Movement Making Progress in Land Preservation

Movement Making Progress in Land Preservation

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John Hollenhorst ReportingA real estate deal was finalized today that will stop development forever at the foot of one of Utah's world-renowned landmarks. It's the soaring Castleton Tower, often referred to as Castle Rock near Moab.

Preservationists launched a fund raising effort 18 months ago and came up with 640,000-dollars. Today they used it to buy 221 acres of State School Trust Land. The deal will preserve public access to Castleton Tower and protect a campsite used by rock climbers. The money goes to the school trust fund.

Brad Barber/Utah Open Lands: "It's a great new arena for trust lands to work in. Where we can preserve some of these gems that they own and still get good value for the school kids."

Today's announcement is the latest twist in a remarkable 10-year preservation effort in a place many believe is more spectacular than most National Parks.

Upriver from Moab land is being gobbled up by organizations and people acting on their own. They want to save it rather than develop it.

It's scenery made famous in many movies and in television commercials. But it may be even more scenic in person.

Joel Tuhy/The Nature Conservancy: "I think it's more scenic than 95 percent of the national park system."

Rancher Peter Lawson owns a private chunk of it, the Professor Valley Ranch. Recently he put in winning bids totaling well over a million dollars to buy two square miles of school trust land nearby. He plans to do absolutely nothing with it, except prevent development on the irreplaceable land.

Peter Lawson/Professor Valley Ranch: "They're not making any more of this, anywhere."

His preservation instinct falls in line with a grass-roots trend now blossoming in the area. It's because of worries about commercial or residential construction.

Bill Hedden/Grand Canyon Trust: "These lands are very much under threat of development."

It started a decade ago when the Nature Conservancy bought an orchard to help preserve biological diversity.

Joel Tuhy/The Nature Conservancy: "Some of the impacts to those features that could have happened, had some of those projects been done, is what really drove us to do our work here."

Since then other organizations and Castle Valley residents joined the fight. They realized big blocks of school trust land were starting to be sold to developers. Preservationists raised several million dollars from foundations, businesses and individuals. Deals were made for purchases, land swaps and easements.

Near the famous Fisher Tower, for example, the Nature Conservancy now plans to buy a square mile of school trust land. Much of the vulnerable land is now either fully protected or heading in that direction.

Bill Hedden/Grand Canyon Trust: "So far we have a hope of a complete conservation solution."

Preservationists say an important lesson here is that the instinct to preserve, just like development, can generate big dollars, and it can be good for the economy.

Wendy Fisher/Utah Open Lands: "I think any conservation that occurs here is going to only increase the economic potential of this area; both because it's a tourist destination, and because people didn't move here to be in the middle of suburbia."

However, a huge chunk of trust land still could be sold to developers so the effort is far from over.

Peter Lawson/Professor Valley Ranch: "I expect it will take a lifetime of vigilance and, you know, longer than that."

Castle Valley residents are actually talking about imposing a special tax on themselves so they can buy the remaining trust land to prevent development.

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