To celebrate its Fourth of July parade, Grantsville City named as grand marshals the couple who helped inspire the community to its “Tree City USA” status.
Gary Fawson, and his wife, Janet, have served the community — he as the tree board chairman and she as tree board member — for 14 years. And for all of those years, Grantsville has earned and maintained its tree city honor.
But the Fawsons said it was a team effort with mayors, tree boards and community school kids to bring back tree-lined streets to Grantsville.
Since Gary Fawson moved back to his hometown in 2000 from Ukiah, California, the couple has become synonymous with everything arbor. They have created a refuge of shade at their 160-acre northeast Grantsville ranch, served for years as the heads of the community garden tour, and have hosted their landscape on the tour for the last decade.
Fawson’s Grantsville roots run deep — all the way back to 1865 to some of the area’s first settlers.
“My ancestors came to Grantsville. My great-great-grandfather was in the first band [of pioneers] here,” he said. “They were involved in the community quite a bit. Our heritage is here.”
Fawson said as he grew up, Grantsville was renowned for its pretty, poplar-lined streets, which could be seen from a great distance in Tooele Valley.
“It was known for its beautiful trees,” he said. “… Water ran [by the trees] 24/7.” But over time, the city diverted the water from ditches to pipes and the trees were lost.
The push for a Tree City designation began in 2003, with Grantsville Mayor Byron Anderson, Fawson said. Anderson had a vision to return the trees to the town and he asked Fawson to serve as tree board chairman.
He accepted and the wheels were set in motion.
In order to get the tree city designation, Grantsville leaders and residents had to meet four criteria, Fawson said. The first step was to find willing participants to be members of a tree board.
“There have been as many as 12 [volunteers],” he said. “But now there are four. It varies from year to year.” But Janet has always been a member.
“She does it every year,” he said.
The second step was to create a tree ordinance, Fawson said. Mayor Anderson and the city council took care of that step.
Third, the city had to spend $2 per Grantsville resident on trees or tree work, including pruning, cutting, fertilizing, etc. Residents of every house would also need to plant two trees in or near the parking strip.
The city decided that the residents would “buy one [tree] and the city buys one,” Fawson said. Each tree this year cost $75 and the residents were allowed to buy extra trees to plant.
The last step was for the community to host a celebration each Arbor Day.
For the celebration, committee members lead an outreach to the two local elementary schools, Fawson said. Each student in the eight 5th-grade classes enters a poster into the contest. The committee selects a winning poster from each class.
“We give away a large, five-gallon tree to the winners,” Fawson said. “Some of those first trees [from the winning students] are probably now 15-20 feet tall.”
Before moving to California, the Fawsons owned and operated a Grantsville newspaper. They sold the paper and moved west where Fawson continued his work in the media.
When the couple lived in Northern California, they owned The Ukiah Daily Journal and The Cloverdale Reverie, as well as some real estate magazines. Cloverdale is 30 minutes south of Ukiah. Fawson worked as advertising director and wrote a column for the newspapers.
But as he worked in newspapers he also nurtured his love for trees and plants.
“I started gardening as a young boy,” he said.
Janet Fawson said he husband stays busy, not just on their ranch, but he also takes calls from Grantsville residents about their tree problems. He said most often the solution is more water. There has only been one time where it has been another issue.
Speaking of water, the Fawsons have harnessed the resource on their property, which has three artesian wells. From two of the wells they have created ponds and they recently dug a fourth well. They also have irrigation shares.
“If we don’t use it, we lose it to the Great Salt Lake,” Gary Fawson said.
Whether it is serving together on the tree board or working together in their yard, the Fawsons are a team and that team is productive.
The two are parents of five grown children and have 26 grandchildren. They named their property “Five-Star Ranch.” Four of their children are scattered throughout the U.S., in Massachusetts, Kansas, North Carolina and Idaho. The last lives in Mapleton, Utah.
Their ranch feels like a mountain getaway; it is easy to forget you are in a desert valley. The tree canopy is well established, though the Fawsons planted most of the trees themselves. Tree varieties range from bald cypress, incense cedar, dawn redwood to willow, poplar, linden and ash. There are bridges of wood and stone, and wildlife includes geese, pheasant, skunks, fox, raccoons “and every kind of bird,” Gary Fawson said.
It is as though the Fawsons brought a bit of Northern California back to Utah.
Gary Fawson has a degree in advertising from Brigham Young University. And that is where the couple first met, on registration day when Janet walked past him.
“He said, ‘Hi’ and I said, ‘Hi,’ and I kept walking,” she said. “He wasn’t my type. He had on cowboy boots.”
She grew up in Van Nuys, in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley where her dad was a high school principal.
But Gary Fawson said he quickly overcame his wife’s aversion to cowboy boots. Since they ended up living near one another, he gave her rides to class in his pickup truck.
They have now been married for 47 years and though she still loves California, she also loves two more things: Gary and Grantsville.
“Our first Christmas he bought me cowboy boots,” she said. “I’m a Grantsville Cowboy now.”
To repay the community for their support, the Fawsons are happy to serve as grand marshals for the Grantsville parade. They will be wearing their best American West cowboy, red, white and blue western shirts, cowboy hats and cowboy boots because they’re now a fixture to this “Tree City USA.”