Rural Utahns uncertain what Winter Olympics will mean to their state

By Patty Henetz The Associated Press
Friday January 11, 2002

HELPER, Utah — Workmen’s Market butcher Dean Nielsen turned off his meat slicer to consider how the 2002 Winter Olympics might affect his small mining town 120 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. 

“We’re going to be stuck with the bill,” he said. “And we don’t get nothing out of it.” 

Market owner Steven Giacletto was more optimistic: “It may leave us a few bills. But it might do us some good.” 

With the Winter Games only a month away, ambivalence reigns in rural Utah. 

In Green River, a desert city on Interstate 70 three hours from the capital, Mayor Glen D. Johnson pointed to an official Olympic banner still in its plastic wrapper. The mayor said he intends to hang it as soon as someone finds “the little things” necessary to affix it to whatever it will hang from. But procrastination aside, Johnson still supports the Olympics. 

“They will be good for the state, good for the country, especially after Sept. 11,” he said. “But will Green River gain? I don’t think so. The only way the Olympics are going to affect Green River is traffic going through. Maybe they’ll stop for a cup of coffee.” 

Olympic organizers expect to cut it close when it comes to paying for the 2002 Winter Games. And while the games are expected to give northern Utah a much-needed financial boost, economists say it won’t last more than three months, even in host Salt Lake City. 

Johnson fears the Olympics already have hurt Green River; legislators who once appropriated his city $2 million for golf course expansion have withdrawn the offer. “The Olympics (are) very, very expensive. I wonder if that had something to do with it,” he said. 

The one rural city that will see any real Olympic presence is Moab, the Olympic torch relay’s gateway to Utah. On Sunday, Feb. 3, the relay’s 61st day, the flame will depart Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, a symbol of Utah’s scenic grandeur, on its way to the opening ceremony. 

Marian DeLay, executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council, has spent nearly two years planning a torch festival that begins with dignitaries watching the flame’s progress on a Jumbotron television set amid the sandstone spires, domes and balanced rocks that make Arches a global attraction. 

In Moab’s city park, there will be dancers, fireworks and a Salt Lake Organizing Committee-approved music program. DeLay hopes the festival will draw people from northern Utah and points east during what normally is its sleepy off-season. 

“February isn’t a busy time for this community,” said DeLay, her Olympic enthusiasm matched by her high-energy intensity. “It’s a great time to be here, but the rest of the world doesn’t know that yet.” 

With no interstate travelers passing by, Moab’s big chance is to net some media attention that will entice future travelers, she said — a prospect that seems unlikely, since the torch relay won’t be on network television until it approaches the Olympic cauldron in Salt Lake City, 300 miles away. 

But Mayor Dave Sakrison, too, thought Delicate Arch, which has been incorporated into Olympic marketing, might lure tourists to Moab. 

“We’re hoping there’s a spillover. It can’t hurt. Might as well see the real thing,” he said, taking a break from selling coffee and sundries at Dave’s Corner Market, an out-of-the-way convenience store favored by locals. 

The market’s walls are festooned with artwork, including a black and white photo of a teen-age Sakrison next to John Wayne during the 1962 filming of “The Comancheros.” A huge blackboard lists all the gourmet coffees Sakrison sells by the pound. Vials of ginseng rest in the favored impulse-purchase spot next to the register. 

But there’s no Olympic banner in sight. “That’s because no one’s given me any, or I would put the damn things up,” Sakrison said. 

If they never fly, though, 17-year Moab resident Joe Kiffmeyer won’t complain, because he suspects the games will enrich a few at the expense of the many. “It’s a big nationalistic hype,” he said. 

Kiffmeyer’s wife, Jini Rivette, worked in Lake Placid during the 1980 Winter Games; she too doubted the 2002 Games would do well by Moab. 

“As a state, we’ll be paying for them for a long time,” she said. “They’re still paying for it in Lake Placid.” 


On the Net: 

Olympic Games: http://www.saltlake2002.com/