The auction of the land, at Comb Ridge six miles west of Bluff, has been the source of friction as two groups headquartered in Bluff pursue their sometimes competing plans for the future.
The Hole in the Rock Foundation, which operates the Historic Bluff Fort, requested that the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) auction an entire 640-acre section of land.
The 640-acre property straddles Comb Ridge and includes portions of the historic Hole in the Rock Trail.
After hearing feedback from the public, including a June 7 hearing in Bluff, SITLA approved sale of a 391-acre section. It sits to the north of Highway 163 between Butler Wash and the top of Comb Ridge.
Portions of the section, to the south of the highway and in Comb Wash, are not included in the sale. Portions of the old highway are included in the parcel. The property is heavily covered in dense sandstone
The assumption of many observers is that the Hole in the Rock Foundation will be the only bidder. However, the auction is open to all bidders. The minimum bid is $284,000.
The Friends of Cedar Mesa, a Bluff-based conservation group, opposes the auction and has asked the Hole in the Rock Foundation to place a conservation easement on the property.
The strong majority of Bluff residents who attended the June hearing opposed the auction.
In the subsequent months, a number of signs on yards in Bluff ask the Hole in the Rock Foundation to “Please Don’t Buy the Comb”.
The Hole in the Rock Foundation has stated that it plans to use the property for historical re-enactments of the famed Hole in the Rock Expedition, which brought the first settlers to Bluff in 1880.
The Hole in the Rock Foundation has said it “fully intends to protect this property in its present condition in order to preserve its representation of the rugged terrain traversed by the original pioneers who settled Bluff and its surrounding countryside.”
A survey of the site by SITLA identified “some significant culture sites on the property.”
A total of 12 parcels are set to be auctioned, including a 180-acre parcel near Photograph Gap. The minimum price for the parcel is $160,000.
The auction could generate more than $5 million for Utah schoolchildren. At statehood, the State of Utah created sections of school and instituional trust lands. They are used to generate funds to educate school children.
The Permanent State School Fund has grown to more than $2 billion. Proceeds from the fund are used by schools. In 2016, the San Juan School District received $315,655 from the fund.