The University of Utah on Monday set aside 400 acres of open space, a move applauded by conservationist groups and students.
The U. Board of Trustees voted unanimously to establish a "University of Utah Heritage Preserve," a conservation easement on its eastern foothills border adjacent to Research Park. The easement, contingent on approval from the State Board of Regents and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, ensures the land will remain untouched for perpetuity."This land will never be developed and will be available to the public and university for use," said U. President Bernie Machen.
"We frankly don't want to lose the quality of life at the University of Utah, unique to its history," he said. "Land such as this is being developed right now. That is, frankly, what worried us."
The same thing concerned Citizens for Open Space. The group last month issued an SOS for the foothills, which it feared were at risk for development as a planetarium or natural history museum.
While the organization claims victory with Monday's move, it still plans to push for an undeveloped, 32-acre strip south of Red Butte Garden and Arboretum to be included in the adjacent easement.
But Machen says that parcel has been part of Research Park's master plan for 30 years and will be developed in an environmentally sound manner.
"The university's campus is an arboretum" and will be developed as such, he said.
The easement will be granted to the Utah Open Lands Conservation Association, a non-profit organization helping landowners protect open space for its wildlife, agricultural, historic, scenic and recreational values. The land will be managed by Red Butte Garden and Arboretum; the U. retains fee ownership of the property.
Development, new roads, mining, excavation, dumping or debris storage will be prohibited on the land.
"What you all are doing today is a tremendous, insightful, wonderful gift that will last for generations," Utah Open Lands executive director Wendy Fisher told trustees. "Every landowner and public agency needs to look at what they can do for open space."
The land in the easement, which extends north to Lime Kiln Gulch above the block "U," south to This Is The Place State Park and east to federally owned land, will be open for activities, including hiking and biking, or quiet reflection.
"The university has a stewardship not just for education but for this corner of the valley," said U. trustees chairman Jim Jardine. "This is the right thing to do."
Indeed, Christie Bartley, a member of Citizens for Open Space and therapist working in Weber State University's counseling center, says natural surroundings are essential for mental health and can bring together people of all ages.
The land is one of the only Bonneville Shoreline deposit areas not destroyed by mining, said Cheryl Manning of Citizens for Open Space. Habitat for the sego lily (the state flower) and Gambel oak also is a perfect classroom for geology, anthropology and botany students as well as public schoolchildren.
Some of the land also was part of the old Fort Douglas and includes bunkers from an artillery range.
The public will have ample access to the land, Machen said. The university plans to develop a citizens group through Red Butte Garden and Arboretum to increase access throughout the easement to ensure public access. A team also will identify access points and trails.