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Bargaining for Eden

Bargaining for Eden: The Fight for the Last Open Spaces in America

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Bargaining for Eden
    Book Description:

    Beginning with an Olympic ski race in northern Utah, this heartfelt book from award-winning writer and photographer Stephen Trimble takes a penetrating look at the battles raging over the land-and the soul-of the American West.Bargaining for Edeninvestigates the high-profile story of a reclusive billionaire who worked relentlessly to acquire public land for his ski resort and to host the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. In a gripping, character-driven narrative, based on extensive interviews, Trimble tells of the land exchange deal that ensued, one of the largest and most controversial in U.S. history, as he deftly explores the inner conflicts, paradoxes, and greed at the heart of land-use disputes from the back rooms of Washington to the grassroots efforts of passionate citizens. Into this mix, Trimble weaves the personal story of how he, a lifelong environmentalist, ironically became a landowner and developer himself, and began to explore the ethics of ownership anew. We travel with Trimble in a fascinating journey that becomes, in the end, a hopeful credo to guide citizens and communities seeking to reinvent their relationship with the beloved American landscape.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93373-6
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[x])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [xi]-[xiii])
    (pp. 1-9)

    I FIRST SAW EARL HOLDING on a crisp and radiant morning in March 1999. As I walked toward the base of the new ski lift on the day of the first running of the Snowbasin Women’s Downhill course during the national alpine championships, a tall distinguished-looking gentleman with thick, carefully barbered white hair was standing outside the VIP tent with a smiling older woman with wild curls. I’d seen a single photograph of Earl again and again, the one press shot he seemed to have released for use throughout eternity. I looked at the man, and my heart raced. This...


      (pp. 13-35)

      WHEN I WAS A BOY, and Ike was president, Little America meant freedom. It wasn’t Richard Byrd’s Little America, the 1929 Antarctic outpost. My Little America was Covey’s Little America, a truck stop hunkered low against windscour and winterblast on the rim of an eroding Wyoming mesa.

      We saw the first teasers along U.S. 30 outside of Laramie: little america, world’s largest gas station, 65 pumps, nickel ice cream cones. Black-and-white cartoon penguins and ’50s signboard cursive led us to the faux-colonial buildings topping a rise.

      Until 1963 those roadside ads saidcovey’slittle america. S.M. Covey was one of...

      (pp. 37-57)

      THE WASATCH MOUNTAINS STAND AS A BOUNDARY between major continental truths. Mountain and desert. Urban and rural. Tamed and wild.

      Wasatch,Wahsatch, a lovely word, hard to translate from the languages spoken by the Ute and Western Shoshone people who lived there. Some people say it means something bland and acceptable, the “low place in a high mountain,” the place where the canyon of the Weber River slices through Mount Ogden. Or that the name memorializes the Shoshone Chief Wahsatch. Others connect the word with a story that captures the flip side of the mountains, the raw peaks rather than...

      (pp. 59-65)

      DREAMS LIE UNDER THE HARDPAN surface of the desert West, hidden beneath an alkali-white crust. Stories underlie meadows; visions sleep in mountains; every place name carries lives within it. And from these dreams and places emerge the stories of generations of my family.

      My father was born in Westhope, North Dakota.Westandhope—the destinies and desires of thousands of dreamers caught up by the frontier distilled in two words. The town had existed for just thirteen years when “Doc Charley” Durnin delivered tiny, premature Donald Eldon Trimble and kept him alive by incubating him in a shoebox placed...


      (pp. 69-91)

      OUR FRIENDS ROB AND DANIEL, father and teen-aged son, had been dreaming of skiing the West for years. Finally, one winter, they came from New England for the long-awaited visit with our family in Salt Lake City. We sent them up to the glories of Alta, Brighton, Solitude—to the local ski areas in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, where we believed they would experience the heart and soul of western skiing.

      To our surprise, they came down from the mountain unsettled rather than jubilant; they were disturbed by the lack of signage, the open expanse of the slopes, the...

      (pp. 93-109)

      EARL HOLDING WAS AFFLICTED by what he described as “a real nightmare” back in September 1995. The federal court was demanding restraint, and Earl, the man of action, was suffering. At just that moment, Utah Congressman Jim Hansen happened to come to Sun Valley to speak to Earl and a gathering of other oil executives. Earl has described driving back to the airport with Hansen and commiserating over delays created by ill-tempered citizens: “[Hansen] asked me how the trade was going. I told him it wasn’t going anywhere. And he said, ‘I’d be glad to help with that. I believe...

      (pp. 111-125)

      MARGOT SMELZER PERCHED on floral upholstery in her quietly elegant living room. She was fuming, dismayed by events on Mount Ogden, where power politics had overwhelmed the public process she reveres: “It isn’t the fact that we’re losing the most important place in our lives to spend our Sunday afternoons. It’s just that I think what happened was wrong.”

      Huntsville, whose seven hundred citizens constitute Margot’s “we,” impersonates a New England village and is consequently a bit too bucolic and comfortable to measure up to the mythic West. This Utah hamlet perches on the shoreline created in the ’30s, when...

      (pp. 127-141)

      I DROVE UP THE NEW JOHN PAUL road with Snowbasin mountain manager Kent Matthews in his corporate vehicle, a weathered Ford Bronco that should have quit running years ago. Near treeline, we parked and watched the road builders blade the last few turns of the route, creating the high-elevation access the lift builders would need.

      I watched the track hoe operator position the teeth of his bucket before slicing irrevocably into pristine alpine turf. He was opening a swath to the top of the knoll where the upper terminal of the John Paul lift would stand. The smells of virgin...

      (pp. 143-159)

      OGDEN. PETER SKENE OGDEN. Short, dark, good-humored, tough, French-Canadian Québecois, explorer of the Middle Rockies and Great Basin in the 1820s and 1830s.

      In 1825 Ogden led a formidable band of fifty-eight Hudson’s Bay Company trappers deeper into the continent than they had ever gone. They ranged south far beyond the Snake River country to foothills below a rocky crest where meadowland greened with spring and creeks teemed with beaver. It was the dream country of a mountain man, a scene in a reverie I can imagine: Beaver swims through earthpure water as cold as stars on a January midnight....

      (pp. 161-179)

      EACH FALL JOAN DEGIORGIO BEGAN her first lecture on public lands at the University of Utah by aiming a small hand mirror at her class and reflecting the expectant faces of students back on themselves. She opened her course with this gesture and an explanation: “Public lands show us who we are. They are such a gift, and how we treat them tells us what we think is important. When we sell public lands, it tells us where our values are—whether we value timber over recreation, mineral development over wildlife corridors, and water development over riparian habitat.”

      The mirror...


      (pp. 183-187)

      FIRST, EPHRAIM’S FACE,fast, curl in a tuck, seventy-five miles an hour, carry speed into the John Paul Traverse dropping away to the left, off kilter. Twenty seconds in—a jump, Flintlock, a wall that leads into the sky. Aim for that bump on the horizon, turn right, land and turn hard left into the three turns of Bear Trap, climbing the side of the ridge, falling away again, then diving into Hibernation Hole, pushed back on the skis—hold on, hold on. Legs ache.Breathe. Arrowhead Jump, a roller coaster of bumps, then into the air and a soft...

      (pp. 189-207)

      THE MONKS ARISE IN VELVET DARKNESS to recite Vigils, the night office, at 3:30 a.m. Sixteen mostly elderly men—their average age is seventy-five—bunch close to the altar on facing banks of wooden choir stalls, intoning back and forth. Variations in voice and timbre transform their antiphonal chorus into the organic chords of a pipe organ, a heartbeat, a river.

      It’s Psalm 68 on this May night: “You poured down, O God, a generous rain.” Outside it’s raining and thundering, quickening the 730 acres that the monks farm. They chant:

      Why look with envy, you high-ridged mountains,

      At the...

      (pp. 209-227)

      EVER SINCE HENRY DAVID THOREAU earned Concord’s disapproval by going to jail for his principles and wandering away to Walden Pond to live by himself, we have been quick to assume that the essential environmentalist is always a little nuts, a little crazy.

      Today we value these loonies, these unsocialized fringe elements screaming into an empty darkness. The Salt Lake Olympic Committee flashed quotes from Thoreau on the Jumbo-tron at the 2002 Winter Olympic opening ceremonies, co-opting the solitary writer as proof of their environmental sensitivity and wittingly or unwittingly connecting the slightly crazed, obsessed athletes and the celebration of...

      (pp. 229-253)

      MY WIFE, JOANNE, WAS BORN the day after April Fool’s Day. I was born the day before Halloween. When our intensity cranks up beyond what’s appropriate, we remind ourselves of the inherent silliness of our beginnings.

      Joanne isn’t a consumer. She isn’t a collector. She is happy with the clothes she loves and the few possessions she defines as treasures, and she has little need to acquire new ones. Joanne is also decisive. When she knows something is right, she goes for it. Absolutely, resolutely.

      She keeps asking hard questions. We both do. Even when the questions have no simple...

      (pp. 255-280)

      “WEALTHY, OVEREDUCATED SPOILED BRATS.” A longtime resident summed up local attitudes toward us move-ins, and a new acronym lurks in that one-liner. Old-timers are jealous of WOES—those Wealthy Over-Educated Spoiled brats—and they are fearful, too, of the power granted by financial resources and education, angry at the shift in attitudes toward public and private land that the WOES bring with them.

      Stereotypes hurt. I can picture a cartoon of an overwrought face-off between the two factions—a couple of naïve but well-meaning, be-fleeced, and Teva-sandaled WOES standing next to their mountain-bike-racked SUV in front of their lovely stucco...

      (pp. 281-284)

      LIFELONG LOCALS KNOW THEIR HOME. They understand the land’s intimate cycles from decades and generations of living in place, a miracle of stability and identity.

      We can never hope to restore or sustain landscapes and watersheds without the cooperation of local citizens. They rightfully resent and subvert any management scheme that excludes them from decision making.

      We need mutual trust, respect, empathy, and accountability. The hits and misses of long-term elders can teach us all, while passionate newcomers—community members by choice—brandish a fierce love for their new home that can reinspire old-timers. Honor every skill and talent in...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 285-308)
    (pp. 309-312)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 313-319)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 320-321)