Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
This last summer I went on a trip with my mother to Colorado. We visited a number of beautiful towns, including Steamboat Springs, Estes Park, and Vail.
A month later, I went with Fr. Martin Diaz, who is the rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, to Alaska. Fr. Martin had been rector at the Cathedral in Anchorage for a number of years when he was a Dominican priest, so he was my guide. We traveled to Denali National Park and then to Fairbanks. We then went to Homer and Seward. In between we spent a good deal of time in Anchorage.
All of the places we visited were built for people to live, to recreate, and to enjoy. What was common with all of these towns, besides being in beautiful locations, was that they had trails. They had trails for people to stroll, ride their bikes, walk their dog(s), run, etc. Trails make such a difference for those who live there or for those who are enjoying their vacation.
When I am traveling with someone, I am usually the first one up. Instead of bothering my traveling companion like a cat who is ready to be fed, I take a morning walk and find a coffee shop to do morning prayer and read rather than wait in the same room for them to get going while also trying not to be frustrated that this person is not only wasting his/her day, but mine as well — I don’t think vacations are for rest; they are for seeing cool places. If you want rest, stay at home and sleep. With trails and nice coffee shops, this problem goes away. My traveling companion is happy. I am happy. Trails make for a happier universe.
Many nice towns in Utah have great trails. Actually, my last three parishes were within a short walk to trails. My first parish in Midvale and my third one just west of downtown Salt Lake City, were close to the Jordan River Trail. Park City, my second, wow, there is no city with better trails, unless you are in northern Europe. The mountain biking trails are primo in the summer and in the winter they maintain amazing cross country ski trails.
As people who are formed from earth, we need the earth, we need to encounter nature. We require beautiful places to lift our spirits. My first two years in college, I was a forestry major at Utah State University in Logan. I took numerous classes where we studied our need as human beings for natural environments. Not only do we need wood from our forests or healthy forest ecosystems to maintain the watershed, but we need forests for us to wander in.
Frederick Olmsted designed Central Park in New York City as well as the campuses of UC Berkley and Stanford (my former running trails) with this primarily in mind. He knew that people need places with trees to recreate. It not only raises the quality of life, but it also reduces crime, domestic violence, and just makes people get along better.
Having nice places to walk also makes those communities more desirable to live. When walking, running, or biking on the Jordan River Trail, it is nice to see a diversity of folks from different socio-economic backgrounds. It is not one group that uses the trails. I think that every major city in Utah has trails including smaller ones, like Cedar City, Moab, Richfield, and Logan.
What is important as well is to limit trails to pedestrians. Motorized vehicles, whether they are trucks, ATVs, motorcycles, etc., make being on a trail dangerous for all and just make the experience poorer.
Some of the most serene (and annoying) times I have had in Tooele has been after a good snowstorm and I have the time to go cross country skiing in Settlement Canyon. Everything is white. There is hardly a sound except for the sound of the animals and the wind in the trees. The air is crisp and clean — and then you hear a truck, ATV or snowmobile coming up the trail. Everything changes. The trail is packed down or ruined, the sound is deafening, and the smell of gas fumes is repulsive.
I could compare it to having a nice evening dinner with friends, and then some drunk and loud person attaches himself to your group and your evening may not be ruined, but it is changed. In addition the person on the offensive machine many times (just going by percentages of our relatively poor heath here in the county) has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and is probably pre-diabetic if not already there, and really needs to rely less on loud three-cycle motors and gas.
Instead, she or he needs to use those legs and lungs that God gave to them. She or he really should make less noise in order to hear the birds and the sounds of nature and to make less of an impact upon others, the trail, and the environment.
What is missing in Tooele are trails. Sure, there are trails on BLM land east of Droubay Road and I use them as well as the other mountain bikers in the area. There is also a short little trail called the Dark Trail in Settlement Canyon that is covered with cow and horse excrement.
We really don’t have accessible trails for those who are not good mountain bike riders who cannot navigate our rocky and steep terrain. We have roads, but one prays to God that she or he doesn’t get mowed down by a drunk/stoned/distracted/texting/yelling at kids/talking on cell phone/somewhat blind usually driving a huge SUV designed so that crunching the bike and skeleton of the unfortunate bicyclist/runner/walker does not make a bump so that the driver can continue to do what they were doing automobile enthusiast.
Trails make people want to live here, so property values go up. Since people want to live here, businesses want to come increasing the tax base. Property values go up and more people live here, so there is more money for schools. The schools get more money, so teacher to student ratios go down. Test scores go up and more than 15 percent of the kids are actually ready for their first day of college.
Since there are good, nice, and accessible trails, people are encouraged to walk, run, or bike so obesity rates go down. People are thinner, healthier, and happier. They have to take less meds to keep their blood pressure and cholesterol low and their blood sugar just right. The tea party folks are happy (or just less angry) because we don’t have to spend as much on Medicare and health care in general. Trails lead to happiness. People love each other more. The jails are empty. There is full employment. People and dogs are dancing in the street, etc.
I tell people from former parishes who ask me where I am now that I live in Park City West. They ask where is that? Tooele has the potential to be a great town, since it is on the nice side of the Oquirrhs (the side that hasn’t been destroyed for eternity), has a nice view of the Great Salt Lake, and could be a cute little city (hint: big box stores and strip malls are not charming). It is on the bench, so there are limitless possibilities for recreation.
We also have many canyons that could be amazing (especially with fewer beer cans, big gulp cups and fast food wrappers). Tooele remains a diamond in the rough. She needs a make-over. She needs love. She needs people who live in her with vision who understand what makes life worth living. This will happen sooner or later. I just hope it is sooner.
Rev. Dinsdale is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.