August 12, 2016
"Is that land up there on Guardsman Pass really of any significance to the open space plan of Park City?" The sophisticated, very successful businessman, with local interests, who lives on the East Coast more days than most, asked me that over our business breakfast on the deck of a fine hotel in Deer Valley this week.
He often ask me questions locals think are critical and he finds curious/perplexing as to the passion with which we approach such issues.
I stop mid-bacon bite and consider how to answer. He is a very smart man and I am not always certain if the question he asks is really the one he wants an answer to…
"Significant" is a weighty word and I try to balance it against my immediate passion. My answer is something like, "it is significant in an emotional, perceived, illusory way."
Other explanations bubble up. It matters to where we begin and end. It is an open vista on a mountain top which allows us to imagine ourselves in those mountains on the horizon. And in the valleys and amid the aspen trees that appear to be part patchwork/ part fully engaged brilliant fire, come fall. There is something wild up there that sniffs at danger and fragility and we innately know we are at the mercy of the elements when the snow settles on those often impassible, invisible winter roads. When those Flats turn from flat winter white to budding green trees in the spring, a part of us awakens to the season. And the wildflowers in the summer, that fill up the flats and a piece of us, seem surprising and unmanaged, which stirs our own primal songs.
My friend continues, "But would The City be better off taking that proposed dollar amount — $25 million (and adding more) — to buy Treasure Mountain as open space?"
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It is a practical question. It is a bit like: Would you rather have the homemade peach ice cream or the in-season, berry pie? There is a different kind of sweetness and texture to each. And quite frankly, I want them both.
Treasure Mountain is in town (technically Bonanza Flats is in Wasatch County, which is curious by itself). Treasure is in town with a gully on the side of the mountain, iconic just by being unbuilt and green or golden or part of the snowscape. It is above what remains of our historic Old Town and blankets it/buffers it from cityscapes and towering shadowing buildings. It is (visually, anyway) open space we have considered ours since each of us moved to town in layered decades. The thought of that side of the mountain defining entry views with tall modern buildings in place of the trees, changes not only how the town looks but how we see it and ourselves. We understand this is private property grounded in rights which we gladly granted decades ago in a trade-off for hundreds of acres of open space we have come to love deeply, passionately. Trails we ride on and walk on and just gaze at through an office window and absorb.
What is fair? What is forward thinking? How much are we willing to tax ourselves to preserve a land moat around The City? Should some of that land, someplace, be carved out now for high density housing so our community can be/stay a place where workers and low income folks live in the same place they work or just love? Can we be generous enough to create spaces where, as we age, we can age in place in simple single story dwellings with communal spaces? In hindsight the growth phase was relatively simple — add more hotels and homes and office buildings and people will come to fill them all up. And they have. And we have added schools and new bus routes and even a hospital to a once rural way of life.
And now, what do we have? What kind of community remains at the heart of our city? Does that matter? Should there be a bond to protect an idea of what makes a balanced livable mix of people? Have we spent so much on open space we have neglected each other and a future inside the moat?
Growing up on the coast of California, in a then-rural community which was just a train stop on the way from San Francisco to Stanford, I thought open space was forever. And I watched as my town was gobbled up to become a suburb of The City with high rise buildings and homes. It is a soulless place now. But what California did do in great measure was buy vast swaths of land. And my drive from where I used to live over the hill, past Neal Young's Broken Arrow Ranch to the Pacific Ocean, is pretty much unchanged. It is open and green and tumbles down to a historic little beach town in a still agricultural part of the coast where artichokes and flowers and pumpkins take their seasonal turn in the limelight. And fishermen still fish. Which is lovely and quaint and economically depressed with stunted growth and stunted opportunities for the folks who still remain there.
Significant. Is that open space significant? Of course it is. And we need to preserve it and find ways to preserve a way of life that wants to match the wildness, the fierceness , the gentle beauty, the seasonal changes and their patterned returns. I don't know how we figure out this chapter and I don't envy the planning commissioners and city officials tasked with trying to meter out what is right and fair and just and expansive in thought and deed. But as we come closer to understanding how it all fits together I plan to drive up to the Flats to that tiny lake and just sit by it, like I did on a trip here in 1978 the September I decided to move. I will try to remember how filled with promise the air felt, and warm. And how very, very brave I felt to be alone in a place so wild. It seems like a significant way to spend a few hours this Sunday in the (greater) 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.