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Summit Land Conservancy wins $9 million grant to preserve an ‘iconic’ monastery



PROVO, Utah – The Summit Land Conservancy has secured a nearly $9 million grant from the federal government to help save what the conservancy calls an ‘iconic’ Ogden Valley monastery from development.

A group of monks, mostly veterans of World War II, founded the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity in Huntsville in 1947, according to the conservancy. The monks worked the land for decades, viewing their farming and ranching as a form of prayer and devotion.

But as the monks grew older, their numbers declined and the monastery closed its doors in 2017. The year before, Wynstonn Wangsgard and Bill White, a former Huntsville town councilor, purchased the land to preserve it from development, according to Cheryl Fox, Summit Land Conservancy’s executive director.

White called it a “‘once in forever’ opportunity” in a prepared statement.

Five years later, that goal seems close to fruition, as two land conservancies have teamed up to secure a conservation easement on the land. The Summit Land Conservancy is working with the Ogden Valley Land Trust to raise the remaining $300,000 to secure the easement.

Its 1,080 acres are important to two endangered species, according to the conservancy, including the Canada Lynx. Several other species call the land home, including elk and deer that use it as a wintering ground, as well as several bird species that use the wetlands at the property’s edge.

Fox said landowners White and Wangsgard have been “the real heroes” in the situation, agreeing to forego 58% of the land’s appraised value to ensure that it remains free from development.

“Despite the potential economic gain of selling for development, White recognizes the monastery has cultural and historic value that far exceeds the face value of the land,” the conservancy wrote in a prepared statement. “He plans to preserve the monastery largely in its current form as an active agricultural operation and as significant wildlife habitat, while continuing to invest in the long-term sustainability of the farm.”

The conservancy won an $8.8 million grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, according to the release.

A conservation easement is an instrument to remove a land’s development rights and offer landowners an opportunity to access some of the money they would gain from selling to developers while simultaneously ensuring the land won’t be developed. An entity purchases the land’s development rights, generally at a modest discount from the land’s appraised value, and the landowner retains ownership of the land and the ability to continue to use it.

Fox said her group was in talks with the Ogden Valley Land Trust to determine which entity would hold the easement in the future.

She said the Summit Land Conservancy had seen increasing success applying for federal grants for conservation easements, chalking some of that up to the Biden administration’s push to conserve at least 30% each of the nation’s lands and waters by the year 2030.

Fox said it seemed like a “fluke” when the conservancy secured nearly $8.8 million in a federal grant to preserve the Osguthorpe Farm in the Snyderville Basin in 2017, but recently has seen what seems like a growing federal willingness to support land conservation in Utah.