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1,500 bicyclists pedal to Jackson

America’s longest, one-day sanctioned bicycle race pedaled through Franklin County Saturday, Sept. 7, when 1,500 bicyclists from across the U.S. and two foreign countries pedal their way from Logan through Franklin County to Jackson Hole.

Of those 1,500, two were from Franklin, three from Preston, and four from Weston.

The 37th annual LoToJa Classic climbs three mountain passes and almost 10,000 vertical feet of riding uphill.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been racing for years, or are new to the sport, crossing LoToJa’s finish line is known to change lives,” said LoToJa Race Director Brent Chambers. “It is a challenging and beautiful event that presents a huge goal for every cyclist who enters. They must properly train and dig deep — and that includes those who just want to finish and cross LoToJa off their bucket list.”

Chambers, who has been race director and owner of LoToJa since 1998, said the race continues to be one of America’s most popular cycling events. Several thousand register every April, but less than 2,000 are accepted to keep LoToJa as a high quality cycling experience with a premium on safety.

LoToJa began in 1983 by two Logan cyclists who wanted to create an enduring one-day bicycle race. They modeled it after European professional cycling’s five grand monuments: Milan-San Remo, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy.

In LoToJa’s first year, seven cyclists competed and crossed the finish line near downtown Jackson. The winner was Bob VanSlyke of Logan who finished the 186-mile course in nine hours. In 1986 the finish line was moved to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which pushed the race’s distance to over 200 miles.

Since then LoToJa has become one of America’s premier amateur cycling races. It has also become a major fundraiser for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation and for other health-related organizations. More than $2 million has been contributed to Huntsman alone by cyclists and sponsors. LoToJa also sponsors local fund-raising groups that assist the event. For example, the young women of the Preston 3rd Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped with bicyclists taking on LoToJa in relays at the station set up at the Preston 3rd/10th Ward building. The girls earn funds to help pay for their activities.

This year’s race will have nearly 700 course volunteers, which includes 150 Ham radio operators from the Bridgerland Amateur Radio Club, he said. They provide uninterrupted communication throughout LoToJa’s mountainous and remote terrain. Their help was appreciated by at least two participants whose bid for Jackson ended in an accident in Franklin County.

Chambers stressed LoToJa wouldn’t be possible without its volunteers and the cooperation and assistance it receives from businesses, civic leaders, public safety officials and community volunteers.

LoToJa’s top goal is to have a safe race for all cyclists, support crews and volunteers.

To increase safety on race day, the Idaho Transportation Department restricted eastbound traffic on state Route 36 north of Preston between Riverdale and Ovid from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastbound traffic on US-89 between Montpelier and the Wyoming state line was also restricted.

LoToJa cyclists, plus their support crews, well-wishers, event staff and volunteers, represent an entourage of approximately 4,000 people, Chambers said. Several of the communities through which LoToJa passes organize roadside fundraisers to capitalize on the influx of visitors. The host cities of Logan and Jackson also enjoy a welcomed economic boost from the race, specifically restaurants and hotels.

According to Chambers, LoToJa is the longest one-day bicycle race in America that is sanctioned by USA Cycling, the sport’s governing body. It is estimated more than 19,000 cyclists have pedaled more than 6 million miles during LoToJa since the race began in 1983.

Pihlajisto takes US Oath of Allegiance

Arto Pihlajisto, Cub River, was among the 42 people who gathered at Yellowstone National Park last Thursday, Sept. 5, to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Untied States that makes them U.S. citizens. The candidates came from Australia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, China, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Moldova, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine, and have been living in Idaho, Utah Wyoming and Montana.

Pihlajisto, who has lived in Franklin County since 1995, said he decided to become a U.S. resident because of his love for the country. “I love what the country stands for as far as what the constitution says regarding the principles of liberty,” he said.

He first came to the United States as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving in Salt Lake and Southern Utah. He and another young man from his home town, Finland, both received missionary calls to southern Utah. “That’s where I really fell in love with not just the country, but the people of the Rocky Mountain West,” he said. “I don’t think you could find a better place in the world.” By the time he arrived home following his mission, he had already been accepted to study at what was then called Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho.

During that time, he got a job running the Snake River for the Grand Teton National Park, and met Rebecca King of Moore, Idaho, while attending a family home evening event at church. They soon married, then began attending school at Utah State University, where he graduated in finance and earned his pilot’s license.

When the time came that they wanted to purchase a home, they found themselves in Franklin County. They raise alfalfa on their farm in Preston and have a home in Cub River. The couple has made a life in real estate and entrepreneurial ventures. The couple built and sold American Lending, and now operates Global Trading and Investing — a consulting company, and Treble Hammocks.

“This is the best place in the world,” he said of his new country. “Having the liberty to make whatever you want out of your life,” is why he feels that way. “You can pursue your dreams. What I’ve achieved over here I could never have done in Finland. I wanted to be a business owner. In Europe, you’d be taxed to death, just like Obama tried to do,” he said.

Before making the decision to become an American Citizen, Arto and Rebecca spent some time back in Finland as residents. After six months, they returned to the United States. Arto was dismayed with how far Europe has gone towards socialism.

“What I knew of Finland was through the eyes of a child. I realized how much red tape that is part of socialism. People here that think American should go towards socialism — they should go live there for a while.” Arto laughs when he is told that a recent United Nations report named Finland the “happiest nation” in the world.

“That’s a bunch of socialist propaganda,” he said. “They are dirt poor, have the highest rates of depression and suicide and sugar diabetes.”

Arto is passionate about his new nationality because of his love of liberty. Recently, he was asked to be the president of a new Franklin County Chapter of the John Birch Society. He and Rebecca spent some time investigating what the society promoted, and joined after determining its support of the constitution. They have planned an open house for the society for Oct. 11, he said.

As for the ceremony, “they literally pulled out all the stops,” said Arto. Everybody just keep telling me that I sound like an American and believe like an American, and wholeheartedly support everything that this country stands for, so, this has been home for a long time, and it was just time to make it official,” he said.

“It’s about time,” laughed Rebecca, but she too was impressed with the ceremony. “It was amazing how stirring it was while the oath was going on. Just the way it swelled your heart ... how you feel when something good is happening,” she said.

The couple headed straight to Denver, and Monday Arto held in his hand, “a brand new US Passport with my name. It warms my heart,” he said.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalized more than 757,000 people in fiscal year 2018.

National designation of heritage area would mean significant funding

The Bear River Heritage Area, which includes Franklin County, is seeking national designation as an historically and resource-rich area in the nation. To help people and organizations understand what that means, a Discovery Day has been set for 10-11:30 a.m., Monday, Sept. 16, at the Larsen — Sant Library, to share the accomplishments, mission and goals of the group. A question-and-answer period will be included on the agenda.

National designation would mean local heritage sites could qualify for national grants. The whole region can receive as $100,000 or more for heritage sites and buildings, creating experiences and exhibits, tourism initiatives and more.

“If people care about what we have been doing for last 18 years, by highlighting this area, then we want to be able to keep doing it,” said Lisa Duskin-Goede, coordinator of the BRHA, who has promoted the area for that time on a budget of $6,000-$8,000. “It’s not sustainable like it has been. (National designation) provides us the most stable way to continue what we’ve been doing,” she said.

Representatives from the Great Basin National Heritage Area and from Congressman James Risch’s office, and other guests from city and county government will be on hand to discuss the process of national designation.

Heritage tourism is, according to The National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States, “traveling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past,” and “heritage tourism can include cultural, historic and natural resources.”

Representatives and the general public from northern Utah and southeastern Idaho are encouraged to attend.

The Bear River Heritage Area was created in 2000 as a way of supporting and protecting local heritage resources and increasing economic development through heritage tourism.

The BRHA includes seven counties: Franklin, Bear Lake, Caribou and Oneida in southeastern Idaho, and Box Elder, Cache and Rich in northern Utah, all located, in whole or in part, within the Bear River drainage area.

In Franklin County alone, there are several historic sites, areas, events and resources that help today’s residents and visitors appreciate the people of the past for the community that exists today.

Some of them are the Bear River Massacre site, the Oneida Stake Academy building, the Bear River on Oneida Narrows, the Franklin Relic Hall and Historic District (Hatch and Doney Homes and the old Franklin City Hall and Jail), the DUP Pioneer Museum, Century farms and ranches, That Famous Preston Night rodeo, historic barns which were catalogued into a recent guide by Myrna Fuller and the Bear River Heritage Area. It also includes local businesses over 60 years old, such as West Motor, the Owl Billiards, the Preston Citizen, Arctic Circle, Worm Creek Opera House, Hansen Glass & Paint, Dear Cliff Inn, U & I Furniture, Pop ‘n Pins Bowling Alley, Webb Funeral Home and Papa Jay’s Store.

National designation will not give the BRHA any power to tell privately-owned properties and businesses, what they can and can’t do, said Duskin-Goede. “We’re just trying to organize a grass-roots effort to help preserve our history and encourage heritage related businesses to come in,” she said.

There are two national heritage areas in Utah — The Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area in central and southern Utah, and the Great Basins National Heritage Area that spans the Utah/Nevada border.

Duskin-Goede and her associates have been trying to garner the national designation since 2000, but until all lawmakers agree to do so, that won’t be possible. She attributes the difficulty in getting their consensus to fears it could infringe on private property ownership and local zoning capabilities.

If local governments support the idea, and the BRHA attains the national designation, those federal funds can be helpful in raising additional funding for heritage sites. For example, the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area leverages the federal funding to bring in $19 for every federal dollar that comes into the area.

National designation will help the BRHA to obtain both federal and non-federal grants to aid heritage groups in preserving historic main streets, developing historical sites, provide exhibits, gather public input and local histories, preserve cemeteries and create new interpretive centers, for example.

The BRHA attracts just over 1.1 million visitors from outside the region, said Duskin-Goede. Those visitors spend between an estimated $41.5 million to $75.5 million within the region. Because of the economic impact of outside tourism, over 130 government and private entities within the BRHA area have supported the effort to provide greater preservation and economic opportunity for partners in the Bear River Region since 2001.

This national designation would provide more support for that cause, she said.

Weston goes Gaga

The first item on Weston’s September City Council Meeting was Jack Olson’s Eagle Scout project. He wants to build a Gaga ball pit, which is a small octagonal arena and is a variation of dodge ball. In fact, that is the very ball it is played with. Players try to hit each other with the ball without picking it up or grabbing it, the goal of which is to be the last person standing to win.

Two of these arenas, made from wood, have been set up at the Harold B. Lee Elementary playground. The project will cost between $650-$1000. Olson plans to build them out of higher quality materials. The council suggested the $1,000 from the mayor’s challenge last October, be used to fund the project. One of the stipulations for the money was that it be used to help members of the community be more physically active.

The mayor reported that the water tests have comeback clean yet again. The city may be looking into a tree trimming service to reduce the size of some that have gotten a little too big along First East and First South.

The water tank project can now be completed. The hearing on the water rights for the new emergency well near the new tank came back in the city’s favor. The hope now is that the necessary work can be done before the snow falls. At time of writing Jay Fonnesbeck, who owns the land, has until Sept. 9, to appeal the decision in district court with the legal aid of an attorney.

Because the Woodward Country Store in Weston is a Sinclair gas station, owner Van Woodward has applied for the iconic green Apatosaurus to stand in front of the pumps. The council approved the idea. Woodward said the new display were two-fold: to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the store and the other was because his grandson kept telling him, “Grandpa you need a ‘dinosour.’” The council retold an incident 14 years ago in Smithfield, when that Sinclair’s Apatosaurus wound up on the roof of the local McDonalds restaurant.

Weston’s new dinosaur “will be on a leash,” Mayor Garner chuckled.

Note: The 3% levy noted in the August report of the Weston City Council was not to help pay for the water tank it was for a separate matter entirely. The Citizen regrets the error and any grief it caused.