Of Calves and Canyons

Protecting a Family’s Legacy-and a State’s Identity

Halfway up a side canyon, off of a broad river valley, the lone line cabin lays nestled in the cottonwood grove, the emotional center of the G&E Ranch near Coalville.

A line of towering stone spires marks the eastern boundary of this working cattle spread, up the South Fork of Chalk Creek. A purewater creek tumbles down from snowy ridges, through groves of aspen and pine. It’s a tranquil and peaceful place, seemingly untouched by the modern world.

For over ninety years the Blonquist family has worked this land through storm and heat, drought and blizzard, and an endlessly-repeating cycle of fencing, haying, irrigating, calving, branding, and feeding.

Alfred Blonquist bought 10,000 acres of this rangeland in 1915 for a whopping $5 per acre—a lot of money back then, especially for a sheep ranch. Alfred’s son George and his wife Ethel (G&E) bought the ranch 20 years later and worked it hard and made it go. Then they too passed it on; their four children have partnered here for the past 25 years. Keith Blonquist, George and Ethel’s son, grew up on this ranch with his two brothers and sister, and raised his own children here. They’ve all seen the changes, some good and some not, that have come over time. The road was paved; four-wheelers now herd the high-quality, fast-growing cross of Angus and Hereford cattle; haying season relies on machine, not brawn.

But while the ranch may seem remote, it’s not. The spread is a quick drive east from the bustling ski towns and urban crowds of the Wasatch. The thirst for land is driving high prices even higher, and every year it becomes more and more difficult for ranchers and farmers to resist the cash temptation. But not at this ranch.

Here, the family legacy will stand the test of time, with the ranch forever intact, but off-limits to development. The Blonquist family, all 13 of them, have partnered with The Trust for Public Land and others to preserve their land forever. And this spring, nearly half of the 47,000 acres were placed into a conservation easement.

Dale Snyder, Development Director of TPL-Utah, is optimistic about the Blonquist Ranch. “We’re doing this in phases,” she says. “We just don’t have enough money to do it all at once, so we’ll do the most-developable part first.” That includes the rich bottomland, hayfields, cottonwood groves, and springs.

The majority of the funding was provided by the Utah Quality Growth Commission and the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program; it was secured by the Utah congressional delegation, with staunch leadership from Senator Bennett. The balance will come from a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources grant and local funds from the Summit County East Side Agricultural Advisory Committee. These dedicated landowners also generously donated 25% of the easement value.

Last fall a fisherman gave Keith $20 out of his pocket when he heard what was happening. “That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time,” the man said. “I’d give you more if I had it.” The Blonquists welcome the change. “It looks like a good deal all way around” says Keith’s brother Belvin. Belvin’s daughter Tonya agrees. “We worked hard to get this place to where it is now,” she says, “but we don’t know what the future holds for the ranch.”

Keith’s daughter Anita, who works for the Summit County Commission, was glad that they went through the process, saying, “It’s brought our family closer together.” There were, indicates Tonya, a lot of family meetings, complete with crying, fighting, and hugging, as they worked through the deal. The Blonquists also set aside 5 cabin sites on the ranch for their own use. They know that there will not be any more development nearby, so, says Tonya, “These withheld parcels within the conservation easement are actually more valuable, if we ever do sell.”

There have been other successful easements nearby involving neighbors and relatives, who have spread the word. And as more long-time landowners take note, interest is growing. Tonya continues, “I want to create interest in the rest of the county with this program. This property has been in our family for four generations. It took my grandparents 40 years to pay it off, and we want to ensure that it will be in our family for generations to come.”

So when they spend a cool summer night listening for owls, coyotes, and cattle in the field, waiting for an early dawn in a small white cabin, they’ll know that this corner of the world will endure, inviting future generations to do the same.