Theron Miller goes with the flow in Park City
Theron Miller says it was a "goosebump moment" when he was named the 2007 recipient of the Governor’s Award for Science and Technology earlier this month. The Park City-area resident was selected for his work on water quality and pollution issues on the Great Salt Lake. He accepted the award from Governor Huntsman with humility. "The other award winners were all ‘giants in their fields.’ I thought, these are the smart guys! It was an honor to be a part of that crowd," he says.
Miller, the nutrient standards coordinator and water pollution specialist for the Division of Water Quality, has lived in Silver Summit with his wife, Joy, and two children since 2000. He says Park City has held a special appeal for him since he was a kid.
Miller had a close encounter with Park City over 40 years ago. A self-confessed ski bum from the Salt Lake valley, he and his high school accomplices skied here in the mid-1960s, not long after the resort opened. He remembers marveling at the space-age gondola. "We’d skip school and come up here a lot. I was lucky I graduated," says Miller.
At the time, he begged his father to move the family to Park City. "Dad, we ‘gotta move to Park City," the young Miller pleaded. "It’s a really cool place and houses are really cheap up there," he argued. But his father, a doctor in Salt Lake City, wouldn’t budge. "My dad would probably have owned the town by now if he’d only taken my advice," chortles Miller.
Miller was born and reared in Murray, a suburb of Salt Lake City. He was hooked on skiing by the time he was seven years old. "I’d hop the ski bus by myself and ride up to ski Solitude or Alta most weekends," says Miller. "In high school I skied at least five days or nights a week."
As a child, Miller remembers playing along the banks of Big Cottonwood Creek. "From the time I was eight or so I was down in the creek catching frogs and other critters with my friends, but it sort of took hold with me. I decided early on that I wanted to be a biologist," he recalls.
Miller graduated from Murray High School and headed to college at Utah State University in Logan, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife sciences and fisheries biology. He says he was not particularly studious, but was incessantly curious and an astute observer of nature.
The budding biologist was busy over the next few years. He worked for the Bureau of Reclamation studying Lake Mead and preparing environmental assessments for proposed dams in Arizona and New Mexico. He then took time off to complete a master’s degree at the University of Alberta in Canada.
He married in the mid-1970s and has two grown children. He later divorced. Disenchanted with federal environmental policies during the Reagan years, Miller left the government and started a private fish farm in Parker, Ariz. He also taught biology at Arizona Western College. He shut down his fish farm in the early 1990s after the bottom dropped out of the market.
Miller met his wife, Joy, at the Sundance Saloon in Parker during the fish-farming years. "It was a Saturday night and I’d stopped in for a beer after work," he recalls. Most of the women were all dressed up, but in walked Joy wearing baggy shorts, a T-shirt and no makeup. But she was the prettiest woman in the room. I asked her to dance and the rest is history."
They were married and returned to the University of Alberta together, where Miller got his Ph.D. He consulted in the Northwest Territories for another two years and moved back to Utah when he was offered a job with the Department of Environmental Quality. They’re now busy rearing two children: Wesley, age 10, and Veronica, 7. Miller frowns when asked if his son is a skier like he was. "Nope, snowboarder," he grunts disapprovingly.
There’s no question about what makes Miller tick. "I have a sincere devotion to conservation and preservation," he says. The veteran biologist is quick to launch into a cautionary tale about the dangers of uncontrolled growth. "I don’t think many Summit County residents realize how rapidly the county is being developed and changed forever," says Miller. "The recent drought and dewatering of East Canyon Creek was not just a wakeup call, it was a fire alarm that we are at important crossroads. One of my deepest fears is that we won’t be able to stop the great juggernaut of land and water development before the very reasons we all moved here, or stay here, disappear."
Still, Miller remains optimistic about the Snyderville Basin. "The Swaner Nature Preserve people are doing great and most of the landowners are willing to work with my agency to solve water quality problems," he says. "The biggest challenge is keeping water in the streams."
The Miller family is now firmly entrenched in Park City. Miller says he likes the open-minded, environmentally-conscious, interesting people in town, the clean air and the close proximity to the outdoor activities that he loves. In addition to skiing, Miller is an avid river runner, backpacker and mountain biker.
He sums it up like this: "I’m living where I’ve always wanted to live and I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do, which is science. Things are great."
Born: Salt Lake City; two older brothers and one younger sister. His 84-year-old parents are still living in Murray.
Family: Married with two grown children from a previous marriage and two with wife, Joy, both attending Trailside Elementary School.
Pets: A great Pyrenees/border collie mix puppy named Senta, a guinea pig named Dewey, a hamster named Sammy, a bearded dragon named Flash, a ball python named Boots and about two dozen un-named tropical fish.
Favorite foods: Spicy Mexican or Asian dishes.
Favorite authors: Ed Abbey ("The Monkey Wrench Gang" is his favorite novel), Aldo Leopold, Mark Twain, Carl Sagan.
Favorite music: 1960s and ’70s rock ‘n’ roll, vintage country. "But don’t get me started on disco!"
“Even the dogs were celebrating the reemergence of the sun.”