Tom Wharton: Always evolving, yet still focused on Utah

This is an archived article that was published on in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I wrote my first opinion column for the Granite High Granitian when I was 17. I wrote a sports column for the University of Utah's Daily Chronicle a few years later while in college. And The Tribune allowed me to offer views on high-school sports starting in 1971.

I've been pretty much a columnist ever since, sometimes writing sports, other times outdoors and the environment and, for a while, a column about rural Utah.

Being able to express an opinion is a privilege for a journalist, a responsibility not taken lightly.

These columns have evolved over the years, often depending on the desires of editors. Some bosses wanted more analytical pieces, a few asked for hard-hitting screeds and others requested more people-oriented profiles.

Starting this week, my column evolves again.

Instead of appearing in the outdoors pages as it has for the past few years, the column is moving to the Thursday Close-Up editions. Three different columns will appear in five of the geographic-oriented sections, and all will be posted on The Tribune's website throughout the week.

They mark a new challenge because most of my time at this newspaper — a career that began in August 1970 — has been spent writing about rural parts of the state. I sometimes joke about knowing more about Helper than Herriman, more about Beaver than Bountiful and more about the west desert than West Jordan.

The new columns, which will begin appearing this week, will cover Salt Lake, Davis, Tooele and Weber counties and Park City. Some will offer opinion and insight. Many will profile interesting people, businesses and places that make the Wasatch Front unique. Because we columnists often write what we know, expect more than a few to be on parks, nature, the outdoors, local history and high-school sports.

Leaving the familiar for the less familiar causes mixed emotions.

I feel strongly about the importance of Utah's rural communities. They are filled with colorful stories, people scratching out a living in a place they love and whose ancestors were among the original settlers.

There also are certain environmental principles that outdoor lovers of all stripes need to protect.

These include the free and unfettered access to our precious public lands; the value of having public places where citizens can hunt and fish; the importance of our national and state parks and monuments, which add to our quality of life; and the benefits of leaving large tracts of land protected for future generations.

There must be ways for everyone to share. We need to have wilderness for those who seek solitude. But there also should be places for off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, horseback riders, mountain bikers, climbers, skiers and families looking for a place to car camp. There need to be athletic fields and public swimming pools but also expanses of open spaces and vacant lots.

We need waters for fly fishers and bait anglers, places for trophy hunters and those who hunt for recreation and food. We need ski areas in our local canyons but can't allow them to take over at the expense of our precious watershed or those seeking different experiences.

In short, we need careful planning and that ever-elusive balance that allows for resource development but also protects the quality of life that makes Utah one of the world's most spectacular places to live.

I hope that over the years my outdoor columns have contributed to this dialogue and that future columns will both celebrate what makes us unique and create more discussion about where we are going in the future.