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South Valley Journal

Local non-profit fighting to preserve the Oquirrh mountains

Nov 15, 2021 02:18PM ● By Justin Adams

Members of the Oquirrh Foundation gathered at the Yellow Fork trailhead to clean up the popular hiking destination earlier this fall. (Courtesy of Bennion Gardner)

By Justin Adams | [email protected]

In a state that includes such natural wonders as the Wasatch front, the Uintas and a host of national parks, the Oquirrh mountain range sometimes gets overlooked and forgotten, even by those who live in its shadow. But one group is trying to help more people realize that the mountain range is worth exploring and worth protecting. 

“Most people just don’t even know what they have to offer, because no one knows where they can go legally. People don’t know how great they are,” said Bennion Gardner, founder of the Oquirrh Foundation. 

The foundation was founded in 2020 to educate people on “the importance of preserving open space in and surrounding the Oquirrh Mountain Range.”

Gardner grew up in Taylorsville, then spent years living in Magna, but now resides in South Jordan. Over the years he’s seen how development has slowly crept closer and closer to the base of the mountains.

“Living in the west side of Salt Lake County, I’ve watched as development has crept closer and closer west, closer to the Oquirrhs. There hasn’t been much planning about what will happen once that development runs into the Oquirrhs,” he said. 

According to Gardner, Salt Lake County is working on a general plan for the west bench, which has included proposals for developments not only going right up to the edge of the mountains, but extending up through its canyons. The foundation has been in communication with the county to let them know of their concerns about how such developments would impact the ecosystem, among other things.

“You have pristine wilderness, it’s the last stop for wildlife as they migrate through the Oquirrhs. We feel like that could become the centerpiece for a major conservation area, and the county’s plan right now calls to develop it. We’re very concerned about that. We don’t think that’s the most appropriate use for that land,” Bennion said.  

Another challenge for the mountain range is its complicated legal boundaries. Much of the land is owned by the Rio Tinto Kennecott mine. Much of Butterfield Canyon is technically off-limits for that reason. Other parts of the range are even more closed off.

“In the north, it’s barbed wire fences everywhere. It’s off limits,” Bennion said. 

Recently, progress has been made on that front, as the county has worked with the Bureau of Land Management and Kennecott to build new trails, including some that would connect Butterfield Canyon to Yellow Fork Canyon. 

In addition to its policy advocacy and education efforts, the foundation has also begun organizing regular service projects. In the spring, a group of volunteers cleaned up sections of Butterfield Canyon. This fall, they tackled Yellow Fork Canyon, which included the difficult task of hauling out several rain-soaked couches that had been left along the popular hiking trail. The event drew 30-40 volunteers, some of whom serve on the foundation’s board.

“The board is made up of ordinary citizens on the west side of the valley. We all work full time and have jobs and families that we take care of and then do this in our spare time,” Bennion said.

Anyone interested in getting involved with the foundation’s work can is welcome to join. Visit www.oquirrhfoundation.org to learn more.