OREM — The long-legged blue cranes pass through now and then, but not as much as they used to. And 85-year-old Paul Taylor hears less and less frequently one of his favorite sounds, the unique, melodious yodeling song of the red-winged blackbird foraging in the waters of nearby Utah Lake.
But just the other night, Taylor's grandson Erik counted 46 pelicans near the water's edge, which the Utah County native says confirms his decision to protect forever 108 acres of wetlands habitat on his Cherry Hill Farm.
Taylor and the Nature Conservancy of Utah have agreed to preserve the farm's critical wetlands, which are important nesting and feeding areas for dozens of bird species and a stopover on the international flight paths used by geese and other shorebirds.
"We have made a magnificent plan to preserve Cherry Hill," said Taylor, who is the third of five generations to live at the farm. "This conservation easement is a seed that's going into the ground, which we hope will sprout and grow into other areas."
He's lived there his whole life, and each season brings a new recollection from his childhood in the lush landscape at the edge of Utah Lake where his father and uncles farmed and ran a dairy.
He had lots of chores as a boy, he said, but the summer heat would send him sneaking to the water's edge, where he'd tie his horse and swim in the cool waters. In the winter, the Taylors would harvest thick blocks of ice off the lake, pack them in sawdust and stack them in the ice house where the dairy milk stayed cool. Calves were dehorned and vaccinated there in the springtime, and Taylor's father and his helpers used their hands and shovels to drain the wetlands to make the marshland accessible to the family's herd of cows.
"Those memories are very vivid and very wonderful in my mind," Taylor said. His five children share their father's sentiments. All agreed with the plan to preserve Cherry Hill.
"We realize the land has surging economic value, but it has overwhelming ecological value as well," Taylor said. "Our goal is to preserve the property for future family generations and for the many native plants and animals which call our farm home."
Under the agreement, the family will maintain ownership of the property, continue to use and pay taxes on the land while maintaining the property as a wildlife habitat and open space. The easement restricts the ability for Taylor or any future owner to develop the property.
Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert says this is the way conservation projects should be carried out. "Private landowners working with private organizations, like the Nature Conservancy of Utah, on a willing seller-willing buyer basis to set aside critical habitat and open space valued by the community."
This is also an important project in the eyes of the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit organization with 8,500 members in Utah. The group has worked to protect nearly 800,000 acres throughout Utah, and the Provo River/Utah Lake area is one of six landscapes identified as having significant ecological value warranting protection. Cherry Hill is the conservancy's first Utah County project.
"These wetlands provide critical staging and foraging habitat for shorebirds and water fowl and are an important link in an internationally significant flyaway," said Kerry Green, the group's director of protection. "The conservation easement will help assure growth does not adversely affect some of Utah County's most valuable resources."
The conservancy has until Oct. 30 to raise $400,000 to exercise the easement option that will protect the wetlands forever. Contributions to the effort will be partially matched by the George S. & Delores Dore Eccles Foundation and Novell has offered a $10,000 donation to kick start the campaign.
Sen. John Valentine, R-Provo, has represented the family as legal counsel. "As Utah County grows and some of our open lands and historic landmarks disappear, it is a pleasure to work with dedicated folks . . . on such a win-win project."