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Bringing nature to the mall September 16, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Nature tourism, Sustainability, Utah.
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The 1,200 acres of high-plains wetlands were saved from development to create the Swaner EcoCenter, explains Annette Herman, Executive Director.

The 1,200 acres of high-plains wetlands were saved from development to create the Swaner EcoCenter, explains Annette Herman, Executive Director.

Images featured the elegantly woodsy Swaner Ecocenter surrounded with waving grasses, long-necked waterfowl, blue skies and the dramatic Wasatch Range. So it was no small surprise that Nora, our guide, pulled into a shopping center right across from WalMart and dropped us off. “It’s right over there,” she said. “I’ll park the car and then come join you.”

I contemplated getting a gelato first, or maybe window-shopping at the little boutique. Then I remembered why I was there.

It turns out the the pictures didn’t lie. This is no ordinary shopping center, and the Swaner family is a big reason why. The ecocenter sits at the heart of 1,200 acres this family bought and saved from development and, land which has been restored into a surprisingly wild habitat right off I-80. It’s tucked into the Newpark Town Center, which is striving for LEEDS environmental design certification (the ecocenter has already set the standard with a platinum LEEDS designation, the highest ranking). Located as it is on the edge of this mixed-use condo community and resort area, it’s ideally located to reach out to shoppers and residents who might otherwise not give a thought to visiting an educational center dedicated to nurturing and raising awareness about the environment.

Here’s a sneak preview:

Park City: A summertime eco-adventure August 24, 2009

Posted by tracybarnett in Nature tourism, Sustainability, Utah.
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Mention Park City and Gortex-clad skiers come to mind among the Christmas-card-pretty lodges nestled among the snowy peaks. But once the snow melts and the summer sun warms those picturesque peaks, another, greener scene emerges, and that’s the one we were treated to on this trip.

Historic downtown Park City comes alive every week for the Park Silly Sunday Market.

Historic downtown comes alive for the Park Silly Sunday Market.

Park City is now marketing itself as an eco-destination, and notwithstanding its reputation as a getaway for the rich and famous, the city government as well as private citizens have worked hard to preserve the natural beauty of the place while lowering its carbon footprint, and some interesting initiatives have emerged. A vibrant arts community gives the city a colorful, quirky edge. All of this, combined with hundreds of miles of hiking trails and a landscape that begs for human interaction, give the green traveler multiple reasons to be here.

Our tour began with a trip to Olympic Park just in time to see the Flying Aces, an amazing troupe of Olympic skiers who wowed the crowds with a series of gravity-defying acts like triple-triple flips and twists before landing in a pool of water before our eyes.

Our next stop was just as amazing, but in a different way: The Swaner Ecocenter, an environmental study center and nature preserve located on the edge of a shopping mall. This was my personal favorite, and I’ll write more on this later.

But every Park City day must include a bit of decadence, so we paid a visit to David Perkings at High West Distillery. This turn-of-the-century livery building on historic Main Street is being converted into a high-class restaurant and whiskey and vodka tasting room that will be the first of its kind.

A favorite Park City pastime in the summer is mountain biking, so I signed us up for a class with Mike Broome, an expert mountain biker with Deer Valley Resort. Asked my biking level, I pondered a bit and responded intermediate; let me just emphasize, for the record, that a lifetime of road biking, even participating in a marathon, does not render one an intermediate mountain biker.  Mike outdid himself trying, but after my hour-long lesson, I’ve reclassified myself as a mountain biker wannabe. More on this later, too.

Suffice it to say, we earned our apres-biking activities. Lucky for us, Sunday brunch at the Stein Eriksen is a sumptuous event in itself – consistently voted the Best Brunch in the State, and with everything from seafood to petit fours to accompany traditional favorites like eggs benedict with salmon and maple-smoked bacon, it was plain to see why.

Our final surprise was the Park Silly Sunday Market, an open-air market peopled with artisans and performers as well as farmers and foodies. Amazingly, the founders set out to make this a zero-waste event, and they’ve largely succeeded. But this one, too, is worth a story of its own. So stay tuned, and I’ll fill you in on that later.

Meanwhile, some images my camera found along the way: