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Heber City housing: One young man's struggle to stay in his hometown

Dakota Mair poses with his German Shepherd dog on a dock by a small body of water
Dakota Mair

Every rural person and place has a story. Change is part of that story. “Rural Utah at a Crossroads” is part of the Smithsonian traveling exhibit Crossroads: Change in Rural America, which explores the changing meaning of rural life and identity. Utah Humanities is touring Crossroads to eight rural communities across Utah in 2024. As part of the tour, Utah Humanities and Utah Public Radio are partnering with exhibition hosts to interview local residents about change in their communities.

This interview of Dakota Mair took place at the Wasatch County Library in Heber City, Utah.

Dakota Mair: We go back all the way to the original settlers. My fourth great-grandma came here from Scotland with the Mormons, brought her three original kids and we've been here ever since. It's like, my grandpa sacrificed so much to give them a leg up so they didn't have to suffer as much. And they took that leg up, and they took advantage of it. But then when it comes time to pass that on to the next generation, that's where it always falls off. That's where it always falls off. I'll be honest, I feel like my whole age group, I was born in '93, I feel like we were kind of just lost in the sauce, just forgotten about. I was a real latchkey kid coming up.

Growing up, I always thought like, if things don't go the way I planned, because I wanted to leave and conquer the world like everybody does, but at least I'll be able to move back home to my hometown, and I'll be able to get a house there and things won't be so crazy financially, and I can always come home. That's the biggest thing of the kids that went to school with me is I feel like any of us who felt like this was home really have a fire lit underneath us now to find a new home and find a new place because this isn't going to be it anymore. I'm at the point now where staying at home with my family is starting to hold me back financially. And not only that, of all the people I know, this is a good community to be 18 or 19 because there's a high school here, but not 28. There's not a lot of people in that age, they're either much older with kids, or they're a lot younger coming out of high school. So another thing is my whole friend group, my whole social life is in North Salt Lake or Salt Lake area.

We can't get workers in this community because I mean, I just tried to get an apartment over at Wing Pointe. And the lowest income you can have over there to qualify is like $65,000 a year. And that's for a one-bedroom apartment. In this community, it's just unreal. So I don't see how they're ever going to keep workers around. The only way to do it is to have people commute down from Wyoming and stuff where they can afford to live. But there's not enough people willing to do that.

I think in 10 years, this community will be full of either uber-rich people or relatively rich people. It'll be like a vacation community spas, resorts, retirement community for the uber-rich. Yeah, that's what I see in the future is more places like the Zermott popping up. More luxury resorts, more commodity, basically. That's what I see in the near future. And honestly, that's pretty bleak to me. That's the opposite of what I would want to happen in the community. But I'd like to see it go back to the old days, pretty much anybody who has any old timer in them at all, even if they're young is going to tell you that same thing. What is actually reasonable would be a moratorium on building, fix the infrastructure. If we are going to take all these folks in, let's make sure we can accommodate everybody. I guess all I could really say is try to be a neighbor wherever you can, even if it's a stranger to help bring back that sense of community even a little bit.

“Rural Utah at a Crossroads” is a collaboration between Utah Public Radio, Utah Humanities, and the community hosts of Crossroads: Change in Rural America, a Smithsonian Museum on Main Street exhibition made possible in the Beehive State by Utah Humanities.

Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the United States Congress.

Mia Shumway is a producer and reporter for Utah Public Radio. She produces Rural Utah at a Crossroads and loves bringing the stories of rural Utahns to life. Mia studied Mass Communication at Colorado Mesa University and is pursuing a master's in political science at Utah State University. When she’s not on the air, she can be found on one of Logan’s many beautiful hiking trails or procrastinating her thesis.
Mary got hooked on oral histories while visiting Ellis Island and hearing the recorded voices of immigrants that had passed through. StoryCorps drew her to UPR. After she retired from teaching at Preston High, she walked into the station and said she wanted to help. Kerry put her to work taking the best 3 minutes out of the 30 minute interviews recorded in Vernal. Passion kicked in. Mary went on to collect more and more stories and return them to the community on UPR's radio waves. Major credits to date: Utah Works, One Small Step, and the award winning documentary Ride the Rails.