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A June dedication ceremony involving members of the late Scott M. Matheson's family and Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, former Interior secretary, has been planned for the wetlands preserve area recently acquired by the Nature Conservancy.

Chris Montague, director of Utah Projects for the national conservation organization, said a nature preserve that will encompass most of the "Moab Slough" west of town will be dedicated June 1.The conservancy in January announced purchase of 690 acres of wetlands within half a mile of downtown Moab. Montague said Tuesday at a luncheon meeting of the Moab Chamber of Commerce that negotiations are continuing for an additional 90 acres on the south that would bring the total to approximately 800 acres.

"We believe it's the only high-quality wetland on the Colorado River in Utah. From Arizona to the Colorado border, this is it," Montague said. "It's rare. It's a very diverse site.

"We guess this 800 acres has a higher number of species than any other 800 acres in this quarter of the state."

The preserve will be named after Matheson, former Utah governor, whom Montague described as a great friend to the conservancy.

"We admired Scott for his ability to live in the real world and solve problems and find that middle ground in resolving problems," the way the conservancy approaches problem-solving, Montague said.

He said the conservancy is designing the preserve. The study is expected to take about six to eight months and will include careful analysis of the water system, water rights, and habitat management to provide for diversity of animal and plant life as well as protection of rare species.

The preserve encompasses wetlands and pasture area from the Colorado River Bridge north of Moab south to the city sewage treatment plant road. A separate parcel was also acquired at the mouth of Mill Creek Canyon in the southeastern section of the wetlands.

Concerns about possible contamination from a uranium mill tailings pond and a propane tank leak were addressed before the purchase, he said.

"We hired two engineering firms to assure us there was neither a radiation problem or surface toxics problem. We got a clean bill of health on that."

The wetlands purchase was made with a combination gift of $150,000 and a short-term, interest-free loan of $350,000 from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation of Salt Lake City.

Montague said the conservancy is now looking for a public or private partner in the project and needs to raise funds for some immediate purchases, studies and design plans, management and stewardship of the area, establishment of trails and public-use sites, and to repay the loan.