This story has been updated to clarify the federal grant will be used to purchase a conservation easement only.
HUNTSVILLE — The Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity has been closed for more than three and a half years now, but a local group is working to ensure the land the old Huntsville monastery operated on for seven decades will be protected forever.
The Summit Land Conservancy and the Ogden Valley Land Trust are working to preserve the famed 1,080-acre property that was home to a Trappist Cistercian monastery from 1947 to late 2017. Cheryl Fox, executive director at SLC, said her organization has secured a federal grant of $8.8 million from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program — money that will be used to purchase permanent conservation easement on the property.
The conservancy and the land trust are launching a capital campaign to raise the remaining $300,000 needed for the project. Fox said the hope is that the remaining funds will be raised by Nov. 1.
Founded by 32 monks who were mostly veterans of World War II, the monastery is one of the Upper Ogden Valley’s most recognizable and beloved pieces of land. Situated near the South Fork of the Ogden River, southwest of where it flows out out of Causey Reservoir, the monastery at its peak in the 1960s housed nearly 90 monks and novices.
The monks farmed, ranched and kept bees, using their agricultural exploits as a form of prayer and devotion. The monks lived off of the food they cultivated, but they also sold products out of a small shop, helping to pay for the upkeep of the sprawling compound. In addition to food, the monks also sold religious items and texts, and other handcrafted items.
“Over the last 75 years, the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity graced the southern end of the Ogden Valley as a symbol of spiritual strength, human industriousness, and communal cooperation,” Gail Meakins, chair of the OVLT, said in a statement. “While the legacy of the monks will live on in our hearts and memories, it is with great joy and humble thankfulness that we now have the opportunity to preserve these fields and vistas forever.”
And Fox said the land has value beyond its historic and cultural significance.
She said the monastery is essential to area wildlife, biodiversity and watershed health. Located at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains’ sub-alpine forests, the land serves as prime habitat for several species, including the endangered Canada lynx and the yellow-billed cuckoo. The open space of the monastery is also used as rangeland and wintering ground for elk and deer. Owls, hawks and wild turkeys thrive in nearby wooded areas. The Ogden River at the edge of the property provides seasonal wetlands for migratory birds.
The 2017 closing of the monastery was one of many such closures that have been happening across the country as monks age and interest in the calling among younger generations dwindles to almost nothing. According to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance website, there are just 15 monasteries across 12 states left in the U.S.
White purchased the property in 2016, aiming to find a way to keep the land as open space. He says that despite the possible payday that could come from selling the land for development, the legacy of the monastery deserves more.
“It’s one of the last few remaining farms in Ogden Valley,” Landowner Bill White said, noting that the pastoral countryside continues to face intense development pressure as transplants move into the valley to take advantage of the area’s recreational opportunities. “When the monks decided to close the monastery ... I realized that this was a once-in-forever opportunity to save this beautiful farm from development.”
While White was the initial catalyst, he said the effort to save the monastery has involved the labors of many selfless and caring people.
“(We) know that land can only be saved through powerful partnerships,” Fox said of the multi-pronged effort to preserve the monastery land.