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Triumph, tragedy and traffic

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Think Park City is slowing down as a news town?

The city’s largest-ever open-space bond, prostitution busts, the ongoing dispute about Treasure Hill and what some see as an affordable-housing crisis do not even rank among The Park Record’s Top 5 stories of 2006 in Park City.

Instead, Parkites were fuming with the traffic, mourning a bicyclist struck down doing what he loved and proud of a homegrown Olympic champion. People like Olympic skier Ted Ligety and fallen cyclist Bill Corliss were among the newsmakers in 2006, embodying the last 12 months in Park City.

The Park Record’s ranking of the Top 5 stories in Park City follows:

5. Scram, EPA

"Not an EPA Inspector," read the badge worn by Sally Elliott during a July bash thrown by neighbors in Prospector.

Had she been someone from the EPA, the crowd would probably have heckled Elliott, a Summit County Commissioner who once served on the Park City Council.

Elliott, her neighbors in Prospector and assorted City Hall officials, including Mayor Dana Williams, gathered for a celebration to mark the completion of what was a two-decade probe into the effects of Park City’s mining era on the environment.

The neighborhood, where the mayor also resides, was a dumping ground during the silver-mining heyday, before Prospector became one of Park City’s most populated places.

City Hall officials and people living in Prospector had been painstakingly cleaning up the neighborhood, covering problem properties with topsoil under a Park City law, among other measures.

About 300 properties had been covered, or capped, as officials frequently call the process, with six inches of topsoil and less than 26 remained by the middle of the year.

The EPA later finished its investigation through a bureaucratic process known as archiving.

"The neighborhood has been through 23 years of uncertainty. It affects property values. People were nervous about the health of their children," Williams said at the July gathering.

The completion of the probe, the neighbors say, will release Prospector from what has been seen by many as an environmental stigma. They hope the EPA decision will boost real-estate prices as well.

Still, Williams in January, when the EPA indicated it was preparing to finish the work, cautioned that neighbors must continue to adhere to the environmental rules, such as the capping requirements.

"It doesn’t mean that it’s over in terms of people complying with the ordinance," he said.

4. Building booms big

A glance at the Main Street-Heber Avenue intersection, the crossroads of Old Town, underscores what was a historic year for Park City’s construction trade, when builders hammered the previous record for value in a year.

And the final numbers will not be tallied until early 2007, when the city’s Building Department is expected to release its year-end numbers.

Construction crews sawed through the previous record, set in the pre-Winter Olympic scurry of 1999, in August, leaving a third of the year to add to the record. Through the end of November, the value sat at $168.4 million. The 1999 record was a little less than $118.9 million.

Several big projects pushed the value up, including the Sky Lodge, under construction at the Main Street-Heber Avenue intersection. Others that added big money to the value include Empire Pass and Deer Crest on the slopes of Deer Valley Resort and Silver Star, slopeside at Park City Mountain Resort, on the edge of Thaynes Canyon.

"I’ve never seen anything like this, ever. Not even close," Ross Quilter, a 35-year veteran of Park City’s construction trade, said in October.

The builders in 2006 were responding to Park City’s blistering real-estate market. Some say that Park City is considered a bargain compared to other mountain resorts like Aspen, Colo., and Sun Valley, Idaho, drawing buyers to the city who otherwise might have picked elsewhere.

"For years, we were undervalued compared to the other destination ski areas," Betty Brown, the president of the Park City Board of Realtors, said as the record was set.

But the sounds of construction reverberating through the city, especially in Old Town, where echoes of hammer strikes are frequent, annoy some.

In the fall, the Park City Council considered banning construction on Sundays to provide relief to neighbors. The elected officials, though, never voted on such a restriction, leaving the builders to continue to pound at the record.

3. Doing what he loved

William Corliss was doing what he loved when he died.

Corliss, a giant in the local bicycle scene, was riding on a state highway in Utah County in March when a pickup truck struck him in the morning, killing him on impact and marking the first in a sad series of bicycling accidents in 2006.

A driver near Quinn’s Junction struck and badly injured Robin Valline, a well-known art dealer in Park City, in June. An Arizona man died after a bicycle accident at Deer Valley Resort in July. Another bicyclist at Deer Valley, this one from Argentina, died after he fell ill while riding on a trail.

Memorials for Corliss, who was 49 years old when he died, poured in.

"In a tenth of a second, the world lost a great person, dad, racer and mentor," Boris Lyubner, who was riding with Corliss when he was killed, said in an e-mail afterward.

His friends described Corliss as a great bicycling teacher and someone thrilled to have spent his career in the bicycling industry.

"He was one of the fortunate people who actually made a career out of his passion," his widow, Deb Kirby said. "He’s one of those people you look at and say he never compromised anything."

The bicycling accidents rocked Park City, where scores of Parkites consider themselves avid cyclists, both mountain bikers and those who ride on the roads.

The Arizona man who died at Deer Valley, Tommy K. Crawford, who was 51 years old, was riding downhill, reached a steep spot and lost control of the bicycle, going over the handlebars and hitting the ground in front of the bike.

He was on an experts-only trail but was a beginner to intermediate rider, a friend of Crawford’s told the police.

"An inexperienced rider on a single track — that was above his level of riding," Marty Howard, a Park City Police Department sergeant, said afterward.

Days after Crawford’s death, amateur and professional riders descended on Deer Valley for National Mountain Bike Series competitions.

A makeshift medical clinic was set up at the bottom of the racecourse, attracting a steady stream of injured bikers.

"I know that injuries are inevitable. And everyone gets one at some point," said Christen Boyer, an Aspen, Colo., 17-year-old who visited the clinic for injuries to her left wrist and left ankle.

2. Skiers glow golden

Before the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Ted Ligety and Julia Mancuso were known to Parkites as two of the best homegrown skiers.

After the Games, they belonged to the rest of the nation.

On the Italian slopes, Ligety and Mancuso each won rare American gold medals, instantly becoming legends among America’s competitive skiers.

Ligety won his sport’s most trying competition, the Alpine combined. Stuck in 22nd place after his downhill run in Sestriere, Italy, Ligety blazed down the slalom course, a stunning comeback in a sport measured in hundredths of a second.

Ligety, the 21-year-old Olympic rookie, was flabbergasted afterward, saying, "I don’t even know what’s happening right now for sure. This is unbelievable."

He grew up racing for the Park City Ski Team. The team’s director, Dave Galusha, said the victory was "amazing. It was a total surprise."

Mayor Dana Williams was thrilled as well.

"It’s just that that’s one of the truly great stories, an example of everything coming together," he said. "Park City has basically set up a way in which people who want to become Olympians have an opportunity to do that."

Mancuso, also a 21-year-old, hails from California but graduated from the Park City Winter School, where the coursework is arranged to allow the students to train and where Ligety also was educated.

The two-time Olympian took the gold medal in the giant-slalom competition, also held in Sestriere, leading in both runs. It was America’s first women’s giant-slalom gold since 1984.

"I let go of the big Olympic hype and realized it was just a showcase of the best athletes in the world and it’s not necessary to add extra pressure," she said after the race.

Mancuso said she takes more risks while racing than before but her second run was more tactical, adjusting to the conditions.

"What school in the United States can have that many students in the Olympics and have two win gold," said Frank Wright, who was the headmaster of the Winter School when Ligety and Mancuso were students. "It’s quite an achievement, a credit to those students."

Headaches grow bigger

The traffic, it seemed to Parkites, was terrible from the first week of 2006 until the final days of the year, probably the worst ever, some say.

And the complaints were probably as widespread in 2006 as they were at any time since Park City’s ski industry started.

People can’t make turns onto busy streets like Bonanza Drive and Park Avenue, neighbors watch as drivers, trying to avoid the now-standard S.R. 248 backup, motor through Prospector on their way into the city and forget about driving into Old Town during the Sundance Film Festival.

Officials received complaints from most everywhere in the city.

But in the second half of the year, people in Prospector were especially perturbed, charging that commuters were overrunning roads like Comstock Drive, Buffalo Bill Drive and Annie Oakley Drive.

The drivers, they said, were turning into Prospector instead of continuing westbound on S.R. 248.

Meanwhile, along S.R. 224, people lobbied for a stoplight at the Meadows Drive intersection, saying that the intersection is dangerous without one.

"This is one of our, what we call, our peak, peak periods," Park City Engineer Eric DeHaan said about traffic, auspiciously, at the beginning of the year. "We can’t handle the crowds in these peak, peak periods."

Transportation officials are trying to devise solutions but they acknowledge that they will be difficult since there are just two all-season entryways into the city, S.R. 224 and S.R. 248.

They want Parkites, commuters and visitors to take the bus more often, for example, and are contemplating building a park-and-ride lot on the outskirts of Park City, perhaps along S.R. 248, to encourage drivers not to head into the city.

A worker shuttle debuted late in the year, an effort by the private sector to provide reasonably priced service between Salt Lake City and Heber and Park City and reduce traffic.

The frustration peaked on Nov. 27, when bad weather forced the Utah Highway Patrol to close U.S. 40 after a series of slide-offs. Once the highway was closed, traffic was left crawling on S.R. 248. Cars lined up for miles trying to leave Park City that afternoon.

"We simply have all of the problems come together. You have more cars than ever before coming into Park City," DeHaan said.

Still, though, the traffic does not compare to the congestion that lots of Parkites faced before they moved to the city, many coming from the nation’s most populous places.

"Someone from a major city on the East Coast or the L.A. Basin, the perception of traffic is much different," Kent Cashel, the No. 2. person at the Park City Public Works Department, said toward the end of the year. "They’ll laugh when we say we have a traffic problem."


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