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Fremont Island in the Great Salt Lake now belongs to the state of Utah

How land transfer will protect its natural beauty

SHARE Fremont Island in the Great Salt Lake now belongs to the state of Utah

Fremont Island is pictured in 2012. The Great Salt Lake’s third largest island will be preserved in its natural state.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Fremont Island, once considered a potential destination for a huge housing development, is now in the protective custody of the state of Utah in a deal negotiated by state officials, The Nature Conservancy and the anonymous buyer who scooped it up last month for an undisclosed price.

The conservation partnership will help to ensure the long-term protection of Fremont Island, which is the third largest in the Great Salt Lake and one of northern Utah’s most significant natural and historic landmarks.

At approximately 3,000 acres, the island had been a key unprotected land asset in the stable of lands and waters that make up the Great Salt Lake ecosystem and the lake’s watershed overall. Recent owners were considering developing the island. 

Those plans flipped when earlier this year, The Nature Conservancy worked with a private buyer to purchase the island and subsequently protect it from development.

The island has now been donated to the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands and is subject to conservation easements held by the conservancy.

“Fremont Island is an important part of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem and of our state’s history,” said Brian Cottam, who heads up the division. “We are delighted to partner with The Nature Conservancy to ensure the island is preserved. As the division of Utah state government most directly involved with the management and stewardship of the Great Salt Lake’s natural resources, this is a natural fit.”

Under the terms of the conservation easement held by the conservancy, the island will be open to the public for nonmotorized recreational use including hiking, bird watching, picnicking and biking. Limited recreational facilities such as trails and picnic areas may be built.

The conservancy stressed that all forms of subdivision development, dumping, mining and environmental degradation to the island are prohibited and no fires, hunting, shooting or camping will be allowed.

Fremont Island has a storied history.

Its first European visitors were in 1843, with noted Western explorer John C. Fremont, Kit Carson and others from the expedition visiting its vast and barren territory.

According to the conservancy, Fremont’s account of his explorations of the Great Salt Lake area, published in 1845, was of special note to the Mormon pioneers planning their exodus from Illinois. The conservancy said there is reason to believe Brigham Young had a copy of Fremont’s map and his journal when he arrived in the Salt Lake Valley declaring “This is the place.”

At one point, longtime owners once considered Fremont Island as a place to host a prison, and a grave robber was exiled there to spend out his days.

The ownership move announced Monday was praised by Lynn DeFreitas, executive director of the Friends of Great Salt Lake.

“Even during the height of the pandemic, conservation is getting done. This collaboration between The Nature Conservancy and the Utah State Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands is a great example of a successful public-private conservation partnership.”