The Out of Towners
Once upon a time in Park City, dogs had the right of way, you could easily see the stars, and a trip to the store only meant hitting your brakes once, since there were no traffic lights.
That first light has been followed by a handful of others, and now the night sky glows with reflected lights — all just a result of what happens when a vibrant resort economy grows out of a once-sleepy ghost town.
Seeking a return to more serene settings, however, some Park City residents have moved out of town — way out. Their reasons for moving are basically similar, no matter which outlying community they choose — Heber, Coalville, Kamas or Oakley.
After a decade in Park City, Neal and Jane Parry moved into their home on the north bench of Oakley, 15 miles to the east of Park City in the Kamas Valley. “We wanted a place to work with our horses,” says Jane. “At our age, we can’t ski all year, but we can work with our animals. We’ve been here six years and you couldn’t drag us out of here.”
As a longtime county resident myself, I can attest to the fact that the out-of-town lifestyle moves at a slower pace. Vistas are undisturbed, wildlife isn’t bronze, and neighbor helps neighbor. Much of the expatriate’s social life is still centered in Park City, though. We’re usually the first to leave an event, after one drink, knowing that the 20- mile “deer slalom” drive home needs our full and sober attention.
In 1992, a Harvard University research study projected staggering growth in the Kamas Valley. While the timing may have been off, the conclusion was not. Kamas Valley today is booming with a combination of gated communities, estate homes and rural subdivisions.
A gated community here used to mean a pasture and cattle. Now it means secluded and secure luxury neighborhoods such as Maple Ridge and Wolf Creek Ranches. Maple Ridge is 16 miles east and 15 years from Park City. The Salt Lake International Airport is 45 miles away, to whisk residents out of town, or reel them in.
Maple Ridge’s 38 lots on 1,100 acres look south over the Kamas Valley and toward Mt. Timpanogos. Its dozen homes, including that of developer John Olch, are inside the Oakley town limits, with buried utilities, fiber optics, hiking trails, paved roads, and unsurpassed views of the Wasatch back. Pristine water comes out of Oakley’s famous “glacial age” well. With over 92 percent open space, the winter elk herds come and go. Cougar hide out in the hidden nooks, preying on moose and deer, and it’s home to red fox, wintering bald and golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, blue grouse, owls and snowshoe rabbits. Prices are not for coupon clippers however, starting in the low-seven figures.
“A substantial number of our 30 homesite owners are former Deer Valley property owners,” says Olch. “A growing number of people still want to be close to town, but not in town,” he adds.
At the south end of the valley, Wolf Creek Ranches is another high-end, gated community. Realtor Will Lange agrees that residents here value their privacy, love the land, and like to be part of the natural world. The 160-acre lots on 14,000 acres are mostly held in a conservation easement, and homes here are secluded, not flaunted. “Our average buyer is around 50 years old,” says Lange. “Their kids are grown and they’re looking for a gathering place for their families.” Once again, it’s not cheap, but your dollar gets you a lot more mountain than it would within Park City limits.
Outside of the gated communities, others have created their own privacy individually. Lew and Arlene Fine recently moved to Oakley after seven years near Park City. They traded their rambling hilltop home on four acres for a 3,000-square-foot log home on the banks of the Weber River.
“We wouldn’t move back to Park City for anything,” says Lew. “We have friends in the county and the city. Living out here, people don’t bother you. We sit on the deck in front of a small warming fire and listen to the sound of the water. We enjoy the silence, and time stands still.”
“It’s heaven,” chimes in Arlene. The 20-minute drive into Park City is a plus in Lew’s mind, not a negative. As a realtor, Lew makes the “commute” almost daily. “I find the drive a wake-up ride going in; it gets your mind thinking. Coming home, it’s a wind- down,” he says.
DeAnne Downing knows both sides of Summit County, too. She moved to the rural town of Woodland from Park City years ago to raise a family, but just recently moved back into Park City. Red Ant Work, her landscape design and maintenance company, keeps her traveling all over the county.
“I lived in Woodland for over nine years,” says Downing. “I liked the quiet time in the car. I made phone calls or decompressed.” Living on the banks of the Provo River, she says, “I loved raising my kids in the country in tune with the natural world. Now in Park City, I’m not even sure what phase the moon is in.”
But change is coming. Last year in Kamas, a traffic light came to the valley. Hopefully it will not mean an end to the silence of quiet, black, country nights, the sky fireworks of stars and planets. For most “out-of-towners,” it’s still heaven.
Patrick Cone's photography and words have appeared in hundreds of magazines, including Smithsonian, Arizona Highways and National Geographic World. Cone is also the author of three children's science books, and his work can be seen at PatrickConePhotography.com.