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Following a year unlike any other in 2020, the past year marked a return to normalcy in some respects, but also presented challenges and opportunities rarely or never seen before.

In no particular order, here are some of the stories that helped to define life in the Bear River Valley over the course of the past year, and will no doubt shape the experiences and perspectives of local residents over the course of 2022.

Historic drought, oppressive heat

A historically severe drought and persistently high summer temperatures made things difficult, especially for agricultural producers, who saw their water deliveries scaled back and their crop yields diminished.

Below-average snowfall last winter meant local reservoirs were at half of capacity or less for most of the year. The Bear River Canal Co. was forced to cut water deliveries to its customers by 25% or more, resulting in watering restrictions in Tremonton and other areas.

In Box Elder County and across Utah, yields of key crops like winter wheat and barley were down by double digits. Many farmers had to leave some of their fields fallow for the lack of water, and many of those that remained in production saw below-average yields due to the harsh weather.

The water level in the Great Salt Lake fell to a new low, breaking the previous record set in 1963.

Recent precipitation has helped, but forecasts call for most of Utah to remain in severe drought heading into 2022.

Growth comes with prosperity, pain

Results from the U.S. Census Bureau showed a nearly 23% increase in the population of Tremonton from 2010 to 2020, with most of that growth coming during the last half of the decade as the city is now on pace to surpass 10,000 residents sometime in 2022.

The 2020 Census numbers also showed positive population growth in all 16 Box Elder County cities and towns surveyed, as well as in unincorporated parts of the county.

The growth is evident in the high number of new housing developments springing up around Tremonton and throughout the Bear River Valley. One of the largest such projects, the Rivers Edge development on the east side of Tremonton, drew strong opposition from a large group of residents but was ultimately approved.

Perfect ‘10’ for BRHS softball

The Bear River High softball team delivered the school’s 10th state championship trophy and first since 2018, topping Tooele to claim its first state championship as a member of the Utah 4A classification.

The trophy was the result of a true team effort, but one play in particular stood out. With the Bears down 0-1 in the three-game series and facing possible elimination in the second game, senior outfielder Olivia Taylor caught a deep ball while diving over the fence to deny what would have been a home run for the Buffaloes. Videos of Taylor’s spectacular grab went viral on social media and news outlets around the state and the country.

Iconic building lost

On Tuesday, July 13, the Tremonton Fire Department responded to a report of a fire at the Daryl Building, located at 100 W. Main St. The first truck arrived within a few minutes, but firefighters soon discovered that the fire had already been burning inside for some time, weakening the aging structure and preventing crews from fighting it from the inside.

After clearing the apartments upstairs and the three salon businesses on the ground level to make sure no one was trapped inside, the fire had advanced to the point that Tremonton Fire Chief Robert LaCroix determined it wasn’t safe for anyone else to enter the structure. That’s when the call was made to fight it from the outside, meaning the building would have to be knocked down to minimize the threat to other structures nearby.

The Daryl Building was built in 1930 by David and Hilda Holmgren, who named it after the six-year-old son they lost to polio while the building was under construction.

Crews had to use so much water fighting the blaze — 3,000 gallons per minute at one point and about 1 million gallons altogether, according to LaCroix — that it put a strain on the city’s already tight water supply, prompting Tremonton officials to make a public plea for residents to hold off on watering their lawns and make other water conservation efforts for a couple of days while the firefighting effort continued.

Longtime football coach dismissed

Following an 0-10 season, Bear River High School parted ways with head football coach Chris Wise, who held the position for 20 years and guided the Bears to three state championships.

Two years after taking the helm in 2001, Wise’s varsity squad brought the 2003 state 3A championship — Bear River’s first — home to Garland, then did it again the following season, and yet again two years later. Wise became the school’s all-time winningest coach during his tenure.

Wise was let go in early November. BRHS announced in early December that it had hired Trampis Waite, a teacher and football coach at Eagle Point High School in Eagle Point, Oregon, a city about the same size as Tremonton, to fill the vacant position.

A monument to veterans

Those who attended this year’s Memorial Day ceremonies at Riverview Cemetery in Tremonton got their first glimpse of a new sculpture that will stand as a permanent reminder to all those who gave their lives in service of their country.

The centerpiece of this year’s event was a bronze sculpture incorporating stone and glass elements, featuring a bell hanging in the middle, and topped with a shining star commemorating the military men and women who died in the line of duty.

The tall, stately looking sculpture is the creation of Doug Adams, a local artist who has created thousands of bronze sculptures for communities around Utah and beyond.

Topping the monument, which stands some 12 feet tall atop its concrete base in the center of the cemetery, is a five-pointed, multi-faceted star beckoning all visitors.

Outsized impact of COVID continues

Casualties from the COVID-19 pandemic reached triple digits in Box Elder County, which continues to experience an above-average rate of death among those who catch the disease and below-average vaccination rates across the general population.

On Monday, Nov. 22, the Bear River Health Department reported the 100th death attributed to COVID-19 in the county — an average of more than one every week since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

While Box Elder isn’t the only area where the virus is still running rampant, the county continues to see a high rate of death relative to surrounding areas. The county’s deaths per 100,000 people figure — a means of evenly comparing areas with widely differing population totals — has been nearly three times that of Cache County.

Local health officials have attributed the high death rate to the overall health of the population, citing state data that show Box Elder residents are, on average, more likely to have underlying conditions that predispose someone to contracting a life-threatening case of COVID-19. Other factors include the fact that a higher proportion of cases are being detected in older residents, who on average are more likely to contract a fatal case; and the county’s low vaccination rate compared with Utah as a whole.

Jobless rate hits all-time low

Unemployment in Box Elder County dipped below 2% percent in October — the first time it has done so since the State of Utah started tracking such numbers at the county level.

The latest figures from the Utah Department of Workforce Services pegged the unemployment rate in Box Elder at 1.9%. The local job market continued to tighten in November, when the county jobless rate fell to 1.8%.

Utah’s statewide unemployment rate also hit a record low, falling to 2.2% in October and 2.1% in November.

Elections change local leadership

Both Tremonton and Garland head into 2021 with new mayors following November’s municipal elections.

The election results were anticlimactic in Tremonton, where city councilmember Lyle Holmgren ran unopposed for the mayor’s seat opened up by Roger Fridal’s decision to retire from the position.

The same couldn’t be said in Garland, where incumbent mayor Todd Miller was unseated by councilmember and former police chief Linda Bourne in what many viewed as an upset. Bourne becomes the city’s first female mayor.

Turnout among the approximately 23,000 registered municipal voters across the county in a varied widely as a dozen cities and towns held elections. Some communities where races attracted multiple candidates saw up to 70% of registered voters cast their ballots, while those with less competition saw more tepid turnout.

Big celebrations return to relative normalcy

After being canceled altogether in 2020, the annual anniversary celebration of the completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory returned to much fanfare, complete with the reenactments and other festivities that locals and visitors alike have come to adore.

The Box Elder County Fair also returned to full steam after a pandemic-limited event in 2020. The Junior Livestock Auction, Golden Spike Rodeo and other mainstays lived up to their billing as throngs of people flocked to annual end-of-summer celebration.

Threats prompt school closures

Eight public schools in northern Box Elder County were closed Monday, Dec. 13, and classes were moved to online learning as authorities investigated “several potential threats” made on social media stemming from a written threat of possible gun violence discovered on a bathroom wall at Bear River High School.

Several law enforcement agencies swept through local schools checking for explosives as a precaution. The Tremonton-Garland Police Department stepped up its presence at local schools in the wake of the incidents as in-person classes resumed the next day.

An investigation has resulted in pending charges against two juvenile students at BRHS. The Box Elder County Attorney’s office was still preparing to formally file charges as of publication of this article.

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