After several years of battles, momentum has shifted dramatically in the fight over Dimple Dell Park, with golfers losing out.

What once was designated for a golf course now is likely to become a nature preserve. That's good news for a grass-roots group known as Citizens for the Preservation of Dimple Dell Park."I think Christmas has come early," said Dr. John Shakula, a pediatrician who is the head of the group. "But now we must shift gears and make the park what it should be."

When voters elected two new Salt Lake County commissioners earlier this month, they apparently sounded the death knell to the golf course in the park. The golf course would have been built roughly between 2000 East and 3000 East north of Dimple Dell Road (10650 South).

Commissioners-elect Randy Horiuchi and Jim Bradley say the golf course, which caused years of heated debate between environmentalists, preservationists and golfers, will not be built while they are in office.

Bradley said the federal government granted money years ago to turn the park into a nature preserve. "The real issue is not whether we believe in a golf course or not. The fact is, if we proceed with the golf course there, we will be sued," he said.

While they are elated by this latest turn of events, members of Citizens for the Preservation of Dimple Dell Park say their work is far from done. The group, formed to oppose the golf course, now numbers about 1,500 and is committed to forming a preserve.

The park extends through a much larger area than that which was to be used for a golf course. Most of the park is untended wilderness. The preserve would include a habitat for animals and a large building to be used for educational presentations and to house a full- and part-time staff.

"This would be managed in such a way as to enhance the natural flavor of the area," Shakula said. "A curator would be responsible for keeping the park intact."

But the group Shakula represents is not the only one with an opinion on the park's future. Horse riders want an equestrian trail in the park.

And the pro-golfing faction is not giving up.

"I think this is just a temporary postponement. Somewhere down the line - perhaps 10 years from now - there will eventually be a golf course here," said Mike Shea, director of parks and recreation for Sandy City. "I would like to see a golf course in that location. I think there is enough land and it would be developed well enough to meet the needs of the horseback riders, environmentalists and the golfers. I think it would improve that area."

Horiuchi and Bradley said they do not oppose golf courses, and they want to build one in the Sandy area to replace the proposed Dimple Dell course.

"This county hasn't built a golf course in about 26 years, so what do they do? They want to put one in a place where it will take another 26 years to build because of litigation," Horiuchi said. "Golfing is one of my passions in life. Golfers want a place to play. Jim (Bradley) and I will begin to get another course under way."

But Shakula won't rest until the nature preserve is in place. He also worries the county someday may want to extend 2000 East through the park, thus destroying much of the natural ambience.

"I'm afraid it's probably a life's work," Shakula said about his involvement in the park's future. "It's not good enough for us just to stop something, we want to build something there."