Hops hunters head to the hills around Park City
About 20 masked people gathered on a hillside near Main Street Wednesday evening for a stroll in the hills to learn some history, find a new trail and hunt some wild hops.
Hops Hikes, as they are called, are led by Julia McCarrier Edwards, the Summit Land Conservancy’s conservation programs coordinator. Each fall, volunteers gather pounds and pounds of wild hops from the hills around Park City, which a brewer from Wasatch Brewery uses in a beer that’s served during the conservancy’s annual fundraiser.
During the summer, though, the conservancy leads walks in the hills around Old Town to explore the area’s mining history and flora and fauna. Edwards said people have been coming on the walks for longer than the three years she’s been leading them, adding that the older crowd seems to appreciate the ability to get out in nature without a focus on speed or intensity.
“There’s no Strava segment for Hops Hikes,” she said, referencing the exercise tracking mapping software.
On this walk, the group met near a drain from the Ontario Mine and milled around for a few minutes, chatting.
Everyone in the group wore masks and some had dogs. Most were older; one had a beverage in a koozie and a big white hat.
A couple from Kamas, accompanied by their dog George, said they attended the hike to get out of the house and try something new. Another woman said she did it to support the conservancy, which has put on these walks since a volunteer came up with the idea in 2014.
Edwards began with some facts about the Ontario Mine and its history with the Hearst family, of newspaper-ownership and “Citizen Kane” fame. As she led the way up trails, Edwards paused to point out different wildflowers.
It’s a bumper year for Wasatch Beardtongue, a blue wildflower, the group learned.
Yarrow, which has a long green stem with a small white cluster of buds up top, has a natural coagulant and Edwards called it nature’s Band-Aid.
Edwards said she was a roughly B+ naturalist and asked for anyone who wanted to share their knowledge to do so.
Barbara Siegel was called in to identify a blue flower that had stumped other walk attendees as the group turned a corner in the narrow trail.
“Bachelor’s Button,” she said.
Siegel said she started learning the names of plants a few years ago out of sheer curiosity and as a way of orienting herself in the vastness of the natural world, and she seems to have collected a nice plant vocabulary in the meantime.
“Some people do puzzles,” she said. “I learn plants.”
As the group paused near an entrance to a mine tunnel, a man in a kilt began an unexpected geology lesson about the source of the area’s minerals and the environmental costs of mining them.
Jim Martin told the group of the levels of heavy metals found in the area’s soils and bemoaned what he said was the political influence used to get property near Prospector Square de-listed as a Superfund site.
He was holding the leash of George, who was panting in the sun but seemed glad to be surrounded by people.
Edwards thanked the man and led the group to a clustering of wild hops growing on a supporting wall for a defunct railroad spur. The hops are most likely a unique hybrid to the area, she explained, a marriage of a Bavarian strain brought over by German immigrants mixed with a naturally occurring hop called Neomexicanus that usually grows farther south.
She said the brewer had dialed in the process and that last year’s beer, Clothing Hoptional, was one of the best yet. She said she was looking forward to this year’s version.
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