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Utah's rural places showcased in Smithsonian national traveling exhibit

A man and woman stand in front of a computer playing video exhibits. Display boards hang on the wall depicting the towns of North Summit county.
Katie White
Crossroads exhibit in Summit County, UT. "Explore our rural places and stories of days gone by."

Rural places across the country are changing. A traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Mainstreet gives small towns a chance to reflect on their own stories and the changes along their path.

People gathered at the Ledges Event Center in Coalville on Sept. 16 for the grand opening of “Crossroads: Change in Rural America.”

With the help of the older generation, students ages 9 to 18 gathered the histories of locations in north Summit County and turned them into videos that are featured as a companion exhibit to the national one.

Lynn Wood, chair of North Summit Unite — a community group dedicated to preserving and retaining the unique culture of the area while grappling with rapid change — said her favorite part of the whole experience was the kids’ projects.

“It was fun for them to learn about our history and our culture but also for the older people to interact and realize what amazing young people we have that are going to take us into the future," Wood said.

High school student Carter Staley said he was most impressed by the religious symbolism in the Coalville Tabernacle’s stained glass windows that portray two hands shaking, an olive leaf in a dove’s beak and a book.

“It was so amazing to learn what everything meant. So, the next time I sit there in stake conference or something, I’ll pretty much be staring at the windows for the rest of the time,” Staley said.

Diana Mckay, a Summit County local, said she’s always wondered about the Hoytsville Historical Mural that depicts the town’s history. She was impressed by the students’ research on it.

“I was surprised that it was an Argentinian artist who did that and came and asked all about the local history to put the mural together. And he wasn't even a local,” Mckay said.

Toward the back of the exhibit there was a screen playing testimonials of why people all over the country choose to live in a rural community.

Henefer town local Joel Riches said there's nothing like living in the country. He’s seen major residential growth in other formerly small towns to where, he said, there’s nowhere left to build. He wants the view from his back deck to stay just how it is — full of open fields.

“It's just as peaceful as can be. In the summertime, we put out hummingbird feeders and we can have anywhere from 50 to 100 hummingbirds coming in there, which is nice to watch them at night,” Riches said.

Joel and his wife Robin moved to Summit County over 25 years ago to raise their family in the small town setting. Robin now serves on the Henefer town council and said it’s important to her that they preserve the area as a rural place.

“If we asphalt over everything, we’ve lost all of our history,” Riches said.

Wood said bringing the exhibit to their area gives her hope for their community’s future.

“This is going to be the beginning of something really great in this community, a lot of conversations and a realization that we can work together to direct these changes that are coming to our community,” Wood said.

The Crossroads exhibit is open to the public through the end of October. It opens in Heber City on Saturday, Nov. 4 with its own local companion exhibit.

Katie White has been fascinated by a multitude of subjects all her life. At 13-years-old Katie realized she couldn't grow up to be everything — a doctor-architect-anthropologist-dancer-teacher-etc. — but she could tell stories about everything. Passionate about ethical and informed reporting, Katie is studying both journalism and sociology at Utah State University.