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The world is welcome at Soldier Hollow

Published: Wednesday, April 9 1997 12:00 a.m. MDT

In a place where planning-and-zoning fights have become the norm, no one is arguing about a 2,000-acre development that would bring 40,000 people to town every 24 hours.

That's during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, when a north-facing hillside here would become the venue for biathlon and cross-country events under a proposal pushed by state parks officials and heartily backed, by all appearances, by the locals."Of all the alternatives for that land, this is by far the best," said George Hansen, an outspoken environmentalist in the nearby community of Midway. "It needs to be used for something, or some state park board is going to sell it in a few years."

The property in question is at the southeastern-most extreme of the 22,000-acre Wasatch Mountain State Park in the foothills of Mount Timpanogos, between Deer Creek Reservoir and the park's popular Chalet recreation area.

Until a few weeks ago, it was an obscure if scenic setting, its name unknown to all but longtime residents of the area. But since February, local boosters, in tandem with parks officials, have placed Soldier Hollow in the running for cross-country and biathlon events in 2002.

It competes with three other proposed locales whose backers are probably more politically connected than those who support the Heber Valley site. Snowbasin east of Ogden is a strong possibility, and Provo residents are pushing terrain there at the base of Squaw Peak.

Olympic organizers had planned to hold the competitions on the Mountain Dell Golf Course but started looking for a new site last year after deciding the area doesn't get enough snow.

They wanted to move the events into the canyons above the golf course, but the location is strongly opposed by an influential urban environmental community.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee is soliciting new proposed sites through April, and a decision is expected sometime this summer.

The Heber Valley site faces no environmental opposition, however, and in fact drew substantial support at a Tuesday night meeting in Midway.

"People are pretty optimistic about the prospects," said Bob Mathis, Wasatch County's planning director, unable to locate anyone to speak up against it.

"It's a way for us to have our cake and eat it too," said Midway Mayor Steve Ridge, arguing that if the Olympics came to town they would leave behind a legacy of improved public infrastructure.

Ridge said the Olympic cachet would likely qualify local governments for grants and low- or no-interest loans on sewer, water and road upgrades.

A well-developed playground at the state park site would also be developed, courtesy of Olympics organizers who have budgeted some $17 million for the project, most of which would remain intact and open to the public after the Games.

Ridge said turning parkland that is now used for grazing into an Olympic venue is better than some notions pursued in the past. He noted an early 1990s effort to allow a private developer to build luxury hotels in the area and private golf courses on park land.

"This is an improvement over $200-an-hour rounds of golf," he said.

Robyn Pearson, the valley's community development director, said local promoters were assured their effort will be weighed evenly with others, even if the Heber Valley lacks the money to wage an all-out public-relations blitz.

"It's a great opportunity for this county," said Commissioner Keith Jacobson. "I just hope we have the clout to pull it off."

State Parks Director Courtland Nelson said the Heber Valley location is an obvious choice because its geography offers the combination of easy accessibility from Provo and Salt Lake City plus adequate snowfall or snowmaking capacity.

County Public Works Director Kent Berg said transportation to the area would rely on a 350-bus fleet that would shuttle between park-and-ride lots along the Wasatch Front. Similar lots nearby would handle 1,500 cars apiece at the Jordanelle Reservoir, the county's fairgrounds in Heber City and along the banks of Deer Creek.

He said the Midway area could easily handle the 40,000 visitors that would be expected daily during the Games. Berg said the small town draws some 80,000 people to its annual, three-day Swiss Days in late summer.

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