Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Guest Post: Tom Diegel on Bonanza Flat

The backcountry community has a unique opportunity to preserve a significant parcel in the Wasatch from not only future development but also for enhanced recreation opportunities.  And instead of begging the Forest Service or Congress or the President to save it out of principle, this time the community will do it the old fashioned way:  buying it.  

Bonanza Flat is the large area that lies below (to the east) as you crest the steep climb of Guardsman Pass from Big Cottonwood Canyon in the summer.  Due to its development-friendly nature and proximity to Deer Valley and Park City and now - with the paving of the entirety of highway 224 that comes up from the Heber Valley – Wasatch County and Midway developers have long wanted to literally spread the wealth of the neighbors into that area.  Most recently Talisker – of Canyons and Ski Link fame, before the sale to Vail Resorts - owned Bonanza Flat and wanted to develop it, but through Talisker’s exit and a variety of financial transactions the bank now owns it and wants to capitalize on that investment.  Because any potential development up there would involve not only high end homes, but also likely at least one hotel, a golf course, and maybe even ski lifts, the land is understandably quite valuable.  But the bank is willing to forego the developers offer if the community finds that area valuable enough to purchase it from the bank at the appraised value, which is a daunting $38 million for the 1350-acre parcel.  

Once Park City’s town leaders found out about this opportunity, they immediately put a $25M bond up to the voters of Park City, who approved it in the November election. Considering that Park City’s population is only 7800, this is a lot of money for the taxpayers; they clearly put a lot of value on it!  About $10M of the $13M is being sought from various local municipalities, which leaves “only” $3M to raise, which the various government entities feel could/should be raised by the communities that stand to benefit most from preservation, and are represented by nine different orgs that includes – among others - Mountain Trails, Friends of Alta, Save Our Canyons, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, the Summit Land Conservancy, and yes, the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance.  Utah Open Lands is the “main” org leading the fundraising charge, and with their 25 years of experience in purchasing conservable lands, they are well qualified to spearhead this effort.  

It’s easy to dismiss a place called “Flat” because it doesn’t sound like very good skiing!  But this is a bit misleading:  the parcel extends up the ridge to the top of Peak 10,420 and part of Clayton Peak, which both have nice bowls and glades on them.  But from a backcountry rider’s perspective, the parcel is even more important because it is one of the potential key areas to executing Ski Utah’s One Wasatch idea, which – despite not much news about it this year – is still very much part of their Master Plan.  

To the south and west of the Guardsman Road is another 420-acre parcel that has been called the “Royal Street” parcel since it’s on the old Royal Street mine claim.  Deer Valley/Solitude (same owner) owns much of this land and during the Mountain Accord process this parcel was offered up to trade for more base-area lands as well as potential expansion into Brighton’s Hidden Canyon, which is essentially just out of bounds for Brighton (to the north/west).  While the impetus for the land swaps identified was generated by the Mountain Accord process, it’s the Forest Service and the ski resorts that actually can/will execute the land swaps, and these do not need to be done with any higher approval; ie Congress, ala the Chaffetz bill of 2016 to create the Central Wasatch Conservation and Recreation Area (that may or may not be re-introduced this year).  The Forest Service now knows that all of the players in the Mountain Accord process are ok with this swap which gives them encouragement that they can pursue this relatively controversy-free. (Salt Lake City – which has extra-territorial jurisdiction over the BCC watershed - will not go along with any land swaps that were not in the Mountain Accord, so the Forest Service and ski resorts have a lot of incentive to work on the already-identified parcels) 

Here is a map that shows the two parcels:

It’s easy to see that preventing development in these areas would make chairlift/gondola/tram connections between Park City and Big Cottonwood canyon difficult.  

For those of you who are mountain bikers and hikers when its not ski season, this parcel has a lot of value in that it’s an area that’s quite conducive to trail building, and Mountain Trails is already in the planning stages of not only extending the top of the new WOW (Wasatch Over Wasatch) trail that comes up from Midway but also creating an entire network in that area that may connect to the upper PC/DV trails and the Wasatch Crest Trail (for reference, the area is twice the size of Round Valley!).  And speaking of the Crest (or “Ridge”, as the Park City folks call it) the Bonanza Flat parcel does includes the challenging parking area for the trailhead to access the popular Wasatch Crest trail, so development up in that area could complicate that trailhead instead of alleviate the crowding there. Mountain Trails also has the potential to groom plenty of trails in that area for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking. 

One of the reasons that Grizzly Gulch has given the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance and the Mountain Accord so much angst over the last few years is that Alta Ski Lifts quietly bought that land for a relative song back in the 1990s.  WBA has actually proposed to buy that land, but ASL has not been interested in selling (yet!).   But Bonanza Flat represents a unique opportunity in the Wasatch:  The Community can come together to purchase land for preservation and human powered recreation and permanently avoid the “mountain village”-type development that is so prevalent near ski resorts. 

Again, this is the best opportunity to assure that we maintain the balance between developed and non-developed areas and limit ski resort connectivity and preserve some vital local lands that we’ve ever seen, and we hope that you join us in this campaign.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

CO2 Elevated

As our country and the world continues to deal with the increasing effects of climate change, many of us have witnessed the toll that rising temperatures and sea levels have taken on large urban centers and coastal areas. Or in the least, we can recognize that these areas are incredibly vulnerable to the changes coming in the foreseeable future. Yet those of us living here in the intermountain west have also probably seen the great impact that rising temperatures have had on our relationship to and dependence on nature, particularly during the winter months. One way we can track our valley’s climate change is by monitoring carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere (co2.utah.edu). This winter, along our 487 protected acres at University of Utah Heritage preserve, these levels are reading 449ppm. According to researchers, the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million and the last time carbon dioxide levels measured this high on earth, humans didn’t exist. 

Along with the greenhouse gases, a sense of uncertainty fills the air as cold weather approaches, causing us to wonder how the coming season will play out. Winter is an incredibly important season in Utah, both for the economy and our happiness in being able to connect with the outdoors on a pair of skis or a snowboard. The winter of 2014-2015 ended as the warmest, least snowy winter on record. The difference between a dry winter and a snowy one can cost the state up to $87 million in revenue and the loss of about 1,000 jobs, according to the NRDC. Not to mention that countless Utah residents have specifically decided to build a life in this area because of their love for winter sports.

Luckily, the ski industry and those that thrive off of plentiful snow are not unaware or apathetic to the climate changes and economic threats that winter sports towns like ours are facing.  With such projects as Protect Our Winters, Mountain Pact, and the Environmental Charter for Ski Areas, organizations and agreements seek to advocate for climate change legislation, reduce emissions and the use of natural resources within the winter sports industry, and continue to protect and preserve open land. Here in the office, we see everyday the necessity to conserve our natural areas. Land conservation helps absorb greenhouse gases, prevents future emissions that would result from development, and builds resilience and the necessary habitats for animals to adapt and thrive. The triple benefit is that when we dedicate our time to preserving open lands, we give ourselves the gift of being able to connect with nature on a regular basis. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016


With the onset of cold weather, many native Utah animals that we know and love begin a period of hibernation. Some species fall under the category of "obligate hibernators," or those that will enter hibernation each year regardless of outside circumstances. While others, "facultative hibernators,” will enter hibernation when either cold stressed, food deprived, or both. While it may be tempting for us to want to curl up and sleep out these cold months, there are many advantages to staying active during the winter. Here are 7 reasons why maintaining an active winter lifestyle outdoors is more beneficial than hitting the gym:

1. You’ll strengthen your heart
Cold weather makes your heart work harder to distribute blood throughout the body. As long as your heart and body are used to some exercise in the cold, the continued activity in cold conditions strengthens your heart muscles and provides cardiovascular endurance for future workouts and life stresses. Just be sure to make your way to high ground, like Toll Canyon Park City, in the case of inversion.

2. You’ll burn more calories
While all of us are different when it comes to burning calories, generally the body has to work harder to maintain its core temperature in cold weather as opposed to a workout inside. This may just be the extra push you need to opt for the outdoors! So bust out the backcountry skis and take advantage of a few Snake Creek Canyon runs.

3. You’ll bring more mindfulness to your workouts
It may be easy to zone out while running on a treadmill or using the elliptical, but the variation and changing scenery in nature causes us to pay more attention to our workouts and to our surroundings. There is also significant evidence that shows the more present you are in your workout, the more beneficial it will be. Test the theory with a trail run along North Salt Lake Bonneville Shoreline, soaking in the beautiful view (and staying cautious of any slippery winter conditions!)

4. You’ll get a great dose of vitamin D 
Spending the colder months exercising in a gym doesn't provide you with the same necessary amounts of vitamin D that you receive throughout the warmer parts of the year. You'll also be extra grateful for this added time in the sun due to the amount of natural light being so limited already.

5. You’ll connect with nature in a different way
Many of us have certain associations or experiences with the animals that live in Utah. But getting outside during the winter months can be a great way to observe new patterns and behaviors in the species that we know and love. You just might witness a snowshoe hare's changing colors, or a deer's thicker winter coat like here on Wolf Creek Ranch.

6. You can boost your mood
Cold weather exercise has the ability to make you feel more energized and lift your mood because of the lack of humidity and the stimulating nature of the chill. Additionally, the cold activates your parasympathetic system, known as the "relax and renew" system. Also, the harder your body works to stay warm in the cold, the higher the amount of endorphins produced. 

7. You’ll strengthen your immune system
So its not the cold weather after all! While many people believe that spending time in cold weather can make you sick, WebMD explains that it is just the exposure to viruses that brings the onset of colds and flus. In fact, staying inside poses a greater risk, exposing you to other people who may pass on germs. By opting outside you take advantage of one of the greatest ways to strengthen your immune system, according to Harvard Medical School. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Live PC Give PC is Almost Here!!

Bringing you our final Live PC Give PC 2016 film... but it's not the last you'll be seeing of all our wonderful community members expressing their love for open space... We are excited to announce our 2017 film series For The Love of The Land. Stay tuned for more updates early next year! 

Thank you for all your support this year! Without you, we wouldn't be able to celebrate successes like Owl Meadow, or to announce our new Park City preservation project - coming Year's End. Stay tuned for more updates!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Respecting Our Resources

Kevin Jones emphasizes the critical need to respect our open space and resources in the last of our shorts. Stay tuned for our Live PC Give PC finale!