What happens to 1,800 acres of land when a N. Utah abbey closes? That's up to us

Tuesday , April 18, 2017 - 4:30 AM

STANDARD-EXAMINER EDITORIAL BOARD

For 70 years, the Trappist monks at The Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity protected nearly 1,900 acres of open land in the Ogden Valley.

Now it’s our turn.

The monks plan to close the abbey late this summer. It’s a numbers game — as their superiors at the Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky understand, a group of six elderly men cannot sustain a religious community, a dairy and a cattle ranch.

  • RELATED: “Huntsville monastery closes after 70 years, monks donate $400K to Lantern House”

Gethsemani initially considered selling the pristine land for mixed use development. Which prompted Bill White to buy it.

“It was an issue that I was aware of, but I really didn’t have any intention of getting involved,” White told Mitch Shaw, a reporter for the Standard-Examiner. “But the talk started about this giant, mixed-use development and you could kind of see where it was headed.”

  • RELATED: “Huntsville man on a mission to preserve monastery open space”

White, a semi-retired water rights attorney, lives in Huntsville and serves on town council. He purchased the land — in part — to protect the springs above the monastery, which provide Huntsville’s water.

But he also had another reason.

“The local monks (in Huntsville) have been adamant about preserving the open land,” White said. “From the beginning, they’ve been against the (proposed) development.”

No wonder the monks opposed carving the land into subdivisions and strip malls; essentially, the plan would’ve destroyed a place where they found God, peace and meaning for seven decades.

They discovered a kindred spirit in White, who worked with students at Utah State University to develop a plan that preserves the abbey as open space. Essentially, while White put up the money to buy the monastery, Utah Open Lands is raising funds to reimburse him and put the property into a conservation easement, thus protecting it from development forever.

Wendy Fisher, the non-profit’s executive director, said Utah Open Lands plans to seek state and federal funds for the acquisition. But private donations will be vital.

Altogether, she estimates the cost of saving the land at roughly $6 million.

“There’s no question protecting the monastery will take a lot of private dollars,” Fisher told Shaw. “But this is a spectacular property and it should be preserved. It sets the tone and character of the entire valley.”

And if the effort fails?

White said he’ll probably sell the property back to Gethsemani and the Trappists can do whatever they want with it.

If that happens, the Ogden Valley changes irreparably. Another 1,800 acres of nature disappears, replaced by asphalt, McMansions and fast-casual restaurants.

The monks found peace and meaning there. So can the rest of us, if we preserve the land they’re leaving behind.

How to help

To donate to the Ogden Valley proposal, go to the Utah Open Lands website at utahopenlands.org.

You can also email Executive Director Wendy Fisher at wendy@utahopenlands.org.

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