Park City is home to two world-class ski resorts, Park City Mountain and Deer Valley, with 7,300 acres, making the surrounding land a commodity for development and city-wide growth, both of which carry the potential to affect the very draw that brings hundreds of thousands of tourists each year – our open lands. But thanks to the watchful eye of Summit Land Conservancy, a local non-profit working hard behind the scenes to ensure our mountain town remains the ever-enticing getaway from big-city living, we are able to keep overdevelopment at bay.
Summit Land Conservancy
It’s hard to believe, but 20 years ago, “There were cows at Kimball junction and Empire Pass was back country skiing,” says Summit Land Conservancy’s Chief Executive Officer Cheryl Fox, “Developments had been approved and open spaces we had taken for granted, were going to be gone. We were freaking out.” Unlike other mountain communities, much of the land in Park City and the Wasatch Back is privately owned, which makes our town’s greatest natural resource, vulnerable to extinction. “If we wanted to be fair to the landowners,” says Fox, “We had to figure out how to buy land. In 2002 the Summit Land Conservancy incorporated as our own nonprofit land trust. We really are still true to that initial motivation, we’re proactive about saving the places that are most critical to our communities.”
A native Californian, Fox’s mission was to prevent the hyper-growth and overdevelopment she’d watched pave over Southern California’s orange groves and flower fields in the 1970s. Having moved to Park City in 1987, she was selected to join The Park City Leadership Program, Class IV in 1997. “In the Leadership Program we meet government officials, nonprofit leaders, spend a lot of time looking at who is making things happen, what is happening, and take a trip to other towns to look at how they’re solving problems. We decided there ought to be an organization that would raise money here to save land here.”
And save they have. According to their website, since 2002, Summit Land Conservancy has preserved more than 8,000 acres across four counties with 80% of their easements open to public use. They have received $33.6M in grant awards from the federal government, and in 2011 became the first land trust in Utah to be accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, a national organization that recognizes land trusts meeting the highest national standards for excellence and conservation permanence. “We don’t manage the land, we steward the land,” says Fox, “We partner with the landowners in making sure the reasons the easements were placed on the lands are remembered and respected forever.”
Preserving land is not a one-person job. In fact, it’s not a two-, three-, or four-person job either. It’s a community, a team, and a partnership between government, landowners, locals, lawyers, and activists. “Land conservation is a team sport,” says Fox, “It takes a lot of partners. Land is expensive. Land use has a lot of laws and regulations that have to be negotiated. We’ve been really successful working with the state of Utah and the federal government to get significant funding, like $8-9M grants to save this farmland. They’re not easy to get, and they shouldn’t be; it’s federal money, it’s everyone’s money.”
Today, Summit Land Conservancy is working towards preserving and conserving Marchant Meadows, Kamas Meadows, Muirfield Park, Iron Mountain & Treasure Hill, and two more projects near Coalville on the Weber River & Chalk Creek. They rely heavily on foundations, government programs, business partners, and gifts from individuals to buy the development rights (and sometimes the land outright), so these properties remain forever as natural habitats and open spaces. “[The land] was not protected by accident,” says Fox, “And it was not protected for free. We are the only thing holding [overdevelopment] back. We can’t stop it all but can stop some of it. Hopefully enough.”
For more information or to help protect our open space, please visit https://www.wesaveland.org/ and visit their Happenings and Donations pages to see current projects, or to contribute to the cause.