Paradise for Sale 

A mountain wilderness is up for sale in Morgan County—but the price tag is likely too steep for conservation groups

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A portion of the Wasatch Peaks Ranch - MIRR RANCH GROUP
  • Mirr Ranch Group
  • A portion of the Wasatch Peaks Ranch

Split by 11 creeks, encompassing 24 peaks in the Wasatch Range and stretching for 20 square miles in Morgan County, the $46 million Wasatch Peaks Ranch might well be among the rarest real-estate opportunities in the world.

The 12,740-acre property—owned by Snowbird cofounder Dick Bass and Sinclair Oil Corp. magnate and Snowbasin founder Earl Holding, both of whom recently died, in 2015 and 2013, respectively—the ranch recently hit the market, sparking at least one Internet fundraising effort, some interest by deep-pocketed folks and dreams from environmental groups to have the land roped into the public domain.

Ken Mirr, owner of Mirr Ranch Group in Denver, Colo., is the broker for the property. He says the campaign to sell the land, which is void of any structures, is in the beginning stages.

"I would say with such close proximity to Salt Lake and Ogden, with the unique attributes of the property going all the way up the ridgeline—there's a number of drainages—that type of layout is pretty unique for anything in the West that close to a metropolitan area," Mirr says.

Mirr says Bass and Holding bought the property, which is zoned for one home per 160 acres, in the late 1990s.

Helicopter ski companies have accessed adjacent property and, according to the listing, limited hunting occurs there.

The chunk of land borders dozens of miles of Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, and according to Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons—a group that advocates for preservation of the Wasatch Range—the parcel appears to be a prime candidate for Forest Service management.

Aside from the 2014 sale of Park City Mountain Resort to Vail Resorts Inc. for $182.5 million, Fisher says massive patches of Wasatch wilderness don't often come up for grabs.

"This is still larger than [Park City Mountain Resort]," Fisher says. "An organization like Save Our Canyons—we definitely are interested but just don't have $46 million kicking around."

For the past 50 years, Congress has allocated money for acquisition of lands through the Land & Water Conservation Fund. The amounts of money provided through this program, though, has consistently shrunk over time, says Fisher.

This fund, says Loyal Clark, a public affairs officer for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, would be the primary way the Forest Service could purchase the land. But $46 million is a giant leap from the $4 million the local Forest Service usually receives through the fund each year.

"Our funding in that appropriation has been decreasing over the last several years, so we struggle to just purchase parcels of land that equal even $1 million," Clark says.

The Forest Service, Clark says, buys property on a regular basis. Many recent acquisitions have been along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, where parcels of private land threaten access to public lands. Between 2005 and 2012, Clark says the Forest Service purchased 11,600 acres on the north slope of the Uintas for $11 million, and in 2011, acquired 200 acres near the shoreline trail in Ogden for $1.6 million. In 2014, the Forest Service bought six acres in Mill Creek Canyon for $55,000.

"Would we be interested?" Clark says. "We are always interested in acquiring parcels of land that are adjacent to national forest land."

Clark says the only way the Forest Service could acquire the land is if a federal lawmaker—preferably one of Utah's representatives—pushed hard for an earmark that would bankroll the purchase.

Like Fisher, Mirr says the property, which he calls a "blank slate," would be a good candidate for conservation—an outcome that he would welcome, though he has yet to hear much interest from the conservation community.

In the meantime, his firm is touting the property's recreational opportunities. "The ranch controls a continuous ridgeline comprising 24 peaks and 15 bowls on the property and adjoining national forest lands," the listing states. "Recreation options abound with fly fishing along 1.75 miles of the Weber River, big-game trophy hunting, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and other recreational pursuits on over 80 miles of trails and unlimited access to the bordering forest."

Mirr says the parties he represents haven't indicated whether they have a preference as to who purchases the land, or what they do with it afterward. But Mirr says he's worked on large conservation acquisitions in the past, and would welcome that in this case.

"We're just trying to paint the right picture for such a unique property," Mirr says. "If I could sell it for conservation purposes, I would be happy."

Luke Ratto, a mountain-biking enthusiast who works at Ski Utah—a tourism association that represents the ski industry—has started a fundraising effort called Citizen Mountain on the public fundraising website GoFundMe.

Ratto's dream is to provide access to the property's myriad recreational opportunities, while turning the land itself over to a conservation group. Ratto says he's not opposed to Forest Service ownership, but he knows they don't have the dough. With 40 days remaining on the fundraising drive, Ratto has raised $12,700 of his $56 million goal.

Fisher says that a conservation-minded buying effort will require an "all-hands-on-deck" effort between public and private money to secure a property that he says is "critical to the local environment."

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