The Bonneville Salt Flats (BSF) is the densely-packed salt remnants of an ancient lake bed formed over thousands of years. Originally 96,000 acres in size, the unique geologic phenomenon in northwestern Utah has been reduced to about 30,000 acres. The State of Utah nominated the BSF for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It was designated in 1975. Besides sodium chloride (table salt), the BSF is composed of potassium, magnesium lithium and other minerals. Water and wind shape the BSF throughout the year. A shallow layer of standing water floods the surface during the cooler months (November-May). The water slowly evaporates over the warmer spring and summer months while the wind acts to smooth the surface.

Beyond its irreplaceable beauty, the BSF possesses rare physical qualities which make it a destination for land speed racing, filmmaking and sightseers. The BSF has been used for racing since 1914 and countless land speed records have been set at the site. For example, the 300, 400, 500, and 600 mile per hour land speed barriers were broken on its natural straightway. The world-famous Speed Week dates back to 1949 and the BSF’s protected status recognizes the importance of racing as a compatible use.

The BSF is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Beyond its placement on the National Historic Registry, the BLM issued the BSF Recreation Area Management Plan (Plan) in 1985 and established criteria for managing the lands as the “Bonneville Salt Flats Special Recreation Management Area” (SRMA) and as the “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” (ACEC).

The BSF was once at least 5 feet thick near the center but it is now only inches thick. There is a demonstrated process to replenish the BSF salt crust. In 1997, salt brine was pumped onto the BSF flats at a rate of about 1.5 million tons of salt a year. During the five-year program, the pumped salt brine project significantly replenished improved the underground aquifer that supports the salt crust volume, and the salt flats increased a bit in thickness and hardness. A BLM commissioned study concluded that the laydown project “demonstrated that sodium chloride in brine removed from the BSF for mineral extraction can be replenished.” Salt pumping is now an annual program, with nearly 600,000 tons pumped in 2014. While this is a significant accomplishment, Bonneville needs even more salt.

The Save The Salt Coalition and the Utah Alliance are pursuing many additional ways to protect and restore the BSF. A comprehensive restoration program is being discussed with the BLM and mine owner, Intrepid. Short-term and long-term elements of the plan will be announced in the near future.