By Tom Diegel — If you’re a mountain biker in the Wasatch you’ve undoubtedly ridden Round Valley’s rolling singletrack, Park City’s aspen-laden alpine trails, and the iconic Wasatch Crest trail. How about having a new and convenient area that is as-yet undeveloped with trails, is twice the size of Round Valley, has all the rolling aspen potential of Park City, and not only potentially alleviates the notorious parking cluster at the Guardsman Pass trailhead but also connects to the new Wasatch Over Wasatch (WOW) trail? What/where is this amazing land located? Enter Bonanza Flat!
Bonanza Flat is the big area that lies below Empire Pass at the top of Park City and to the east of Guardsman Pass where it goes over into Big Cottonwood Canyon. No doubt many riders mounting up for the Crest at the Guardsman trailhead have looked down towards Midway and thought “wow, there’s a lot of great trail potential down there!” and indeed there is. Mountain Trails could have a huge canvas to put in not only a big network of great mountain bike trails but also winter fat bike and Nordic trails. But there’s a big catch: it is currently privately owned and The Community needs to step up to transform this opportunity into reality!
Bonanza Flat has long been a target for developers; not only is the gently rolling terrain fairly easy to build on, it’s adjacent to the tony areas of Park City and Deer Valley, and has great views into the Wasatch Back. It also has water rights, which is the golden egg for real estate developers in the local mountains. Talisker – the Canadian company that owns The Canyons and much of Park City Mountain Resort, which it has in turn leased to Vail Resorts – was the owner of this 1350 acre parcel at the top of Big Cottonwood, and had grand plans to develop it a la what they did to The Canyons. Fortunately for The Community, Talisker was unable to develop the land, which went into foreclosure, such that a bank ended up with the land, and now the bank wants to sell it. The agreed-upon price is $38 million, and once The City of Park City (not PCMR) found out it was available, the City immediately put up a $25M bond to the PC voters who overwhelmingly approved it. That leaves a $13M shortfall to be raised. There is a high level of confidence that other local government entities will be able to make up $10M of that deficit, which leaves $3M in question.
Utah Open Lands has a long history of purchasing vulnerable lands in Utah and is spearheading a coalition of nine local non profits to get their constituents to make up that $3M difference. In addition to Utah Open Lands, Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, Save Our Canyons, Mountain Trails Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Summit Land Conservancy, Sierra Club, , Friends of Alta and Winter Wildlands Alliance are all rallying their members for donations. Zions Bank recently to donating $100,000 and pledged a $300,000.00 matching grant.
According to Mountain Trails Foundations’ trail master Rick Fournier, Bonanza Flat represents a huge opportunity for new trails. Not only is the rolling terrain almost perfect for a mountain bike park, but it has the opportunity to put this park in as a connection from the Crest and Park City’s trails to the WOW trail, for an unprecedented connection from the Wasatch Front to the Back on killer singletrack. It’s important to note that the existing Crest parking area at Guardsman Pass is within the Bonanza Flat parcel, and though Park City’s developers have generally been good about maintaining trailheads, it’s likely that they will be more focused on creating an “exquisite mountain experience” for wealthy homeowners than they are on improving traffic-challenged trailheads. If the Bonanza Flat area is preserved, Fournier estimates that there will be multiple nearby trailheads with connections to the Crest to disperse the parking load. And if you think that global warming may not necessarily be a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, note that Park City’s wintertime fat biking and Nordic ski opportunities may need higher elevations to create viable snowy trails, which Mountain Trails is looking forward to generating as well.
The Wasatch has long had a history of private entities generating development plans and fighting against the public that seeks Mountainous open spaces for solace and recreation, etc. With few opportunities for large parcels to be purchased and preserved for public use, this is the best time in recent memory for mountain bikers and others to step up and purchase valuable land that will result in great new trails. The deadline for donations is March 15th, so take the opportunity now to go to Utah Open Lands website (www.savebonanzaflats.org) and create a donation to help preserve land and create new trails!
[Editor's Note: Bonanza Flat was acquired by Park City in June 2017, after approval of a $25-million dollar bond was approved by Park City residents and nearly $13-million in corporate and individual donations to close the funding gap.]