Lifting Ogden
Adam Johnston
March 27, 2006; Standard Examiner
[link to edited print version]

The community of the Ogden area is, it seems, at a crossroads.  There are big ideas and big plans and big possibilities.  Gondolas and resorts and development seem to dominate our vision of what Ogden can become.  But, I’d like to pause and consider what Ogden already has, and further think about what being “progressive” might do to change Ogden not for the better, but for the worse.  I’m proud to live in an area that is unique, affordable, and beautiful, and I wonder how easy – and regrettable – it would be to destroy something we may never be able to get back.

One of the things making this area so unique is its spectacular beauty, a beauty that many residents appreciate every day, and that visitors are astonished by when they visit.  Last year I spent a great deal of time commuting back and forth between Ogden and Layton on the 640, a bus route that winds its way through the back streets of Davis and Weber counties.  On that bus on one of those February days when the snow on the mountains glistens against a clear blue sky, I could stare out my window in awe of the mountains that are both accessible and untouched by our roads and buildings. 

On that same bus route, I was sitting behind a fellow passenger whose shaved head revealed a tattoo etched into his skin.  “No Regrets,” the permanent message read.  I wondered to myself how long it would be before he would regret having that tattoo, and it made me reflect upon humanity’s boldness in general.  How many tattoos do we display that read “no regrets”?

I worry that our community is on the verge of etching into its foothills and mountains a message of “no regrets” that, regrettably, will be difficult to erase.  I can imagine that a gondola and resort must be supported by power, water, sewer, a service road, and all of the construction associated with these.  Before we put forward so much work and etch this into our mountain, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves more questions?  For example: If we are so proud of our community, then isn’t it hypocritical to build a system of lifts that will pipe visitors out of our community as quickly as possible?  If we need a gondola to attract ski companies, then why are the ski companies already here? Why should Weber State, a university with excellent educational and research opportunities for students already, need a gondola to support its mission?  Why is our leadership so quick to promote a gondola for visitors ahead of a viable transit system for the residents who already live here?  Is our community, and much of its leadership, searching for the magic tattoo that could only distract from, if not destroy, much of what already makes our community so great to live in?

A few years ago our community was highlighted in a national magazine for its outstanding trail network, accessible directly from the city (Sunset, March 2002).  It was emphasized in the article that this makes us truly unique – an immediately accessible piece of the natural world left untrampled by roads, power lines, and, yes, even gondolas.  If we really want to be unique, we don’t need to add a resort somewhere.  I’ve seen resorts and lift systems in mountains many times.

I want to be positive about the community that is already here, rather than invent a clever gimmick to try to trick others into coming through Ogden on their way to other destinations outside of our central community.  Allowing these visitors to float above Ogden and its residents makes it look like there is something that we don’t want them to see or dwell upon.  I’m actually afraid that this might be exactly why we would need a gondola system: Rather than improving upon the community we already have, we’ll go to the trouble of building and promoting something that gets visitors piped out of the city as quickly as possible.  Does this really put us on the map as something other than the funny city with a funny gimmick?

More importantly, should this community destroy the essence of what does make it unique?  In a world in which urbanization swallows large parcels of land and encroaches upon us from all sides, should we really encourage ourselves to move amenities further into the mountains, and remove yet another quiet and unadulterated basin?  As a society, we do a fantastic job of creating amenities where we can lodge, shop, and eat.  But there are not too many places – in fact, none that I know of besides the Ogden area – in which you can walk from your back door to a trailhead and up into the mountains, unspoiled by roads, power lines, and other signs of our civilization.  If we spoil this, we will never get it back again. I wonder what I’ll tell my daughters years from now if we let this happen.

Many of the discussions around what we do with our community and our mountains seem to vibrate around private land ownership.  To me, it’s odd that we should think that any individual or entity owns the mountain.  The mountains are too grand to be owned by a Chris Peterson or serviced by Ogden City.  The mountains belong to themselves, and all we can do is respect – and protect – them for what they are, allowing them to both represent what we value as a community.  Once we infect them with buildings, power lines, lifts and the like, they are no more “improved” than the shaved head is improved by a tattoo.  There is a mentality of “no regrets” on both, and on both our civilized marks only reduce the greatness that’s already there.