Tom Roach
The Rose Canyon Ranch, being bought for $8.7 million, covers 1,691 acres in the Oquirrh Mountains and is home to a large herd of elk, as well as mule deer, turkeys, fox, grouse, chukars and cougars.

No matter how much the southwest corner of Salt Lake County grows, at least 4,000 mountainous acres will remain untouched.

Salt Lake County officials on Tuesday approved the $8.7 million purchase of Rose Canyon Ranch, approximately 1,691 acres in the southern Oquirrh Mountains. The sale is scheduled to close this week.

Combine that land with the 800-acre Yellow Fork Park already owned by the county and another 1,600 acres the Bureau of Land Management owns but will cooperatively manage with the county and you've got what Mayor Peter Corroon calls "a dream come true."

It's enough land to build 1,250 Costcos or 400 Temple Squares. Scratch that. How about another Daybreak, a 14,000-home development on the west bench.

That's a lot of land, said Wendy Fisher, director of Utah Open Lands.

"One of the things that's amazing about it is that there is a piece of land of that size still in Salt Lake County. That is phenomenal," Fisher said. "Certainly the public is going to get a complete jewel once this is protected."

Approximately two-thirds of all the growth in the county over the next 25 years is expected to happen on the county's west side.

Land around the Daybreak development is being snagged left and right, and open space is getting harder and harder to come by across the county.

Snagging such a large piece of land in a developers' market was quite the feat, said Lorna Vogt, the county's open space coordinator.

"We would be very lucky to find a piece like this again," Vogt said. "We didn't think we had any chance for it. This one took us by surprise. That gives you an idea of how extraordinary and rare this."

The purchase was funded by a bond approved by county voters in 2006. The $48 million bond was then split in half by county officials, with $24 million set aside for parks with the other half to be used for open space acquisition.

Rose Canyon is home to a herd of 750 elk, mule deer, Rio Grande turkeys, fox, grouse, chukars and cougars. "This project sets aside a wild and beautiful portion of our valley for our future generations," Vogt said.

Visitors will be able to stroll through the mountains, hike and horseback ride in the rough terrain. However, county and BLM officials are working on a long-term management plan for the area to protect its wildlife and recreational assets.

"The public will be able to enjoy a spectrum of recreational activities the likes of which are unlikely to ever be enjoyed on the west side of the valley without the acquisition," said Glenn Carpenter, BLM field office manager.