U Commits 500 Acres to a Wildlife Preserve

In an effort to protect and maintain natural habitat surrounding the U, President Bernie Machen and Red Butte Gardens have officially committed nearly 500 acres of open land to a new wildlife preserve.

The U will restrict any future development or expansion in the area, to be called Heritage Preserve. Instead it will remain an open expanse for bikers, hikers and dog walkers. Machen unveiled his plans for the new preserve in an open press conference on Thursday.

Director Mary Pat Matheson of Red Butte Gardens said Machen approached the garden’s administration more than a year ago to discuss means for protecting the 486 acre area, stretching from the Block U to the This is the Place state monument and park.

“We’ve had great pressures for urban growth in the past,” Matheson said. “But the area was valued by President Machen, who had the vision to protect it.”

To explore alternatives for conserving the region, Red Butte sent a written request to Fidelity Foundation, a national corporation, for a grant funding the project “in the interest of benefitting the community.”

Fidelity responded promptly, offering a generous $25,000 donation.

For the planning of the preserve, U and Red Butte officials worked closely with non-profit organization Utah Open Lands, a conservation group that works with land owners to permanently preserve areas of open space.

After consulting an attorney, the state Board of Regents and the Utah Bureau of Land management, U authorities decided the area might best be maintained through a process known as “conservation easement.”

According to Utah Open Land Director Wendy Fisher, conservation easement entails “a private, non-governmental binding agreement that grants landowners the right to protect property from development.”

As a result, Heritage Preserve will remain void of any man-made structure, and will host a variety of trails for biking, hiking and dog-walking.

While planning is still in the works, authorities hope to eventually provide interpretation of the area’s native flora and fauna, Fisher said, in an effort to provide visitors with information of the “wealth of wildlife found in Salt Lake’s foothills.”

As the territory flanks the garden’s gates, Red Butte staff will serve as stewards of the property, in conjunction with Utah Open Land. While both organizations plan to draw from Fidelity’s donation in order to provide maintenance for the preserve, authorities acknowledged the funds are limited, and remain uncertain of where they will derive future funding.

Fisher emphasized the importance of preserving open space, particularly around the U’s neighboring foothill region, noting recent trends of increased local urbanization.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve seen tremendous sprawl,” she said. “It infringes upon every aspect of our wildlife and ultimately hinders our quality of life.”

Fisher hopes U students will benefit from the preserve’s implementation, calling the project a legacy for future generations.

“When we’re all gone, the land will still be here for future posterity, she said. “That’s our vision.”

Students and visitors are welcome to explore Heritage Preserve, located just past the shoreline trail near the U’s Medical Center. The area is currently open to the public.

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