MOAB, UTAH — Call her a home-wrecker, and Jennifer Speers just laughs.
But the title fits. In
February 2003, Speers purchased the "Rio Colorado at Dewey," a
115-acre commercial development near Moab, that included a new
adobe home with spectacular views of the Colorado River. Just a few
months later, she leveled the $600,000 house.
one of the best experiences of my life," she says, her features
brightening into an impish grin as she recalls watching a work crew
demolish the home. "I loved every minute of it."
2002, the Salt Lake City resident has purchased more than 500 acres
of prime real estate near Moab — solely to protect the land
from commercial development. Her efforts to conserve open space
have made the 50-year-old Speers something of a legend in canyon
Conservation is a family tradition for Speers.
In the late 1800s, her great-grandfather, George W. Perkins II,
played a prominent role in convincing the states of New York and
New Jersey to stop development and quarrying along the Palisades, a
550-foot-high rock face that adorns the west bank of the Hudson
River. Perkins, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and other wealthy
landowners in the area petitioned the legislatures in both states
to create an interstate park. They also donated land to the cause.
Today, the Palisades Interstate Park System includes more than
60,000 acres and numerous state parks.
great-grandfather, Speers describes herself as "a private person."
The daughter of an East Coast cattleman, Speers was drawn to Utah
in 1971 by the powder skiing in the Wasatch Mountains. She attended
the University of Utah, then worked as a surgical technician
— a job from which she retired about eight years ago. While
she has been involved in conservation for some time, she has often
preferred to remain in the background, supporting well-established
Her coming-out began two years ago, when
she used "old family money" to buy the Cottonwood Bend Ranch from
The Nature Conservancy of Utah. Until then, she’d never
dreamed of owning land in the redrock desert near Moab.
"People always ask if I was looking for a place here. But I really
wasn’t," she says. "If someone had said five years ago that
I’d be doing this, I’d have said, ‘You’re
nuts.’ But here I am."
While she still calls Salt
Lake City home, Speers says she can imagine permanently relocating
to Moab sometime in the future.
The Nature Conservancy
had purchased the ranch, then called Proudfoot Bend, to save it
from development while the group looked for a private buyer willing
to set aside much of the acreage in a permanent conservation
easement. Speers is a member of the Conservancy and serves as a
trustee on the group’s Utah board.
"There were some
wild plans for this place," she says of Cottonwood Bend, which
borders the Colorado River about 30 miles northeast of Moab. "One
person wanted to make it into a water park. But it’s so
beautiful and remote. And that’s a large part of the appeal
Then, in February of this year, Speers bought
220 acres of farmland in the heart of Spanish Valley, a rapidly
growing area south of Moab, to prevent it from being sold for a
housing development. She will continue to grow alfalfa and other
crops on the land, at least for now.
Speers lights up
with pride, and a little mischief, as she talks about her
post-demolition plans for the Rio Colorado property. In her eyes,
Moab developer John Ogden’s dream for a 100-acre riverfront
community of palatial homes was a boondoggle, pure and simple.
"It was all wrong," Speers says, as she looks out over
the sage and scrub oak terrain where the 3,900-square-foot house
— the lone home in the new development — once stood.
"It was huge. And if you can, envision a string of homes that size
all along the river. Now that’s crazy."
many people encouraged her to move the house, but when that proved
impossible, she decided to just tear it down. First, crews salvaged
all the usable materials — wood beams, granite countertops,
heavy wood doors and windows. Then a large backhoe pulled the adobe
shell to the ground.
"Some people thought I was crazy,"
she says. But "the entertainment value of tearing it down was worth
it. We were jumping up and down, and screaming and laughing."
Speers has torn out all the roads on the property, and in
February, the Grand County Council granted her request to eliminate
the subdivision zoning. She is now exploring options for placing a
conservation easement on the land. She calls the place the Cato
Reclaim in honor of her farmhand’s grandmother, one of the
original settlers in the area.
"I want it to return to
what it should be," she says. "Whatever animals can use it, will
use it. Maybe someone will lease it and grow native plants, then
sell the seeds. But I’m just going to enjoy its beauty."
And if some people think she’s a little crazy,
well, that’s just fine with her.
"To me, it’s
a natural thing to do. It’s so much fun to know that these
places are going to be protected," she says. "I’m just having
such a ball."