Bonanza Flats conservation marks win for Wasatch Backcountry Alliance

Space for backcountry skiing in the Wasatch is a hot commodity, as proven by recent permitting issues for Little Conttonwood Canyon’s heliski company, Utah Powderbird. But in a recent win for the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, the sale of Bonanza Flats—a 1,350-acre parcel outside of Park City that serves as a wintertime touring destination—closed on June 15 and is now conserved after a joint effort by the WBA, Utah Open Lands and Park City officials. We caught up with WBA Board of Directors member Chris Adams to learn more about the Bonanza Flats purchase and what it means for the Utah backcountry community. —Louise Lintilhac

Summertime mist hovers over Bonanza Flats. [Photo] Willie Holdman

The backstory is that this parcel has been under the threat of development for decades, but it was last spring—about 14 months ago—that Park City was in negotiations to buy the land when at some point in the negotiation the deal was taken away and given to a developer. Park City was very upset and disheartened, because this was a company that develops exclusive communities—think Yellowstone Club—and they knew that this would be the end of public use and access to this unique parcel of land.

So we [the stakeholders] thought the opportunity to preserve and protect this land was gone, but the Park City council had the forethought to say, “Just in case this deal falls through, let’s get our ducks in a row, so we can be ready to act in case there is a window.” In November 2016, Park City put a 25-million-dollar bond on their election ballot, and the public voted in excess of 70-percent in favor of passing the bond that would help buy Bonanza Flats. For a town of 7,500 people, that’s a big deal.

Bonanza Flats in winter. [Photo] Patrick Brandenburg

Low and behold, in December 2016, the deal did fall through, and Park City jumped in, but the price had gone from 25 to 38 million dollars. So Park City said, “OK, we’ll take it, but we have to make up this 13-million dollar difference.” That’s where our community of nonprofit organizations banded together to spend the next six months working together to make up this gap. The effort was spearheaded by Utah Open Lands, led by Wendy Fisher. She asked if the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance would be part of the effort, and we jumped in. In total there were 11 nonprofits that worked tirelessly to make this effort a success, an effort that culminated in Park City being able to purchase the land on June 15. A celebration for this tremendous effort was held in Park City on that same day, and plans for the conservation easement are being put in place to ensure this unique piece of land is protected and preserved for generations to come.

Despite its name, Bonanza Flats is anything but flat, and there is great skiing off of Peak 10,420, as well as nearby Clayton Peak. The protection of Bonanza Flats will allow backcountry skiers to continue to enjoy this beautiful area.

This was a true collective effort, and it could not have happened if the nonprofit community had not rallied around it. We are thrilled that this land will be kept open to the public so that people can ski, hike, bike and enjoy the beauty of Bonanza Flats rather than have it developed into more mega-mansions.

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