The following originally appeared in the June 19, 2008 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.
by Clint Thomsen
“Oh, I just can’t wait to catch a fish, Dad!”
5-year-old Weston was ecstatic. I pinched a tiny section off of the end of an earthworm and slid it onto his hook. A group of small bluegills loitered in the shallows, unspooked by our presence or the noisy group of swimmers nearby.
Angling for bluegills can be tricky because while they strike readily and repeatedly, the playful sunfish are notorious bait thieves. They’ll peck away at your bait in plain sight without ever taking the hook. It’s as if they’re perfectly aware that you’re trying to catch them but are happy to engage you in a game of underwater chicken.
It’s a game that’s fun to play if you’re willing to lose more often than win. But the beaming, SpongeBob-eyed Weston had saved up for months to buy his own Speed Racer fishing rod. For him, catching a bluegill tonight was a question of when, not if. Sunset was minutes away, and the pressure was on for this fishingly challenged dad.
The day’s weather would be best described as a ‘comfortable hot’, that early summer exciting hot that has you dropping all indoor plans to get out and catch the June groove. Normally on such a Saturday only one question enters my mind: Which remote corner of the desert will I explore today?
Unfortunately, gas was $4 per gallon, and with a few extended road trips planned for the coming weeks, I was reluctant to burn more fuel than necessary. The good news is that in Tooele County, adventure isn’t always distant or costly. Recreation opportunities mentioned recently in this newspaper provided a varied and cost-free agenda.
Our day had begun at the Benson Grist Mill, where the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers were holding their annual Pioneer Jubilee. Visiting the restored mill is a treat alone, but add the vibrancy of fiddlers and hay rides and you get a unique and rewarding family activity.
Built in 1854, the gristmill was the project of LDS apostle Ezra Taft Benson. The impressive wooden building sits atop a large stone foundation. Its superstructure was constructed by pounding leather-covered wooden pegs into thick beams- the same method used to build the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
The mill became the bustling focal point of E.T. City, a sprawling collection of settlements spanning from the mill north to Black Rock, and played a major role in the county’s economy well into the 20th Century.
After ceasing operations in the 1940’s, the mill sat abandoned and was slowly being picked apart by time, weather, and looters. In 1983, a group of volunteers began restoring the old mill. Today, the site is in excellent condition and is a venue for many community events, including the Pioneer Jubilee.
Volunteers gave tours of the mill while small booths sold crafts, cookies, and demonstrated pioneer tasks. Weston learned how to churn butter and 6-year-old Bridger scrubbed a shirt on a washboard.
“We need to go back to that cowboy place more often,” Bridger remarked as we walked back home.
It was nap time for the babies, which meant quiet time for mom and riding time for me. I grabbed my mountain bike and drove to the Sheep Lane terminus of the newly established Mid-Valley Trail. The 2.7 mile trail runs between Sheep Lane and Rogers Street. Race cars sped around the track at the nearby Motorsports Park as I started pedaling along the slightly inclined gravel path.
Admittedly, the trail isn’t the most exotic in the county, but I was amazed by the open space that Tooele Valley still affords. Between me and the Oquirrhs, it seemed, was nothing. The vast fields surrounding me fenced with wooden posts made me think of the valley’s early days. To the north was a picture-perfect view of the Great Salt Lake- from Antelope Island in the east to Promontory Point, to the khaki playas of Stansbury Island in the West.
I stopped at about 1.5 miles to listen to cicada song. It was almost as intense as it is in the Deep South. I hate bugs and bugs hate me. Yet their song for some reason gives me a feeling of extreme peace.
Shortly after this point, the trail curves due south to its terminus at Rogers Street. The large parking lot at this end might make it the preferable starting point for round-trippers. Relative straightness and a slight incline make the trail excellent for fast, safe riding. I rode the downhill return leg in my highest gear- both because of the rush and because I knew there was a little boy waiting for me at home, tackle box and Speed Racer fishing rod in hand.
The surface of Stansbury Lake was like glass. Pods of bluegill were visible along the shore. As Weston ran ahead to stake out a spot, I looked down as if to plead with them for a little cooperation. He had waited days for this opportunity and I couldn’t let him down. Cast after cast, the pesky fish meticulously nibble his hook clean.
“It’s ok, Dad.” He said as the sun began to set. “Fishing is more about casting and reeling it in. You don’t always need to catch something.”
I suggested he try one more cast. Once his bubble splashed down, it jerked almost immediately. Weston didn’t need me to tell him when to set the hook, and within seconds he landed his first unaided catch. Grinning from ear to ear, the boy admired his fish– which remarkably survived the trip home and now lives in our aquarium. Weston’s catch marked the end of a long and fulfilling day in our valley.
Information about events and history of the Benson Grist Mill can be found at http://www.bensonmill.org. Information on the Mid-Valley and other county trails can be found at http://www.co.tooele.ut.us/menutrails.htm. Fishing at Stansbury Lake is limited to residents and bonafide guests, but the Mill Pond may be fished by anybody with a regular license.