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Lee Benson
Sharlene and Joe Cottis with their grandson Jaren on the porch of their Park City home. The couple is a rare breed: folks who live in Park City who were born there.

PARK CITY — In the wake of the news that no less an august authority than Outside Magazine has named Park City the best place to live in America, reactions have ranged from uncontained glee from the local realtors, backflips from the mayor and chamber of commerce, fist bumps all around from the award-winning trails association, hallelujahs from the three world-class ski resorts.

And then there was the phone message Sharlene Cottis received from her sister:

“Who’d have ever thought Park City would be the No. 1 place to live in America!”

Sharlene and her husband Joe are a rare breed: people who live in Park City who grew up here.

In a place where everybody’s from somewhere else, they aren’t. They were both born in Miner’s Hospital — Joe in 1945, Sharlene in 1946 — back when it was an actual hospital and not a museum in the city park. Both their dads worked in the mines. They went to Marsac Elementary through grade six and to Park City High from grade seven on. There were 28 people in Joe’s graduating class of 1963; 32 in Sharlene’s Class of ‘65.

The town they grew up in had three paved roads, the highway to Salt Lake wasn’t a freeway yet and their parents — make that everybody’s parents — had just two rules — 1. Be home in time for supper, 2. If you see a hole in the ground, don’t step in it. It’s probably a mine shaft.

Back then, even as the mines were playing out and the concept of turning the hills into ski runs was a ways off — and, as Joe notes, “You could have bought the whole town for back taxes” — they thought Park City was the perfect place to live. They just never figured anyone else would.

But 50 years later, look what time hath wrought: a place so healthy, so connected, so full of cool stuff, so popular, that it obliterated everywhere else in Outside’s “Best Towns 2013” competition (outsideonline.com).

As the magazine put it: “This is the place you want to live now.”

To that, the Cottises would add this postscript.

“You think it’s nice today, you should have seen it yesterday.”

“It was such a wonderful place to grow up,” says Sharlene. “But it’s changed so much.”

How much? Well, she can drive to Old Town and stand in front of the 900-square-foot place where she grew up just west of today’s Deer Valley resort. It’s the very same physical structure where she was raised, although the street has been renamed — it used to be Ontario Ridge, now it’s Prospect Avenue — and it’s now called a condo instead of a miner’s cabin.

The last time it sold, three years ago, it listed for $560,000; slightly more, even when allowing for inflation and travertine countertops, than the $400 that kind of cabin could be picked up for for back taxes in the 1950s.

“So I guess I lived in a Deer Valley condo,” Sharlene muses, “I just didn’t know it.”

Joe and Sharlene reside in the Pinebrook neighborhood these days, eight miles from Old Town in what was a forest next to the two-lane snaking toward Salt Lake when they were growing up.

They were gone for 23 years, from 1967, just after they got married and Joe joined the Army, to 1990, when Joe’s career in the FBI brought him back to Utah from the bureau’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

There was no question where they’d move when they returned, even if it was getting hard to recognize the old place.

Add on another 23 years and it’s almost impossible. From their front porch, Joe and Sharlene can hear the freeway sounds and marvel at what the years have done to their hometown. Everywhere they look they’re surrounded by interlopers — interlopers who drive Porsches, and Subarus, and love the place.

“Like my sister said, ‘who’d have thought!’” says Sharlene, “We always knew Park City was wonderful, but we didn’t ever really think it would amount to much.”

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: benson@deseretnews.com