On Saturday I was in the Salt Lake Valley and drove through Sugarhouse. I always found that part of Salt Lake so charming, and despite the fact that the Simpson Avenue commercial area was ripped up a few years ago and mostly megastores were built in place of it, the charm of the old Southeast Furniture block still remained.
But no more. While the Granite Furniture building and a few of the stores east of there are still standing, the place is now an empty lot.
It was a real shock to see that. When I was a kid Southeast used to have the premier Christmas display in Salt Lake in their windows with the reindeer of Santa's sleigh seemingly breaking through the glass of the show room and streaming up the front of the building to the top of it with Rudolphs nose shining bright red in the lead.
Again a piece of my childhood was gone.
It seems every time I go to Salt Lake another part of my memories growing up there are gone. Last year the old buildings in the middle of Holladay were torn down to make way for a new Walgreens. But the community fought it; they already had three pharmacies, and two of them were locally owned. The new Walgreens hasn't been built yet, but last week I heard that the owners of the two locally owned pharmacies have sold out to Walgreens and the store now will eventually be constructed.
Better than an empty lot with weeds growing in it I suppose.
The point of all this is that growth and a zooming ecomony comes with costs; psychological costs. Things change and we can't do much about that. And that might be part of the problem; we feel we have no control.
During my life I have seen my dads farm go from being acres of alfalfa and cornfields to becoming a mobile home park and a golf course. I have seen small sections of my home town torn down one at a time to make way for the latest and greatest in superstores. And then in some cases those superstores turned turtle and turned into empty buildings that stood there as testament to someones mistake; parking lots with weeds filling the cracks and covered up broken windows in palaces built for the passing of a buck from one person to another.
Those of you that grew up in Carbon County should be thankful that you live in a town that hasn't gone nuts. I know that the economy here hasn't always been the greatest and that is hard on people; but on the other hand things haven't changed so much as to drive us all crazy either. Certainly buildings change, places change, but there is a consistency to this place that is satisfying to the memory and the psyche.
The day will come, however, when things do change rapidly. I can see it coming. It could just take one large company moving into town. There has been consistent talk about a coal gasification plant that would turn coal into jet fuel for the military being being built somewhere in the east county area. It has been said that this plant could employ 600 people directly and that of course would impact the rest of the county immensely. I like that idea because it would provide good, high paying stable jobs for not only the plant employees, but for the coal mines and for support services as well.
But when something like that happens, don't be surprised by the changes you see in your community. Affluence has its price, and you can't always measure it in dollars.
A few weeks ago Jeannie and I went to Canyonlands National Park. At the visitor center, one of Mother Nature's elves told us we could have a free badge to wear if we could answer a few simple questions about cryptobiotic soil. How could we pass up a deal like that? We were quickly deputized as cryptobiotic soil rangers. My badge says: "Don't bust the crust - stay on the trails - help protect fragile cryptobiotic soil."
But as I left the visitor center wearing my official crypto-ranger badge, I felt guilty because I knew, deep down in my wilderness-tempered little heart, that I was a sinner. At other times and in other places, I had walked off the trails.
Over the years I had carelessly, and with a happy heart, trodden across miles and miles of slickrock desert, wild flower gardens and not-so-fragile cryptobiotic dirt. I had bent the sage and saltgrass with the hard and unyielding soles of my hiking boots. I had spoiled pristine, wind-driven sand dunes with boot tracks and the prints of my bare feet. I had climbed hills, trees and mountains. I had yodeled into the ledges just to hear the echo. I had picked wild flowers and cactus blossoms to present to a special lady.
I had chased innocent jackrabbits from horseback and dispatched a deserving snake or two that ventured near my wilderness camp and bedroll. I had picked up horned toads and carried them on the brim of my hat for hours and miles, much to the delight of some special little boys. I had chopped down defenseless juniper trees and turned them into hard working fence posts back at the ranch. I had peeled the bark from many a willow shoot to made a whistle for a child or a weenie stick for a kid. I had selfishly transplanted small quaking aspens and desert cactus to the dooryard of my home, simply because I enjoyed them.
I had built fires in the wilderness to cook my beans and warm my buns. And I did so without a wood permit and without carrying the ashes home to put in the garbage can. I had shared a canteen of water and enjoyed the company of a good friend in the shadow of an ancient Indian ruin. I had left boot tracks in the mud after a cool and unexpected summer rain. I had gathered pine nuts and spit the shells indiscriminately to be scattered by the wind.
I had climbed tall rock formations to peek into the canyons and the desert far beyond. And like that eco-hero Edward Abbey, I had rolled a rock from a high desert rim to watch it bounce and skip excitedly into the abyss below. I had followed old and decaying seismograph roads into the backcountry in my four-wheel-drive pickup truck, just to see where they went. I had practiced shooting my big gun, and pulverized small rocks while making loud noises that other wilderness travelers might have heard a few miles away. And with the same big gun in hand, I had followed deer tracks for miles over hill and dell, enjoying both the chase and the challenge of the hunt.
I had talked to coyotes with a predator call and suckered great black ravens to come almost within the range of a hand-shake by hiding under a cedar tree and making squeaky little mouse noises on the back of my fingers. I was guilty of skinny-dipping in the cool waters of slickrock tanks. I had carved my name on a quaking aspen tree and allowed my big fat horse to poop on the wilderness trails.
I had watched passively and only smiled as little boys and an excited dog splashed in wilderness waterways or chased lizards through the sage bushes. I had picked up gemstones, colorful small rocks, fossils, and fragments of petrified wood, treasured mementos of my travels that still decorate my bookshelves and desktop at home. I had carried home sprigs of scented sage, juniper and mountain mahogany to perfume my humble abode. I had snuggled up next to a pretty woman in the moonlight as coyotes howled and the embers of a campfire dimmed. I had enjoyed freedom, and this great nation's public lands far too much.
I should have been ashamed.
This is crypto-ranger McCourt speaking. All you tourists and tree-huggers stay on the trails, okay?
While the Wasatch Front continues to expand alternative transportation options for its citizens, we have very few choices.
Basically we have cars, trucks, or vans.
There are a few specialized transportation options mostly for seniors, but for the rest of us there are few other alternatives.
I have written before how I plan to try and use my bike for much of my getting around this summer, but I can tell you that no one is making it easy for those of us who are looking at that option. Even as bike trailers fly out of the bike shops, our community continues to ignore the potential bike commuter.
Bike racks are non-existent throughout the city. Both bike dealers have them in front of their shop, but nowhere else does.
Even places where kids ride their bikes to, like the Dino-Mine park, do not have racks. I want to be able to lock up my transportation and put it out of the way, but I can't at most places.
I used to take my bike inside the stores and CEU when I rode in from Wellington. Often I was told I needed to take it back outside, but after I explained that I needed someone to watch it if I did, they usually relented. Now though I have a bike trailer attached and it is not feasible to take the bike inside.
It would also be nice if the city looked at a few well placed bike lanes to help us negotiate the downtown area. At many intersections, the right turning cars will cut you off if you are going straight. A bike lane would not keep everyone from doing that, but just the presence of it might spark the awareness of the drivers to watch a bit more.
Bike lanes might also help keep the kids from riding on the down town side walks. The other day I watched several kids almost get hit as they cruised past a parking area driveway. They were hidden by a building until they shot past the opening. The driver was looking out at the traffic and startled by the sudden appearance of the youngsters.
A quick stomp of the brakes and a swerve of the bikes and disaster was averted.
But in any case, there are more people than ever out on their bikes. If you are in your car, you need to be vigilant for the others who share the road with you.
Remember that bicyclists have the same rules of the road that you do. They actually can use the turning lanes to make a left turn. They have the right away when they are going straight down a road and you are turning.
Kids do not always follow the rules, so be extra careful anytime they may be out and about.
I have probably repeated myself in this column as compared to others I have written.
But another year has passed, gas prices are even higher than before, and people are buying more bikes than ever and still things have remained the same around our town.
While in Utah visiting relatives, my husband was rushed to the Castleview Hospital, where he received emergency surgery.
From the emergency room, Dr. Doug Perkins, we received very professional concern, immediate action, x-rays were ordered and taken.
After many questions to rule out some things and make it easier for him to determine what was going on, we were transferred to Dr. Sterling Potter, who was also very professional with his examination and questions. He then admitted my husband to the hospital and called the surgeon Dr. Wayne Cox, who was returning home from the Salt Lake area. Dr. Cox came directly to the hospital and went into surgery with my husband.
The care and concern for my husband when he reached his room and for the next six days while there, shown by the nursing staff on the Med/Surg. floor (both day/night shifts) was excellent and showed us how much these people care for the patients in the hospital under their care.
Also the x-ray technicians were very professional and caring in what they had to do and though some of the tests/x-rays were not pleasant, they showed concern when it was uncomfortable.
We just wanted to let the city know that if they have to go to the hospital they couldn't be in better hands, than with the people who work at Castleview Hospital.
In a recent letter to the editor, Bill Barrett Corporation spokesman Jim Felton argued that full field development of the remarkable public lands in the West Tavaputs Plateau and greater Nine Mile Canyon area is the 'right thing' to do, given today's high price of energy.
Mr. Felton's argument boils down to this - either you're with us, or you're against us. Either you're for massive development of natural gas - no matter how poorly planned and how great the accompanying environmental damage - or you're for forcing fixed income families to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table. It's not that simple.
In reality, Barrett's proposed gas development in the West Tavaputs Plateau will not change the cost of heating your home but it will damage "the world's longest art gallery" - Nine Mile Canyon - and destroy some of the most remote, scenic, wildlife-rich areas of the state.
At a time of record industry profits - Bill Barrett Corporation reported on May 6th that its first quarter 2008 earnings doubled over those from last year - it is particularly disturbing to see this company laying blame for high energy prices on a lack of access to public lands.
In Utah alone, industry has roughly five million acres of BLM lands under lease, yet just over one million of those leased lands are in production. What's more, as Mr. Felton must know, there is precious little connection between Barrett's ability to drill more wells in the West Tavaputs Plateau and the price of natural gas for Utahns. We have every right to be skeptical of such claims.
The public comment period recently closed on Barrett's West Tavaputs Plateau and Nine Mile Canyon full field development plan. A number of groups representing a variety of interests formally expressed concerns about the project, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, and the Utah Guides and Outfitters.
In addition, over 53,000 Americans from across the country wrote, faxed or e-mailed the BLM to express concern regarding Barrett's plans. Many of them asked BLM to make the company do better in its development plans. They told BLM to make sure that the unique cultural sites in and around Nine Mile Canyon would be protected before allowing Barrett to proceed. They want to be able to share their experiences in Nine Mile Canyon, Desolation Canyon, and the West Tavaputs Plateau with their children and grandchildren and are concerned that given the pace of development, that won't happen.
The BLM will ultimately decide whether and to what extent lands in this area should be leased and whether and to what extent Barrett will be allowed to proceed in developing its leases in this area. Given the Bush administration's consistent pattern of allowing development to trump all other uses of the public lands, we are not optimistic. That's unfortunate because it is a privilege for private companies like Barrett to operate on public lands. Americans have every right to expect and demand that Barrett will be held to the highest standards.
George Bush's economic stimulus package will give individuals who have an income between $3,000 and $75,000 check amounts of $300 to $600, according to www.jbs.org/. Married taxpayers who earn up to $150,000 will receive $1,200. Included in this package is also a $300-per-child tax credit.
According to CNNMoney.com, "The package also includes tax breaks for equipment purchases by businesses, as well as payments to disabled veterans and some senior citizens."
Critics of the measure included congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul. In his weekly column, Paul stated: "I am in favor of taxpayers getting some of their money back, however temporary tax cuts and one-time rebates will not 'fix' the economy. What we desperately need right now is real deep significant tax cuts that are enabled by big spending cuts and reduction of government waste that is so rampant. Unfortunately, too many in Washington still believe we can spend our way into prosperity, which does not work and never has."
I agree. The government is merely returning money that was ours to start with. Instead Congress should abolish the Marxist progressive income tax by repealing the 16th Amendment and return us to the freedom to invest in unregulated production for prosperity.