights.
“We feel really ratified and honored to be part of this preserve,” Fox said. “I think the council asked really good important questions and I’m glad we were able to answer them. This is a big deal and we have been moving in this direction for several months. This really clarifies for us what happens next because we weren’t really sure what path to go down.”
The Summit Land Conservancy holds 27 permanent conservation easements comprised of more than 3,000 acres of open space in and around Park City. The easements protect large swaths of Round Valley, Quarry Mountain, Empire Canyon, McPolin Farmlands and land along the Weber River, according to Summit Land Conservancy.
For more information about the project, go to http://wesaveland.org/donate/support-the-oakley-river-corridor-project/.
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