If you attended last weekend’s Tooele County Junior Livestock Show and the “Punishment at the Peak” Demolition Derby, you couldn’t help notice something big was missing.
Both popular summertime community events, the first pushing 70 years old and the latter now 25, are typically held in conjunction with the Tooele County Fair at Deseret Peak Complex. But as just about everybody knows, the fair was originally canceled by the Tooele County Commissioners in March due to budget and staffing cuts — and then canceled again in June after the Tooele County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism tried to save it.
Thankfully, both the livestock show and demolition derby were pulled off in fine fashion last weekend; thousands of attendees got to enjoy some semblance of our traditional summer community events during the first weekend of August. Yet, the livestock show and derby couldn’t overcome the conspicuous absence of the county fair. And they weren’t expected to.
Not having the county fair occur this year — with all of its displays, rides, music and food — is a loss to the community of considerable scale. The direct and indirect negative impacts from that loss may be felt for years. Nevertheless, it is hoped the event will return even bigger and better in 2014. For the county commissioners, it is incumbent upon them to do their best to bring back the fair.
But there’s another major community loss that has been felt since May 1 and will continue to be missed until Halloween — a total of six months. When the commissioners decided to essentially eliminate the county’s parks and recreation department last March to save money, and in the process let 28 workers go, the future of the Benson Gristmill immediately fell into question. At that time it was hoped some solution could be found to keep the facility open.
But as reported in last Tuesday’s Page One story titled, “County landmark remains shuttered,” the Benson Gristmill is not open for daily public enjoyment. Step up to one of the facility’s security gates, and you are “greeted by chained gates and ‘closed’ signs, instead of smiling docents offering free-guided tours.” The facility is only open for weddings, receptions, reunions and other events — by reservation.
Since being restored from the ground up, and then opened to the public during the 1980s, the Benson Gristmill, originally built in 1854 by LDS Apostle Ezra Taft Benson, has without question become Tooele County’s eastern gateway visitor welcome center and community hub. A reported 12,000 visitors a year come to the facility to see the gristmill, an operational replica of the gristmill, several restored pioneer buildings, a one-room schoolhouse and other antiquities on the property. But it is believed the actual number of yearly visitors is higher.
The Benson Gristmill is considered to be one of the most intact pioneer-era structures in Utah. It is on the National Register of Historic Sites, and is deemed as the most significant structural landmark between Salt Lake City and Reno, Nev. To not have it welcome the world’s people as they come here to experience Tooele County’s recreational, historical and geographical attractions, is embarrassing and sends an unacceptable and damaging message.
Like the Tooele County Fair, it is incumbent upon the county commissioners to do their best to create a working solution toward re-opening the Benson Gristmill in 2014.