PROVO In Provo, like any other U.S. city, land is wealth. Sit on it long enough and any piece of grassy or dusty property will fulfill its promise of fortune.
A developer will someday come. Standing in a weed-choked lot where children once played baseball, he will whisper that this is a great spot for a gas station or a housing development.
Howard Stutz, a retired botany professor at Brigham Young University, has heard those whispers. He knows that in a neighborhood populated by the likes of Donny Osmond and Steve Young his back yard could fetch millions of dollars.
But instead of selling his property at 3700 N. 531 West to a developer, Stutz wants to sell it at a reduced price to Provo City and keep it as a park.
"We decided there are other things more valuable than money," Stutz says. "This land has been a paradise to us. Keeping it that way far supersedes what we would get from more money."
From a stump behind his house, across a field he once planted with barley, Stutz has watched a new subdivision go up. The remaining lots are going for $203,000 a half acre. Stutz's back yard, which includes river-front property, spans six acres. It could make him a rich man.
Problem is, Stutz has a relationship with the the 40 species of trees he has planted in his yard. He has watched them grow, and he knows their names and their stories. Beneath these trees cottonwood, box elder, pine he has held his wife of 60 years, he has roasted hot dogs and marshmallows with his seven children.
These trees have already made Howard Stutz a rich man.
"Sometimes I come out here and sit on this stump and just enjoy myself," Stutz says, a knotted wood cane resting across his legs. "I just listen, and think and ponder."
He stops talking and the wind seems to move through him as it does the trees. The cars on nearby University Avenue, rushing to get through a stop light, are still audible, as is the sound of construction work at the subdivision. But Stutz seems to inhabit a quiet space occupied by the horses in a nearby field. His demeanor is as serene as his surroundings.
"It's hard to describe what I feel in nature," Stutz says. "I guess it's an emotion of peace and tranquility."
It's an emotion he felt as a boy hiking in his hometown of Cardston, Canada. His wonder of nature never left him, and now that his hair has turned white and his gait slowed, it is the legacy he wants to leave for his family, friends and city.
Stutz says his children support the decision, even though it will leave them with a considerably smaller inheritance.
"I really admire someone who takes that approach, especially nowadays when people want to make as much money as possible off their property," said Provo Parks and Recreation director Roger Thomas, a close friend of the Stutz family. "Nature has given us some wonderful blessings and we need to preserve them."
The city council will vote on the proposal to purchase the Stutz property at its April 16 meeting.
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