We visited the Shooting Star Saloon to find locals who could provide leads for our story. The saloon survived prohibition by maintaining a lookout for prohibition agents, whereby, if agents or the law were seen ascending Ogden Canyon, saloon owners would be alerted to kick everyone out and shut down.
Today it’s a local hangout. Inside, thousands of bills (of various denominations) are hanging from the saloon’s ceiling. The bills marked with sharpies and names are sealing the love of hundreds of couples. Inside we find Shayne Loewenstein sipping an Amber Ale. He tells us that he is a maternal descendant of Granny Smith. He is obviously one of the town elders who has personally witnessed the dramatic changes to the area.
“I had 80 acres [in Liberty, Utah]. I sold twenty acres a few years back.” Lowenstein says that the land sale essentially paid for his retirement and that while his father was a full-time farmer, he has been a “hobby farmer.”
They still grow alfalfa on most of his land but he has always had other employment. For 45 years he drove trucks, his family owned a meat-packing facility, and for 30 years he drove a snowplow. He has the aura of a man who is happily retired and enjoys life within his element and his community. He just has one major complaint, property taxes.
Property Tax Increases Squeezing Locals
“The problem now is how the government is trying to get their hands on every penny we have.” For a long-time, locals (who have small incomes) see that the increases in property taxes are debilitating to a good standard of living.
Area property taxes have nearly tripled since 2009. Increases are considered justified by the significant increases in property values, but Loewenstein and others live on dirt or single-lane roads. Their use of city resources has not increased, and they see the increases as unjustified. We discuss many of the pros and cons to the area’s changes since it was “discovered by the world” after the Olympics in 2002.
“It used to be I would see a car go by my house maybe once an hour; now it’s flit-flit-flit-flit. It’s still very pretty,” he says with a smile.
Indeed it is. Around Pineview Reservoir’s beaches, families are fishing for trout and walleye. The beaches at Pineview are sandy and frequented by residents from all over Utah. The trails accessing Ogden Canyon: Wheeler Canyon, Wheeler Creek, Art Nord and the Skyline Trail, have become famous. Old Snowbasin Road leads to some of the best mountain biking trails found anywhere. The hunting in the area is some of the best in the world.
The Growth of Snowbasin
Snowbasin is now officially the “fastest growing ski resort in America.” We learn that all of the AirB&Bs and vacation rentals in the valley are already booked for the season. The area has no large hotels, only one small grocery store and a few restaurants and bars. But the locals seem to like it this way.
Across Huntsville Square, from the saloon, a new 15-room Inn—The Desert Compass—was completed last January. The owners are locals, and it gives the sleepy downtown Huntsville area a glimpse of future growth while still honoring the history of the area. The significant growth of Snowbasin and the more frequent ski trips from Easterners is making a lasting impact on the area. The Desert Compass features a state-of-the-art telescope and observator in what appears to be a grain silo from the exterior.
This new hotel’s lobby features a great deal of the history of the area, and it honors the pioneers who settled in the valley and the history of the Trapper’s area which has always been a place that has attracted the hardscrabble, independent and most intrepid pioneers.
The Booming Real Estate Market
“Outsiders are moving in.” We are told by an area real estate agent that property and houses remain on the market for sometimes just a week before there are bidding wars. Buyers need to plan on overbidding on homes by tens of thousands of dollars to have a chance of getting in.
“It’s a lot of people from California who have money that are driving the prices up,” says Julie Christensen from Remax Realty. The market is so hot right now it’s unbelievable. Loewenstein highly recommends that we talk to the most prominent old timer in the area, Bill Hadlock, saying that Hadlock and his family are directly involved with issues that are dramatically changing the area.
Liberty in Utah
The following Monday, we visit the north end of the valley and enter the less populated area of Liberty, Utah. A solitary road leading to Avon and Northfork Pass ends up at our destination. Here, there are still wide-open golden fields and well-kept cattle and horse pastures. The low-lying grey/purple hills with scrub oak are red and orange. A few deer have descended into the pastures, seeming to know instinctively that the deer hunt is over. It’s a rare place where it still feels like the wilderness is directly in contact with the farms and the people.