I’m fortunate to have been brought up in Utah's Ogden Valley.
For those who don’t know, “The Valley” includes the small rural communities of Huntsville, Eden and Liberty. I grew up in the 60’s and attended Valley School with about 300+ other students in grades Kindergarten through 9th grade. I learned many important life-lessons growing up, not only from good school teachers, but by church leaders, little-league coaches, Trappists monks, bus drivers, dairy farmers, tradesmen, and homemakers.
Being from a small community has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is having friends that have lasted a lifetime. Most people have high school reunions. We have Valley School reunions. To this day I can name nearly all 50+ kids from my 2nd grade class with Mrs. Chard and Mrs. Morris. Many have stayed in touch. Too many have passed on.
As for disadvantages, for a kid with an oversized ego and a serious case of FOMO, I hated the feeling of isolation. Because we were at least a half hour away from a "real" grocery store, (Leon’s Market had everything we needed, but it seemed so small at the time), I felt trapped and seriously behind the times.
I would often look up at an airplane overhead and wonder what far-away magical place that airplane was coming from or destined for. I didn’t fully appreciate living there until I moved away. If only I was smart enough to realize how good I had it.
Photo credit: Richard Sorenson
Fast forward four decades.
I've lived in Davis County for most of my career as a writer. I'm sure my 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Clark, would have laughed milk through her nose if someone told her I would eventually become an author. But as things would have it, I've written several books, published by reputable publishers, on topics related to inspiration, courage, and humanity. My first book was a biography called, The Quiet Hero: The Untold Medal of Honor Story of George E. Wahlen at the Battle for Iwo Jima. Senators Bob Dole and Orrin Hatch both contributed to it. It was a fun book to write because I was able spend countless hours researching at the National Archives and elsewhere. WWII research is my happy place.
Then comes January of 2017. I’m sitting in a quiet, contemplative and sacred space, and out of the blue, a World War II historical novel unexpectedly pops into my head. In a rush of what could only be described as a revelation, I get the basic story in my mind. From the book’s setting and characters, to the conflicts, timing and story arc.
At the time I wasn’t thinking about writing another book, especially a novel (my other books have all been non-fiction.) Then this all happened. It was so sudden it was startling. But also a bit scary. Exciting. Daunting. I knew that if didn’t commit to writing this novel at that very moment, the inspiration would leave me and I would regret it forever. I immediately scribbled down a rough outline, and the next day I started my research.
As I dug into writing this new novel, it soon became apparent that I needed a unique setting. Because we writers tend to write about the things we know, it was easy for me to decide where my story would take place.
My hometown of Huntsville, Utah.
In my first draft, I included as many entertaining and unique historical nuggets about Huntsville as I could. Such as stories about the original Huntsville school (the one with purple paint), the Shooting Star Saloon, Pineview Reservoir, the July 4th parade and lazy summer baseball games at “The Park.” As I finished my first draft, the book was too long, and my editor insisted I cut out some of these stories and save them for another day. I reluctantly agreed. (Fortunately, many fun stories made the final cut, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)
To make a long story a bit shorter, after writing and revising the manuscript, my editor suggested that instead of releasing this book to just a Utah audience, we should release it to a broader audience. She thought it had national appeal.
At first I didn't give it a second thought. But I've since realized that readers around the country would come to know my hometown and its wonderful history. While the characters of the book are purely fictional, many are based upon familiar Valley names like Wangsguard, Shupe, Shaw, and McKay. One of my favorite characters is based loosely upon a larger-than-life character we knew growing up as “Whiskey Joe.”
The rest of the world will likely never know how much of this novel is inspired by real people and real places…but I’m guessing a lot my friends from the Valley will recognize the similarities.
The book was released on September 15th titled, “The War of Malice and Mercy: A World War II Novel.”
It’s available online throughout the English speaking world, not just in the U.S., but places like Australia and the UK, as well as in libraries and bookstores nationwide. It has been featured in national reviews, and on popular book sites and blogs. So far, things are going well.
But here’s the problem.
My first inclination was to be concerned about how my friends from the Valley will feel....especially after I've extolled the amazing beauties and wonders of my bucolic hometown. After I’ve described the exquisite whiteness of the mountains after a heavy winter storm, or how the dawn reflects on Pineview Reservoir in a way that’s simply magical. I couldn’t help myself from basing my fictional story on the many incredible surroundings of my youth.
Which is why I was a little worried that some readers may want to come and see this gorgeous place for themselves. And we all know what happens when someone visits the Valley for the first time…they often want to stay.
Then reality hit me.
Nothing I write will have any influence on attracting even more people to the Valley. When it comes to publicity, the cat is out of he proverbial bag. The Valley is no longer a secret. There's already enough being written that a New York City PR firm would be proud of all the publicity the Valley has generated in recent years. That includes good books, videos, real estate blogs, social media posts, articles or news stories. All have contributed to some degree or another to its popularity.
But publicity is not what is attracting people to the Valley. With three ski resorts, two reservoirs (Causey and Pineview), three fishing streams, and an endless number of hiking/biking trails, recreation is the biggest draw, and will be the biggest economic driver in the Valley for the foreseeable future. There's not much I or anyone else can do to change that fact.
And with increased popularity comes growing pains.
While I love reminiscing about the Valley of my youth, my more pressing concern is about its future. How can Valley residents control the growth, and preserve a small town feel, open spaces and rural atmosphere? How can they keep it from becoming just another playground for the well-to-do?
The numbers don't bode well.
I recently learned that in the past 20 years, the population in the Valley has gone from 5,800 to 7,100, a 21% rate of growth. In that same 20 years, the number of homes has gone from 2,900 to 5,100, a whopping 90% rate of growth. For the first time ever, the majority of homes in the Valley are owned by absentee residents.
And it's only going to get worse. The Weber County general plan anticipates a total of 11,000 homes in the Valley by 2040, more than doubling of the current number of 5,100. It took 165 years to build the first 5,000 homes, but if things don't change, it will take just twenty years to more than double the number of homes in Ogden Valley. Not surprisingly, the current master plan calls for 25,000 homes to be built in the next 40-50 years.
The sad fact is, these absentee residents just don't care that much about the Valley's history. About the monastery, Leon's Market, the Probasco's antique tractor collection, the Valley Tournaments, or any number of events that made this Valley unique. All they really care about is their vacation.
Managing the growth of Ogden Valley is not just a concern of Valley residents. Uncontrolled growth will cause huge traffic congestion, air pollution, and infrastructure issues that will require significant investment (and tax increases) to mitigate. Unfortunately, no one is going to address the issues better than Valley residents, and it will require some creative ideas.
Some have suggested better political representation is needed so Valley residents have more say in their own destiny. One idea is to incorporate all the three Valley communities into one. Another new effort was recently launched to make Ogden Valley Utah's thirtieth county. Residents like Marlin Jensen are leading the charge to preserve open spaces in the Valley through the Ogden Valley Land Trust. Their recent success was to preserve the Trappist Monastery property in southeastern corner of the Valley.
Without these and similar effort to protect the Valley's open spaces and unique historic legacy, the Valley is destined to become just another Utah community that gets loved to death.
I just hope it's not too late.
If you would like to contribute to the efforts made to preserve open space in the Ogden Valley, please consider a generous donation to the Ogden Valley Land Trust here.