Runoff isn’t just for snow |

Runoff isn’t just for snow

Sunday in the Park

By Teri Orr
Park Record columnist

Though I grew up outside of San Francisco — in the temperate climate of the Bay Area— I have lived in the mountains since I was 19.

First, at Lake Tahoe for 10 years. And since 1979, I have lived just here, in Park City. This is relevant because I have seen decades of spring happen after winter snows. I have some legitimate history with snow packs melting and rivers and streams overflowing.

I understand runoff.

I was here in the spring of 1983 one weekend afternoon in a movie theater in Salt Lake City with my little family. When we emerged from our film, State Street had become a river and a citizen army of volunteers were filling sandbags. We quickly joined them. Photos would later capture folks in canoes and kayaks navigating down the street. It was a natural disaster.

In Park City, those floods raced down Main Street and spilled over banks and did major damage to roads and buildings. It came over Memorial Day weekend when restaurants and retail spaces were still closed from the end of ski season and not yet reopened for the summer. It was the season when our ghost town past whispered to us.

Winter impact in resort towns also had another kind of runoff. As in “who done ‘run off’ with somebody new” at the end of the season. Relationships formed in the cold months were discarded like ripped parkas each spring. And more freeing couplings often took place. The mating calls that match waxed skis on snow alter when the flowering crabapple trees pop pink in the spring and the green grass on the sides of babbling creeks beckon.

In watering holes around town — the few open — you would reconnect and see folks who all winter long had been buried in their jobs and at day’s end would hit the garage door opener and tuck themselves snugly home. Spring would bring back-slapping and hugging and plan-making for the days ahead.

It was a little like that this week in a tiny bar in a swanky hotel in town: one of the few places open post-ski season. They can’t call it a happy hour by state law but there is an hour when the drinks and appetizers are reduced.

The volume in the place by 6 o’clock was vibrational and folks were hugging and laughing and buying each other drinks and sharing stories from one of the most intense winters we’ve endured/enjoyed in years. It was great to reconnect — out of my normal circle of work/life — and laugh with old friends and even neighbors I hadn’t seen in months.

There was no way of knowing in advance a Thursday night in April would converge so many good people, randomly, in one room.

And after the recognition and rehydration started, talk became centered around the early spring runoff.

How high the creeks are already, of course, because they are, but also about how common sense and good governance seemed to be part of the collateral damage of the winter. They seemed to have run off altogether.

The topics ranged from open space and affordable housing to toxic buildings and teacher-to-student ratios and early start times. Election speculation, which is always a popular parlor game every other spring, was overflowing too. And since most folks in the room had spent at least the past 20 years here, we all felt we had unique perspective and precious investment. The winter had piled up a fresh level of discontent.

Business life too had a measure of discussion: The changing face of Main Street, set to change once again with yet another national retailer to be announced about now. That the Main Street of our memory, of a grocery and a hardware store, were lost to a world pre-internet, or more specifically, pre-Amazon Prime. And statistics that we had tipped now to more homes ( or was it property overall ?) owned by out of state residents. I think it was 71 percent. And if that’s true, who are we? The 29 percent?

And as we age and/or sell, will new, full-time, local working folks ever be able to buy primary residences in the city limits again. And how happy we would be to downsize if only there were tiny houses someplace, maybe on the inside fringes of some of that open space, where we could live.

I was home before 8, but it felt like a full night out because of the company and conversations and intimate, crowded space. I nodded to the geraniums and pansies and Easter gifts that were still resting on my porch. I could have brought them inside. But a day of sun followed by inches of snow requires us all to be hardy to survive here. And sure enough the next morning the snow had fallen and stuck to the front porch and the much maligned pansies were still upright and fully petaled.

Some years spring runoff is nonexistent, a light winter and a well-oiled government with forward thinking, community loving officials proceeds like a quiet gurgling over smooth stones.

This year isn’t that. This will be a spring of crashing boulders and spilling over streams and debris swiftly moving past. We need to anticipate this runoff and question the decisions being made here in real time and how they will play out downstream. We can fill sandbags, as a collective, as needed. We can’t afford any more sandbagging.

When the thaw fully arrives we need to be ready each day, including Sunday in the Park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.

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