Nearly 100 years ago, my mother’s father left his village of Gavalohori in Crete to earn his way as a coal miner at Sunnyside in Carbon County. At about the same time, my father’s father left his town of Megara, near Athens, and ended up in Bingham Canyon working for the copper company. Along with thousands of other immigrants they helped build the Utah coal and copper mining industries. In Park City, Swedes and Irish did the same for the silver mining industry.
By the 1970s though, the writing was on the wall that Utah couldn’t rely forever on mining to fuel its economy. The mines withered, towns died. Gradually, Utahns realized that the treasure of our mountains and deserts did not lie in the ores beneath them but in the tourist dollars they could attract to them. Park City reinvented itself as a major year-round tourist mecca while in southern Utah, Moab did the same.
Before mining became synonymous with Utah, Brigham Young admonished his followers to stick to farming and not be lured into the hills in search of riches. Not only did Brigham want to “keep the folks on the farm”—to paraphrase here—but he thought that mining would bring unsavory distractions to his people and attract an unsavory crowd—people like me.
The mines are pretty much gone now and many of those unsavory immigrants have moved to better lives and better places. Again, the small rural towns are run by the locals—the quintessential Mormon pioneers—who ironically are looking to mining and oil exploration as a salvation for their sagging economies. Talk about whirling disease!
And you can count on nearly every one of them to vote Republican, to vilify Bill Clinton, to spend long wasted years bemoaning environmentalists and to turn a deaf ear on any matter that relates to anyone else enjoying “their” birthright legacy to Utah’s vast acreage.
So, it’s no surprise that much of rural Utah is rejoicing that Gov. Mike Leavitt made a secret pact (remember, a secret Republican pact is not as bad as a secret Democrat pact) with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to remove six million acres from any form of wilderness designation. Cowpie lovers, rejoice!
I guess running a farm ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, bein’s those farmers need oil derricks to fill the troughs. But, they couldn’t have been good cowboys and farmers in the first place since hardly any of them placed anything but sentimental value in their resource, hence the huge tracts of overgrazed land and dirt roads to high heaven. It’s their land, after all, just ask them.
Meanwhile, the likes of the Outdoor Retailers show are threatening to move elsewhere in protest of Mike Leavitt’s nonchalance towards a major lynchpin in the new Utah economy—tourism and outdoor recreation. They will take $24 million in convention dollars with them—and return the message industrywide that Utah is not so user friendly after all. I don’t think Leavitt really cares about that, even though his home base of Cedar City is a major benefactor of tourism dollars.
So, I protest as well. This year, Utah will not get any tourist dollars from me. Not even a fishing license. I’m going to Greece, where, thank God, cows don’t shape the political landscape and oil grows on trees.