These are exciting times around here. All of the state Legislature's good work has come to fruition, with hundreds of important new laws taking effect. It's now illegal to text while driving, except in cases of emergencies. Emergencies are not defined, but among the texting crowd, Jason and Whitney breaking up is surely right up there. So it probably is a mistake to assume that the roads are any safer this week than they were last.
But the legislature did do some important stuff. They repealed a long-standing state law designating the Colorado spruce as the official state tree. It's been many years since I was in the third grade and had to learn important Utah history like the fact that our official state bird is the California gull and the official state tree is the Colorado blue spruce. There are lots of official state symbols. We have state dinosaurs (mostly members of the legislature), reptiles, rodents (John Swallow), and so on. We have an official state gun, made by Browning with their headquarters just down the road in Morgan. If you murder somebody with the official state gun, you can get a discount on your sentence.
The Colorado blue spruce is a magnificent tree. But the connection with Colorado was just too much. We know what kind of plants Coloradans grow these days. We'll have no part of some Colorado-based flora. So the legislature has corrected this wrong, and officially designated a new state tree: the quaking aspen. Take that, Vail. You and your epic passes and Colorado spruce trees.
Aspen groves are strange plants. They are all intertwined, and whole forests will be genetically the same tree, all connected to the same root system. If that isn't a good fit for Utah, I don't know what is. Somebody with deep Utah roots like me can go into any town in the state and find a fifth-cousin-twice-removed in a matter of minutes. The largest organism on earth is said to be the Pando aspen grove near Fish Lake, covering 106 acres, according to KSL. That's a big plant. I wouldn't be surprised if I'm related to that. Some of the Sanpete County relatives have always seemed a little wooden to me, but it could just be that they are Norwegian.
Anyway, those carpet-bagging California gulls ought to be worried. They could get fired as the official state bird and replaced with something more purely domestic. I suspect the turkey buzzard is available for sponsorship duty.
I was surprised to see dirt moving at Quinn's Junction. Apparently the movie studio, which has been on the docket for a decade or more, is now under construction. Or at least under top soil removal. The developer told the Record last week that there are three operators under consideration to operate the movie production facility. In other words, minor details like actual tenants are not exactly nailed down, but we're scraping the land bare, just the same. So I guess somebody came through with a construction loan on the deal. Sounds like some Lehman Brothers deal back in 2008. The contractor is legitimate, so maybe this is the real deal, crazy as it sounds.
I always thought that site looked pretty good as a hay field. But then I also thought Jeremy Ranch and Pinebrook made pretty good sheep pasture, too. The fight against "despoiling" the entry corridor with huge buildings seems kind of quaint in light of the hospital, county health department, the private clinic, the Ski Team building, skating rink, and the lights on the fields that can be seen from Mars. The city accused the county of throwing in the towel on the fight, but the battle was lost a long time ago.
Land use law in Utah doesn't let the municipality deny permits because the proposal seems ludicrous on its face. In fact, a lot of stupid stuff gets approved in hopes of reaping huge economic benefits. Stuff doesn't get turned down just because the planning commission thinks it doesn't have a snowball's chance of success. We don't get to zone land to protect the owners from their own decisions. Strip mines have to provide a bond for reclamation, but not strip malls.
It's possible that it could work. While it seems like a long-shot even in Salt Lake, let alone here, the same was probably said about skiing 50 years ago. Sundance's annual 10-day debauch hardly seems like the foundation of a new industry in town, but I guess anything's possible.
I hope I'm wrong, but I still think the odds are pretty good that it will be a tumbleweed farm for a few years before turning into a Target store. Which maybe isn't all bad.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.