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Huntsville-area boosters raise funds needed to preserve land once used as monastery

By Tim Vandenack - | Sep 28, 2021

Photo supplied, Summit Land Conservancy

The grounds of the former Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity monastery southeast of Huntsville are pictured in this undated photo. Officials said Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, that the funding needed had been raised to place the site of the ex-monastery in an easement, thus preserving the land.

HUNTSVILLE — As more and more homes pop up in the Ogden Valley, at least one big expanse of undeveloped land will stay pristine and void of a new subdivision.

The contingent pushing to conserve part of the land that previously served as home to a Trappist monastery received the last major infusion of funding needed to move forward with plans to place the property southeast of Huntsville in a conservation easement.

“It’s super exciting,” said Cheryl Fox, executive director of the Summit Land Conservancy, working with the Ogden Valley Land Trust on the initiative. “It’s been really beautiful, (there’s been) a really beautiful outpouring of citizen support for this iconic piece of property.”

A federal grant of $8.8 million from the Natural Resources Conservation Service‘s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program provided the bulk of the funding needed to secure the easement. Boosters of the plan needed another $300,000 in donations on top of that, and Weber County commissioners on Tuesday provided $50,000, the last major funding infusion needed.

When all the steps are complete, farming will be allowed on the 1,080-acre parcel once used by the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity. However, development — which is gaining steam in the Ogden Valley, as it is all along the Wasatch Front — won’t be permitted, which is the idea.

Photo supplied, Summit Land Conservancy

The grounds of the former Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity monastery southeast of Huntsville are pictured in this undated photo. Officials said Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, that the funding needed had been raised to place the site of the ex-monastery in an easement, thus preserving the land.

“The history of the Ogden Valley is all about farming and open space,” said Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer, who lives in the area. “It conserves the easement so someone can’t put 300 or 400 homes there.”

The current owners of the 1,080-acre tract, Bill White and Wynstonn Wangsgard, will hold onto the land. But the conservation easement, to be held by Summit Land Conservancy, will prohibit residential, commercial and other sorts of development. Farming of hay and cattle grazing — allowed — will continue.

The monastery, established in 1947, closed in 2017 stemming from declining interest in that way of life. Given the strong demand for housing, Fox said developers had expressed interest in acquiring the land from the Roman Catholic Church, the owner, for subdivisions and other development. “We knew then, talks were happening,” she said.

White and Wangsgard, instead, acquired the land, hoping to preserve it in its natural state, leading to the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program grant. The grant funds and local matching funds will go largely to them, but Fox said the owners don’t stand to profit over the long haul given the investment they’ve put into the land.

The monks who once managed the land “were active farmers, ranchers and beekeepers who used agricultural production as a form of prayer and devotion,” according to the Summit Land Trust. Those who still lived there when the facility closed moved to a senior living facility in Salt Lake City.

Photo supplied, Summit Land Conservancy

The grounds of the former Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity monastery southeast of Huntsville are pictured in this undated photo. Officials said Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, that the funding needed had been raised to place the site of the ex-monastery in an easement, thus preserving the land.

Elk regularly pass through the land, according to Fox. “The birds are amazing out there,” she said. Moreover, the land in its natural state has environmental benefits, serving as a filter of sorts for air and water and sequestering carbon.

Gail Meakins, chair of the Ogden Valley Land Trust, said the public really stepped forward, pitching in to generate the $300,000 needed on top of the $8.8 million grant. “I think it shows there’s interest in saving open spaces and agricultural land,” she said.

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