Tom Clyde: Managing Bonanza Flat is a difficult problem to solve for Park City
The snow was good enough a few days back that some friends and I decided to go wild and ski areas we hadn’t ventured into all season. We hiked up the high west traverse in Jupiter, and went all the way out, and down the Puma Bowl side of Jupiter Peak to McConkey’s. It was the best run of the season.
As we made the hike, we stopped to look out over Bonanza Flat. Everybody is interested in the property now that the City owns it. All of us knew little pieces of the details, but nobody had any real expertise in it. Looking down at it, the boundaries are not obvious. While it would be nice to look at that basin and assume the City owns from ridgeline to ridgeline, that’s not what they bought.
The property lines are based on mining claims, and those are based on where the mining engineers thought the veins of ore went. So the boundaries don’t have any relationship to the topography or the location of surface features like roads. While the boundaries make perfect sense if you are hundreds of feet underground trying to project the twists and turns of a vein of ore, they make no sense at all on the surface. There are gaps and little in-holdings of other owners. Third parties own bigger pieces.
Then there are the Girl Scouts. They have had a camp facility up there for decades. For a long time, it was leased from United Park City Mines Company. That was several owners ago, back in the days when United Park was a responsible corporate citizen of the community. They were not willing to evict the Girl Scouts, despite the obvious development value of the land they were camping on. So they gave the Girl Scouts the deed to a whole bunch of land up there.
And there is Brighton Estates, a subdivision platted in the 1960’s with about 400 lots. Most of them are still vacant because there isn’t either water or sewer service available, and the roads aren’t plowed in winter. But the lots are there, and someday, they will find the means to finance water and sewer, and there could be 400 houses. Park City is terrified about that because of the traffic impact on Marsac Avenue, which is a State Highway managed by UDOT, not the City. While 400 houses at Brighton Estates could provide a lot of affordable housing, it would put about 4,000 additional vehicle trips a day on Marsac Avenue, which doesn’t work now.
Through the years, the City has done whatever it can to obstruct access to Brighton Estates. When you ride up the Ruby lift at Deer Valley, the nice paved road you cross over is the private road to the Empire Pass development. The narrow, snow-packed road is the state highway, with limited winter maintenance. That presents a real dilemma to the City — how to provide reasonable access to the new public recreation facility without converting Brighton Estates from a remote backcountry outpost into a busy Old Town neighborhood.
Management of Bonanza Flat will be very difficult. There are competing recreation demands and long-established users. The snowmobilers have been there for as long as there have been snowmobiles. People have bought lots and built cabins based on riding their snowmobiles up there. They aren’t going to pack up and go away quietly. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine Park City embracing a form of recreation that it considers déclassé. Maybe if the ‘bilers wore lycra suits and filled their thermoses with artisanal coffee?
The land is in Wasatch County, and has not been annexed into the City. So any regulations Park City adopts will have the same legal significance as rules you might post in your back yard concerning use of your hot tub. They plan on relying on the Wasatch County Sheriff for enforcement. But by the time Wasatch County gets up there, on a snowmobile, to cite somebody for trespassing/snowmobiling on the City’s property, it kind of doesn’t matter any more. In the summer, Wasatch County can’t enforce private land use rules even if they wanted to.
By eliminating the development potential there, Wasatch County lost a lot of potential revenue. It’s a stretch to assume Wasatch will happily absorb the management costs. Park City really needs to annex the land into the City so it has jurisdiction, adopt its management plan by ordinance and hire a platoon of park rangers to enforce it.
A 1,300 acre public park doesn’t manage itself. United Park’s management approach was to close it off and try to keep the public off their property as best they could. That’s the easiest management approach. But when you open it up, it’s going to require active management. It’s not going to be easy or cheap.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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