Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

March 12, 2013
Why split the cemetery and destroy the Clark farm?

Several years ago, Grantsville City acquired the J. Reuben Clark Farm, one of eight Grantsville places listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with intent to use it as a historic farm. Not without some hesitancy from residents then, it demonstrated an excellent example of preserving our agricultural heritage in this valley. This type of foresight from leaders will give our great-grandchildren an opportunity to understand how agriculture was the seed that grew this valley.

Sadly, Grantsville leaders have since chosen a different course for the Clark farm. They are turning the farmland into a new, modern cemetery — no feasibility studies done, little public discussion. Sprinklers and lawn are installed, but is there a budget?

They walked away from purchasing the vacant land right next to the cemetery, though common planning sense says it’s an ideal choice to keep the cemetery in one place. Instead of using land they already own on the southwest corner of the cemetery, they approved construction of a permanent park and ride lot, now contracted out and ready to begin in April. Plenty of people in town are upset about these decisions, but we, the public, allowed it to get to this point because we did not speak out in the process.

It was a quick fix to solve some problems, but at what true cost? Rough financial estimates of the city’s costs for placing the cemetery at the Clark farm show it will be much more expensive in the long run than using the adjacent land. It divides our cemetery into two parts, with the new part hidden from the street behind houses. And perhaps the biggest loss of all is the future potential of an exceptional historic farm that was once owned by J. Reuben Clark, Jr., a Grantsville farm boy who grew up to be a world-renowned statesman and religious leader.

J. Reuben Clark, Jr. grew up milking cows and feeding animals on his family’s Clark Street farm. He attended Grantsville Academy through the 8th grade, served his LDS mission as a curator for the Deseret Museum in Salt Lake, and graduated from the University of Utah and Columbia University Law School. During his impressive Washington career he served as assistant solicitor and solicitor of the U.S. State Department, Under Secretary of State, and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. He served twenty-eight and a half years in the LDS First Presidency, longer than anyone who has not become president. His friend, President Marion G. Romney, called him “one of the great and noble men of our time.” Because of his many accomplishments, a top-ranked law school and an international law society are named after him, but he never forgot his Grantsville roots.

Of all the places he could have poured his life savings, Clark chose his hometown. Later in life, he built a lovely red-brick home on his father’s Clark Street farm, calling Grantsville his “spiritual retreat.” His generosity and admiration for Grantsville’s pioneer history led him to purchase the crumbling Old Adobe Schoolhouse (now the Donner-Reed Museum), restore it, and then donate it back to Grantsville as a gift for its centennial celebration, leaving us with one of the most treasured historical buildings in the valley.

The Clark farm is similar in many ways to Cache Valley’s American West Heritage Center, a well-preserved turn-of-the-century farm and one of the three anchor attractions in their valley, bringing in over 50,000 paying visitors a year. They host a myriad of activities, including baby animal days, mountain man and Native American events, summer camps, a fall festival, corn maze and drama productions. They also offer team building/leadership courses, school field trips, rental for private events, and pioneer treks for youth groups. The AWHC is a well-loved component of Cache Valley, and the Clark farm has similar potential for success in this valley, given the right chance.

It’s all about money, city leaders say. But is it? Isn’t it also about preserving our agricultural heritage that will be lost to development in not too many generations? Isn’t it about saving a potential economic asset and tourist attraction? Isn’t it about putting aside personal thoughts about being buried on J. Reuben Clark’s farm, and thinking more about keeping our cemetery in one piece? Isn’t it about honoring the man, and teaching our children that small-town people like J. Reuben Clark, Jr. can accomplish great things?

Sometimes in city leadership, to pause and reflect on previous choices and realize the wrong choice was made is difficult, especially after money has been expended to move the wrong choice forward. It takes courage to stop, hear the public they serve, and take steps to correct what has been done. And it takes people to speak up to let leaders know a course correction is wanted.

Is it too late to change course, with sprinklers and lawn already in the ground? No, it is not too late. The new lawn will serve the farm well as a park, enlarging the area where people can gather. A cemetery expansion is necessary, but reopening public discussion and exploring options will ensure that we don’t destroy two priceless town landmarks. At the very least, the project should be put on hold until a complete cost analysis gives a detailed picture of what taxpayers will be paying. A project of this magnitude and lasting consequence deserves a closer look.

Let’s pause and get this right, for ourselves and for our great-grandchildren, rather than watch our cemetery split in two and squander our chance to develop a historical treasure. We have a voice, and must let our leaders know that it’s okay to correct course and move forward on a cause that is much more valuable than a “quick fix” today.

Hurst holds a master’s degree in landscape architecture and environmental planning. She wrote her master’s thesis on the value of preserving small farms in the growing Intermountain West. For more information follow “Grantsville Clark Farm” on Facebook or call 435-884-4409.

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