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Did Park City buy Bonanza Flat for conservation or recreation?

Leslie Thatcher

The Park City Council hit a philosophical impasse Thursday about whether the city should set aside money in the budget to shuttle people to Bonanza Flat next winter.

Did Park City residents agree to spend $25 million to purchase 1,400 acres in Bonanza Flat to protect it or open it up for recreation? That question arose when council members – discussing next year’s operating budget – were asked if they should earmark money for a winter transit-to-trails service next year.

The proposed budget includes a line item to continue last summer’s weekend shuttle service to Bonanza Flat. The service provides for 4 round-trip shuttles between the arts and culture district on Bonanza Drive to Bonanza Flat on weekends only.

According to Park City Trails and Open Space Manager Heinrich Deters, next year’s budget has $45,000 set aside for the service. They have also received a $13,000 grant and hope to get another restaurant tax fund grant to continue, and even expand, shuttle service.

Deters said they’re still waiting to receive bids from the transit companies seeking to provide the service.

He added they won’t know what kind of service can be provided this summer until they see the bids.

Park City councilor Jeremy Rubell asked about providing the shuttle service next winter and wondered whether the council should put a place holder in the budget now to pay for it.

Last year, the cost of the summer service was $560/day. Deters said providing the service in the winter would cost at least $30,000 for weekend service, but could be much more, given the challenges of winter weather. There’s also an access issue, since there’s a locked gate about a mile down from the top of Guardsman Pass, limiting who can get through.

To add winter service, Deters said he would have to issue a request for new bids.

Rubell said he’s in favor of putting winter shuttle funds in the budget now.

“Earmarking the money makes it a bit of a different conversation than trying to see if we can do something and coming back later and then trying to find the money,” Rubell said. “And I think it's enough of a priority. We paid a ton of money for the land up there. People want to use it. And there's a lot of folks who can't make that walk up the hill in the snow.”

But council member Becca Gerber said the council needs to slow down and have a community discussion about why the property was purchased in the first place.

“I understand that our community spent a lot of money on that,” Gerber said. “And it was really, I mean, the big goal was to preserve it from development. And the recreational opportunities are also a bonus. But I just know the one thing that I've really learned on council is that you can give people things, but you can't take it away. So, the last thing we want to do is start something that blows up too quickly that we can't control that we don't have a good plan for long term good management plan for long term and have a blow up into something that we can't control and then not be able to reel it back in.”

Councilor Max Doilney agreed that Transit to Trails makes sense – in the summer. It puts people at the Bonanza Flat trailhead, which is only getting more popular. But he hasn’t heard the community ask for winter access and prefers to keep Bonanza Flat undeveloped as long as possible.

“I don't want to put people on Bonanza Flats (sic) in the wintertime,” Doilney said. “I am not hearing a huge desire for that to be a place where we pump a bunch of people into the wilderness in the wintertime. That's diametrically opposed to why we raised the money for that space, it was not to become another Round Valley. So, I think the reason that we're doing it in the summertime is to get cars off of that road, that I am 100% supportive of.”

Councilors Tana Toly and Ryan Dickey both supported putting an earmark in the budget now. Even so, Dickey said the council needs to evaluate the idea in more detail.