Utah State University will assume ownership of the Salt Lake County Equestrian Center in South Jordan in a land exchange between the parties that will shift control of the facility to the university.
In exchange, the county will receive 50 acres in Herriman that were given to USU by the Bastian Family Foundation. The land will enable hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers to access Butterfield Canyon. A formal announcement is expected soon.
Community Services Department Director Holly Yocom said under the agreement, the county maintains the first right of refusal should the university decide to sell the 119 acres in South Jordan.
The county will also be selling 31 water shares to USU under a separate agreement “to allow them to do some work on the property,” Yocom said. The county would also have first right of refusal for the water shares should the university decide to sell them, she said.
A conceptual use plan envisions developing a natural resource area as part of the USU Bastian Agricultural Center featuring a lake with an activity island, eco island, beach and docks.
It would also include an amphitheater, water education and native plants.
One of the donor’s primary goals is to provide agricultural education and experiences to an increasingly urban population, county documents state.
Under the plan, USU Extension will continue to operate the majority of current equestrian services at the park as well as other agricultural and educational programming.
Plans also include adding a STEM center (science, technology, engineering and math), a plant production center, animal center and nature resource area to the current equestrian facility located at 2100 W. 11400 South.
The land gifted to USU by the Bastian Family Foundation and then traded to the county is the “Trailhead Property,” three parcels located south of state Route 111 between 7902 West and 8300 West.
Under the plan, USU will update arenas and facilities to attract more equine and non-equine events in the future.
One significant change will be eliminating the racetrack from the facility. A number of county residents told the council in a recent public hearing that eliminating the track will mean job losses for trainers, jockeys and farriers, and put an end to training opportunities for racehorse owners.
Glade VanTassell, of Draper, a member of the Utah Quarter Horse Racing board and the Wyoming Downs Horsemen’s Association, told the council, “Everyone is getting taken care of here but the racetrack horses.”
VanTassell said he has been training horses at the facility since the 1970s and eliminating the track will put the jockeys who ride his horses out of work.
“When this happens, they no longer have a job and I’m out of my job. There is no track for us from Ogden to St. George,” he said.
County council member Jim Bradley, who noted his long association with the facility and its users, said while the track has served the horse community well for years, “there’s, for various reasons, what I view as a lack of long-term support necessary to keep the integrity of the equestrian park alive.”
Bradley said he was sad to say it but to sustain the facility long term, “USU is a better steward for that park than we are.”
In 2016, the council studied whether the equestrian park was worth its near $1 million cost to taxpayers annually, let alone millions in needed maintenance. The council weighed whether to downsize the park or shutter it.
Ultimately, the facility was spared and the county used some proceeds from a park bond passed by voters in 2016 for maintenance and improvements.
The planned USU Bastian Agricultural Center would also promote youth education through the only youth 4-H center in Utah, deliver community-based adult education and “further research and development to discover better products and processes.”
Kenneth White, dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences and vice president for Extension and Agriculture, said the center “will become a facility that really celebrates agriculture and provides a venue for the public to be able to learn more and experience more about agriculture and natural resources.”
USU President Noelle Cockett said she wished that lifelong farmer and rancher David Bastian was alive to celebrate the arrangement coming to fruition.
“As an old-time farmer seeing all the growth around his 1,400 acres and knowing his land was also going to be developed into housing, his goal was to keep an awareness and connection to agriculture. This allows Utah State to do that so it’s really an exciting moment,” she said.