HUNTSVILLE — Living in the Ogden Valley, with its picturesque views, recreational opportunities and unspoiled open spaces, has its benefits, particularly for those who love the outdoors.
“It’s a beautiful place,” said Wendy McKay, a Huntsville resident and member of the Huntsville Town Council.
She understands why so many people visit on weekends and in their free time, why the bike races, festivals and other activities east of Ogden on the other side of the Ogden Canyon are such draws to outsiders. She welcomes the visitors.
But sometimes it can get overwhelming. The traffic snarls caused by special events. Visitors who don’t clean their messes. The sense, at times, of being a hostage because of the many visitors.
“People are getting a little tired of doing all the cleaning up in the Upper Valley. We’re basically Ogden’s playground. That’s how to sum it up,” said Jim Truett, the mayor of Huntsville.
Dan Davis, a local resident speaking at a recent meeting of Weber County commissioners in Huntsville, recalls happening upon a road closure once because of a sporting event while running errands. He’s all for the bike races, running races and other events, but had to take a time-consuming detour to get around that one and stressed the import of publicizing detours ahead of such activities.
“I just went over to Eden to grab some milk and Rice Krispies and I got trapped. They said it was going to be two hours. I didn’t bring my tent or my sleeping bag or even a camp chair to hang out for two hours. I just wanted to grab something and go home,” said Davis, whose comments elicited applause from those on hand.
Locals have long wrestled with the issue, how to share the place that’s their home with the regular influx of visitors traveling to the ski resorts or Pineview Reservoir, running in a road race or taking in the scenery. At the April 30 meeting, Commissioner Gage Froerer, responding to concerns like Davis’, said part of the solution might be more closely monitoring the varied events taking place in the area, spacing them out to temper the impact they have.
Sally Lindsay, who also spoke at the meeting last month, had another idea — holding some events elsewhere, in western Weber County, say, or along Ogden’s East Bench.
“Share the burden. I can’t see any reason why we don’t do that. It’s always up here. This list goes on forever,” she said, alluding to a list of planned events in the Ogden Valley this summer, “and it’s always up here.”
Indeed, interest in holding events in the valley, if anything, is on the rise. Scott Mendoza, with the Weber County Community Development Department, said organizers brought 15 special events to the Ogden Valley in 2017 and that 24, at this point, are tentatively planned for 2019.
“We’re a pretty small community hosting pretty big events,” said McKay, the Hunstville Town Council member.
SCALING BACK JULY 4TH ACTIVITIES
Huntsville, the only incorporated locale in the Ogden Valley, had an estimated population of 732 in 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, up from 567 in 2010. Adding the numbers for the unincorporated Eden and Liberty census-designated places, also in the valley, the estimated headcount of the zone as of 2017 was 2,884, up from 2,615 in 2010.
But the area’s popularity with outsiders has grown to the point that Huntsville officials have decided to revamp and scale back the town’s annual Fourth of July activities starting this year. The number of visitors has ballooned to around 10,000 in recent years, according to McKay, and mustering the volunteer army necessary to contend with such a crowd has become a losing battle.
Activities on July 4 would typically start around 6:30 a.m. and conclude around midnight, after a fireworks show. Now, tentative plans call for only a fireworks show the night of July 4, with a more low-key slate of events spread out over the weekend before, in line with the roots of the event as a small-town get-together. Town leaders have been struggling with the issue for at least the past year, trying to figure out a remedy.
“It’s really important to note we love for people to visit our town,” said McKay. “We just can’t get volunteers anymore. They’re exhausted.”
Crowds aside, the cost of hosting the Independence Day events has grown to around $35,000, a strain for a small locale like Huntsville, underscoring another complaint of locals. Visitors come to the Ogden Valley for a broad range of outdoors activities, some note, but when it comes time to dine and spend the night, many travel to Ogden, giving the larger city the tax windfall.
Sara Toliver, president of Visit Ogden, Weber County’s convention and visitors bureau, does what she can to encourage patronage of the lodging options and eateries in the Ogden Valley. Many, though, just prefer the facilities in Ogden.
County officials, too, are mindful of Ogden Valley boosters’ concerns. At the April 30 meeting, commissioners approved a new $3 fee for visitors to the Port Ramp, Anderson Cove and Cemetery Point entry spots at the Pineview Reservoir, bringing the total price tag to $18. The extra $3 will be earmarked for improvements around Pineview and Huntsville.
The area has numerous draws, like camping and hiking. “However, some of our outdoor gems are on the verge of being loved too much or loved the wrong way,” commissioners said in an opinion piece explaining the new fee.
County Commissioner Scott Jenkins doesn’t dispute the Ogden Valley residents’ concerns or try to brush them off. The new fee, moreover, will only go so far in helping, he acknowledges. But he’s not sure what else can be done.
“I can’t argue with what they’re saying,” he said. “They bear the brunt of this, truly they do.”