Comb Ridge Sale Update & Action Alert

Locals display signs politely asking the Foundation and SITLA not to privatize the Comb Ridge.

Locals display signs politely asking the Foundation and SITLA not to privatize the Comb Ridge.

Friends of Cedar Mesa has been working to find a collaborative, win-win solution that would permanently preserve public access to a key square mile of the Comb Ridge near Bluff. This parcel of state trust land has been nominated by the Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation (HIRF) for inclusion in a Utah State Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) auction scheduled for October. FCM approached both SITLA and HIRF with an offer to help facilitate a negotiated conservation easement, which would accomplish all of the following:

  • Preserve public access in perpetuity;
  • Reduce the Foundation’s costs in purchasing the property (30-50% of the property value would have been covered by the conservation easement agreement);
  • Ensure the Foundation the ability to preserve that section of the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail while carrying out activities to educate people about the heroic Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition and the lessons to be learned from that story of faith and perseverance;
  • Allow the Foundation reasonable but limited development of the parcel as the Foundation has suggested it might want (e.g. restroom facilities, gathering spots, storage, etc);
  • Demonstrate and maintain positive working relationships between the Foundation, the residents of Bluff and visitors from around the region that have used this property for decades as if it were public land.

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a legal agreement limiting certain development activities on a piece of private property in perpetuity. Conservation easements are great tools for promoting conservation of natural resource and public access on private land while providing certainty and property rights to the land owner. Each conservation agreement is negotiated under unique terms but they result in specific development rights being precluded on the property and frequently have provisions for public access.

For the Comb Ridge parcel in question, a conservation easement would be a positive because it could allow the buyer to build minimal facilities but assure the public that the land will not ever be developed in a way that alters the land and its resources.  

This solution is a classic compromise where everyone gives up something. The Foundation would give up some development rights in exchange for permanently allowing public access and limiting their future development. Conservationists would give up the dream of this land being true public land for future generations. However, the practical result would be a win-win compromise where pretty much everyone gets what they need on the ground.

Unfortunately, both SITLA and the HIRF have so far rejected consideration of this solution as an alternative to an auction where the property is sold to the highest bidder.

That’s where you come in. Can you write an email to the Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation and urge them reconsider this win-win solution? Over 300 of you have already written to SITLA and that’s fallen on deaf ears. So let’s try a new approach. In your email to the Foundation, please be extremely courteous and emphasize how destructive to positive relationships a winner-takes-all approach will be compared with a positive, proactive solution. We know many of you don’t like the idea of this land being privatized at all, and expressing that is fine. But please express your support for a compromise solution via a conservation easement. Feel free to remind the Foundation that many people from all walks of life share deep connections to this section of the Comb Ridge, especially for all the pre-history it houses, regardless of their religious beliefs. Please do not write if you have an ax to grind or are only talking generally about the Comb Ridge and do not have experience with this specific property (see aerial map of the location or watch our video about the issue for details).

Please use the below form to send your email.

Author: Amanda Podmore

Amanda Podmore is the Assistant Director of Friends of Cedar Mesa.

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