Looking at Park City and Summit County’s non-statistical mileposts
October 1, 2017
A new acquaintance asked me if I had lived in the same place all my life. I responded that no, I've lived in Summit County. This place doesn't stay the same from breakfast to lunch. My house is on the location of my childhood tree house. I go to bed in the same house I've lived in for 35 years, but often feel like I wake up in a different place.
The statistics measure the growth and changes on a relatively scientific basis. They don't capture the changes on a personal level. But that's where we feel the differences. Nobody charted the date on which we could buy tofu in the grocery store in Kamas, but I remember the discovery with shock and amazement. The world changed that day. I don't know why anyone would buy tofu, in Kamas or elsewhere, but the fact that Kamas is now the kind of place where the grocery store carries tofu is significant.
UDOT does extensive traffic counting trying to estimate the number of cars on local roads. They try to figure out where they came from and where they might be going. The data won't reflect the date when I actually had to wait for a break in traffic to make a left turn out of my driveway. I never used to even look up the canyon. Now it can take a few minutes to get a break in traffic, especially on weekends.
The statistics chart the changes in clean lines. On the personal scale, change isn't linear. It's bumpy and full of surprises, good and bad. It gets recorded in anecdotes. I had a very pleasant morning mountain biking on a bike-specific trail system at the DeJoria center in Kamas the other day. That in and of itself is a milepost. Fifteen years ago, some of us proposed a county trails plan that included multi-use trails in the Kamas Valley. The rebuke was swift and blunt. Ironically, one of the most strident objectors to trails was the former owner of the land that is now home to a great trail system, specifically designed for bikes.
On the ride, we bumped into a man and his son. They knew the trails, and we asked for some suggestions on which way to go. n the course of the conversation, he said they had moved to Kamas from upstate New York because his son had Olympic aspirations. They wanted to be in Summit County for the coaching and training. From rural New York they specifically selected Kamas as their new home because Park City was too urban for them. When I was a kid, there were no Olympic aspirations in Summit County, let alone Kamas. It was the farthest thing from anybody's mind. Astronaut, maybe, though that path seemed improbable. But Olympic athlete? Not on anybody's radar. Try to find that milepost in the statistics. There are a couple of mileposts in that five-minute conversation.
We all tend to lock in on things the way they were when we got here. Just when I start thinking Park City has become too big to retain any character at all, somebody else will gush about how they moved here because they love the small town authenticity. When I got my drivers license, Kimball Junction was a stop sign. I eat, shop and recreate there now, and still am surprised that the cows are gone. The paint isn't fully dry in the newest of the condos there, and the residents are objecting to newer condos on the vacant lots next door. There's a Newpark Preservation Society. That's a milepost.
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We passed a major non-statistical milepost this year. Hard data won't pick it up, but it will mark an important change. The sale of Deer Valley to a nameless investment group out of Denver marks the exit of the Stern family from Park City skiing. Edgar Stern, Jr., bought what is now the Park City resort in 1971. He sold it in 1975, and turned his attention to creating Deer Valley, which opened in 1981. For 46 years, the Stern imprint was inseparable from Park City itself.
His Greater Park City Company had grand (most of us thought unrealistic) plans for a pretty decrepit town. To make it happen, he brought in a small army of planners, engineers, architects, lodging specialists, marketing people, and all the support staff to make it possible. Those skill sets were as unavailable here as astronauts or Olympians. That cadre of Greater Park City people ended up creating the business and cultural base of the town as we know it. They are largely retirement age now, their small businesses mostly merged and gone, but most of modern Park City traces its roots to Edgar Stern and Greater Park City Company.
Life in the post-Stern era will continue, but a corner has been turned. The common vision that originated with Stern, and was implemented by the people he recruited, succeeded beyond anybody's wildest expectations. Between the growth in general, the arrival of major players like Vail, the inevitable retirement of business leaders, and now the exit of the Stern family, the old Greater Park City Company influence is obvious only to those who were part of it.
The vision of the next era in Park City is less clear, maybe not as unified, and certainly different that 1971 dream. It will be interesting to see where we go next.