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Northern Utah initiative aims to preserve open space amid rapid growth

A person poses on one knee next to a dog. They are next to a green field.
Clarissa Casper
/
UPR
Viewable from Highway 165, Joe Fuhriman’s property encompasses a major wildlife corridor, miles of farmland, and has the Blacksmith Fork River running through it.

From an early age, Cache County resident Joe Fuhriman knew there was something special about his family’s land. Viewable from Highway 165, Fuhriman’s property encompasses a major wildlife corridor, miles of farmland, and has the Blacksmith Fork River running through it. He grew up used to seeing waterfowl, birds of prey, deer, and various fish.

A river runs through green fields under a blue sky.
Clarissa Casper
/
UPR
The Blacksmith Fork River runs through Joe Fuhriman's property.

Now, Fuhriman has the chance to keep his land alive and preserved thanks to a new Cache County initiative.

“When I was growing up, even as a small, small boy, I thought ‘I do not want to develop this. I want to keep this place as it is,” he said.

In 2022, Cache County voters voted to allocate $20 million in open space land preservation funds to local landowners to protect the rapidly growing county and create trail corridors. Now, those funds are available.

Cache County Executive David Zook said the county is hoping to award projects that protect scenic vistas, preserve open lands near the valley’s gateways, add trail connectivity, and support agriculture, waterways, and wildlife.

Rather than purchasing the land outright, the county will use the grant funds to buy development rights from landowners, Zook said. This allows landowners to receive compensation in exchange for agreeing not to develop their property.

“And then it would stay open forever and available for people to at least see that its open, but ideally use as well,” he said.

The funds can be used to purchase conservation easements, trail easements, or property for open space preservation and trail additions. Zook said the application process will be competitive, as the county can only preserve a fraction of its open space with the funds. Once enough applications are received, the County Council will use a scoring system to decide which applicants receive the grants.

The council has already received a few applications and is hoping for more to select the best possible land, Zook said.

“If only one person applies for the money, and they’re qualified, they’ll probably get it but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their project is the best one or that their land is the best land to be preserved,” Zook said. “So, we really want people to consider whether or not they have land that they would like to be preserved.”

This initiative is beneficial to those who take part, Zook said, because it allows them to still use their land how they choose.

“They can't turn it from a farm into a neighborhood, that won’t be allowed, but they could still use the land in its open form,” he said.

As the valley is set to grow exponentially now and in the coming years, it is important to preserve what makes the valley unique, Zook said.

“It’s important that we preserve those beautiful places so that it can continue to be beautiful for future generations,” he said. “If we aren’t smart about our growth, and we don’t preserve these places, they’ll be gone. And we or future generations will lack back and think ‘why didn’t we do something to preserve what made this place so special.’”

Fuhriman, who helped promote this initiative and get it passed, according to Zook, is among the few who have already submitted an application for this grant. Currently, his family uses their property for farming and ranching.

A green field with trees and mountains in the background. The sky is blue.
Clarissa Casper
/
UPR
Joe Fuhriman's land.

“This is really the first settlement in Cache County,” Fuhriman said. “And I’m happy to preserve it and my family wants to preserve it. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

This initiative is vital to preserve land like Fuhriman's throughout the county, he said.

“We’re losing everything that’s beautiful about this valley, one subdivision at a time,” he said. “Every time you build a house, that’s the final crop on that piece of property. And it’s sad. It bothers me to see this prime farmland destroyed. There will be a time when we’ll wonder ‘why did we develop all this land when we could have preserved it.’”

Interested landowners can apply for the grant by submitting an application to the Cache County Development Services office.

“If there’s anyone that has property and wants to see it preserved and kept intact, I would urge them to apply,” Fuhriman said.

Clarissa Casper is a general reporter at UPR who recently graduated from Utah State University with a degree in Print Journalism and minors in Environmental Studies and English.