top of page




Balancing Access and Protection: Navigating New Permits at Castleton Tower Campground

It was the 11-year-old who gave up birthday presents. It was the soldier who sent the last $20 in his pockets as he headed off to the conflict in the Middle East. It was three years of diligent fundraising and awareness-raising. It was all of these efforts and the support of Castle Valley and Grand County residents that saved 221 acres at the base of Castleton Tower. Utah Open Lands’ promise to defend and protect these lands began more than 25 years ago when the historic access and campground at Castleton Tower were threatened by a 15-lot gated subdivision. As threats go, the latest one for this beloved landscape is one that Utah Open Lands hopes will remind us all of the obligation we have to respect the balance of recreational use with protection of the resource itself. That is what hangs in the balance this time, as the organization works diligently with Grand County staff to synergistically move through new county codes and permit processes that have arisen in part from the rise of recreational demand throughout the state since the outdoors became everyone’s go-to during Covid. “Castleton Tower is a geological marvel that holds a significant place in the hearts of the community. Its iconic presence has not only captivated climbers and outdoor enthusiasts for more than half a century but is now rightly regarded by many as a beacon of unity, rallying people worldwide in its preservation, demonstrating we can all make a difference,” said Maryssa Fenwick, Land Protection Associate with Utah Open Lands. “What we need now is patience. For people to respect the process and halt use in the area,” continued Fenwick. Utah Open Lands ‘inherited’ the primitive, dry-use campground when the organization purchased the land from Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. The land provides the main access for those climbing Castleton Tower, and the potential sale of the land to development rallied the necessary support to save it. “The act of saving something requires us to be ever mindful that it could have been lost,” said Wendy Fisher, Executive Director of Utah Open Lands. “And our knowledge of that loss means we can’t just be a user of these places, but that we, collectively, must be a steward for the land.” Utah Open Lands cite unending development pressures juxtaposed against increasing recreational demand as a potential ‘death by a thousand cuts’ for the diminishing open land reserves that the public enjoys and urge the public to respect a healthy carrying capacity of the land in a way that safeguards the delicate environment we all love. Fisher acknowledges that use, camping, recreating, and visiting these amazing open spaces has outstripped existing facilities in many parts of the state but urges users that the answer cannot be rogue trails and camping in undesignated areas. The consequence she cautions is more than just the inability to sustain the health of the environment. “What we, all of us, do now will determine the fate of places like Castleton Tower Baseland into the future,” said Fisher. The organization is requesting from the County the designation of ‘historic non-conforming’ use, recognizing the historical use and establishment of the campground that began several decades ago. “Working closely with County planners and officials, Utah Open Lands is optimistic about the progress towards reopening the site. In the meantime, we urge everyone to respect its current closure,” said Fenwick. Background on The Baselands at Castleton Tower Preserve In the spring of 1999, the threat of a 15-lot subdivision loomed over the base lands surrounding Castleton Tower. Just a year prior, the Utah School Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) sold eighty acres at the base of Parriott Mesa, and had it not been for the money Utah Open Lands wired to stop the backhoe in its tracks those lands would have been lost to development. This act galvanized the community into action. Local community members organized into the Castle Rock Collaboration (CRC), and Utah Open Lands (UOL) began conservation negotiations with SITLA, agreeing to pay a fair market value for the 221 acres if the agency would provide the organization with the time to fundraise. The Utah Open Lands' campaign garnered the support of outdoor retailers, and over three years esteemed partners like Petzl, Patagonia, REI, and Black Diamond joined forces with Utah Open Lands and the Community in raising funds for the preservation of this precious landscape. The rallying cry for preservation echoed far beyond the confines of Utah. This groundswell of support transcended geographical boundaries, underscoring the universal reverence for Castleton Tower and, critically, the protection of the historic climbing access and primitive camp that had developed on the state lands over time. Through relentless advocacy and fundraising endeavors, UOL and its partners successfully acquired the base lands beneath Castleton Tower. Since coming under the stewardship of UOL, the campground has remained a vital hub for outdoor recreation, free of charge and accessible in honor of the effort that ensured its protection.

Spring Transit to Trails Returns

Transit to Trails Graphic.png

Transit to Trails – a partnership with the Central Wasatch Commission, Mountain Trails Foundation, and Park City Municipal – will return this weekend, April 4-7. You can make reservations now by following this link: Please note that operation of Transit to Trails is weather permitting. Check ahead to ensure no cancellations have been made due to weather. Big thanks to the Park City Municipal Corporation, Mountain Trails Foundation, and the Central Wasatch Commission for helping us make this happen!

Transit to Trails
Sage Grouse Strut

Visiting the Charles Jewell and Erma S. Richins Heritage Ranch Preserve to Watch the Sage Grouse Strut

Last week, two staff members of Utah Open Lands headed to the Charles Jewell and Erma S. Richins Heritage Ranch Preserve to observe the Sage Grouse mating ritual, known as the "Sage Grouse Strut," a remarkable event that occurs at early sunrise during March and April in the birds' breeding grounds, or leks. Sage Grouse, typically elusive creatures blending into their sagebrush habitat, emerge in open areas like leks to court potential mates. Development poses a significant threat to Sage Grouse habitat, emphasizing the need for habitat protection. The Charles Jewell and Erma S. Richins Heritage Ranch Preserve, protected by Utah Open Lands in 2007, hosts one of Northern Utah's most active leks. Taylor Null, one of the staff members in attendance, shared, "The Sage Grouse Strut was an amazing experience. Watching and listening to the calls in the silence of snowfall was unlike anything I've experienced. Waking up early and watching them at the break of dawn was well worth it." This encounter underscores the vital role of conservation throughout Utah in protecting wildlife habitat, and UOL continues its diligent work to protect habitats essential for species survival across the state.


Northfields Protection One Step Closer to Reality

In an extraordinary display of community spirit, Wasatch County residents turned out in impressive numbers at the March 6th Wasatch County Council public hearing to voice their unwavering support for the protection of landscapes in the Northfields. Utah Open Lands has worked tirelessly for the past 20 + years to find conservation solutions that would match the landowners needs to stay on the land and safeguard it from eminent development. On March 6th Utah Open Lands made two requests to the Council for two separate properties in the Northfields. The requests asked for less than 20% of the total cost of the projects and Utah Open Lands assured the Council that preservation ‘can’ happen. Speaker after speaker echoed support for Utah Open Lands’ request creating an electric atmosphere as they passionately presented their case for granting funding to Utah Open Lands. The Wasatch County Council Chambers were filled to capacity and an overflow room had to be set up to accommodate those in support of the Northfields. The Wasatch County Council awarded $3 million of Open Space Fund dollars to Utah Open Lands (UOL) to be used toward the protection of two critical parcels within the Northfields, the Christian Michel property (which will receive $750,000) and the Laren Gertch property (which will receive $2,250,000). "This was truly an inspirational night," said Alli Eroh of Utah Open Lands. "The overwhelming turnout, the heartfelt testimonies - it crystallized just how deeply cherished and integral the Northfields are to Heber Valley's identity." This funding represents a significant milestone in ongoing effort to preserve the Northfields which really began with the Albert Kohler Legacy Farm. For every dollar of taxpayer funding awarded from the open space bond, UOL has secured over $6 in matching contributions from partners like Midway City, the Natural Resources Conservation Service Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (NRCS ACEP-ALE), private foundations, individual donors and the LeRay McAllister Working Farm and Ranch Fund. The County Council’s discussion acknowledged the lingering issue of a bypass road through the Northfields, but as Council member Mark Nelson remarked “there are some things that are non-negotiable and the Northfields is one of those things.” Council Member Erik Rowland reiterated the Council’s support of finding a traffic solution to Heber’s Main Street congestion and recounted how much the council had done to purchase land for a potential bypass, but reminded the Council that the opportunity in front of the council was simply “to fund the protection of 165 acres of land in the Northfields,” said Rowland. “We know that protected lands are a net revenue, a net benefit to the community, because as I like to say cows don’t go to school,” said Wendy Fisher, Executive Director of Utah Open Lands when discussing how open space doesn’t require taxpayer funded infrastructure. “This is a moment in time where we stand to lose the very essence of what makes Wasatch County unique. This funding will help our organization move forward with other funding sources to safeguard the pastoral setting of the Northfields that sets this community apart from Anytown, USA,” said Fisher. The commitment to protecting the Northfields has been integral to Utah Open Lands for over two decades. It recognizes that balancing growth requires a dedication to preserving the landscapes that contribute character to the community. Utah Open Lands does not see this conservation as stopping a solution to traffic congestion issues, nor has that ever been the intent of the work the organization has been doing to preserve the northfields since 1994. Public comment highlights from the hearing: - Multiple residents referred to the Northfields as the “crown jewel of Heber Valley,” a unique landscape that defines the visual and ecological character of the area. - Preserving the Northfields is essential for maintaining the distinct look and feel that attracts visitors and residents alike to Heber Valley. - The Northfields provides scenic beauty, ecological habitat, and water quality protection to its surrounding communities. - The 70% voter approval of the open space bond, with a primary focus on Northfields protection, demonstrates the community’s unwavering commitment to open space preservation. - Laren Gertch’s decision to protect his land through a conservation easement represents a rare and deeply generous act. This family farm contributes significantly to the agricultural heritage of the area. By placing a conservation easement, Mr. Gertch is not only ensuring the land remains a working farm for his family but also gifting over $3 million in value to the community for its perpetual protection.

bottom of page