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For Paul Dart, it's been home on the range for half a century

Published July 22, 2013 9:39 pm

Stansbury Mountains • Range caretaker Paul Dart's duties include checking on grass health, watching for fires, squatters.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Grantsville • Some days he works on horseback.

But most days, Paul Dart tools around the few washboardy roads of the Stansbury Mountains in a U.S. Forest Service pickup, checking on cows and the grasses they eat, largely, but also dealing with weekend campers and homeless squatters, ATV riders and the occasional marijuana farmer.

"I see new things every day," Dart said, even after 52 years on the job.

"He's our eyes and ears in the Stansburys," said Dart's Forest Service boss, Salt Lake District Ranger Cathy Kahlow, referring to the mountains on the Tooele Valley's west side.

"Damned near 72 years old now," Dart has plenty of duties as the agency's sole daily caretaker in the 25-mile-long range. Watching for fires. Cleaning up trash. Checking trails. Gently encouraging squatters to move on.

But his primary job is to check on the health of grasses in Forest Service grazing allotments and to let ranchers know when it's time to move their cows to the next pasture over. He also informs them when cows get loose and wander into places they're not supposed to be, like sensitive streambeds flowing from the semi-arid hillsides.

"You see the cows so much you almost know who they are and who owns them," Dart chuckled after chasing a brown heifer out of a thicket along South Willow Creek, whose headwaters are in Deseret Peak Wilderness Area.

Right away, he recognized that this AWOL cow belonged to somebody named Anderson, which was good. "Anderson has a cowboy who's real talented," Dart said, clearly eager to get on his horse and help with a roundup.

He's been doing work like this since he was 19 and got a summer job fighting fires, building fences and doing range studies for his hometown Spanish Fork Ranger District. He transferred to the agency's Tooele office after graduating from Brigham Young University and landing a real job — as a teacher.

For years, until his 2001 retirement, Dart taught science and physical education at Tooele High School, where he also coached wrestling and served as the athletic director. But each summer and on many weekends year-round, he headed into the hills to conduct range-utilization studies and to help keep the land from being abused.

"This is my office. I have all of my stuff here," he said recently, pointing to the binoculars, handheld radio, gloves and cowboy hat on his pickup's dashboard. Dart works 10-hour days, four days a week, touring the range from Timpie Springs on the north to Johnson Pass on the south, spending a few nights here and there at a 1930s-era Forest Service cabin that his wife, Geneal, maintains near South Willow Canyon's highest campground.

"We quite like it here," Dart said, watching a dozen hummingbirds flit around feeders hanging from the front porch of the white, clapboard building, with a barn in the back and a corral occupied by two horses. "We bring the grandkids and have picnics up here."

Most days on the job he's by himself. "My wife needs me out of the house," he joked. But he doesn't mind solitude. "I've been out in the outdoors forever and ever. If I get lonesome, I go to town. But that doesn't happen very often."

And when he's on horseback inspections, Dart often has been accompanied these past few years by his granddaughter, Baylee Barrus, now 18, of Grantsville. "She's a cowgirl," he beamed, recollecting their many trips along the Stansbury Front Trail, a dirt path for hikers, two-wheel riders and horses that extends the length of the Stansburys. "It's my I-15."

For her part, Barrus could not have asked for a better childhood mentor.

"I appreciate the opportunity to ride with him. There's been a lot of grandfather/granddaughter bonding time," she said, noting that her grandfather "knows that mountain range more than any other person I've ever met. I've heard countless stories about things that happened there lots and lots of years ago."

Dart is especially proud of being hurt only once in his half century on the job. It happened in 2010, when he was riding into South Willow Canyon to do a range utilization study, accompanied fortunately by a buddy on a mule.

"My horse, he just folded up," Dart recounted. "He reared up and sat down, slam-dunked me. Twisted my foot underneath and broke my ankle."

Over the decades, Dart feels like the Forest Service has protected its lands fairly well. "We're holding our own. Some places are better, some are worse," he said, the greatest challenge being the carelessness of some all-terrain vehicle drivers.

"There are more ATV trails than ever," he said. "Roads that go nowhere are a pain. I don't know what we're going to do to keep ATVs on the road. We don't have enough people to patrol all the time."

On the other hand, Dart finds the ranchers and recreationists he encounters now to be more conscientious about protecting the environment than the colorful individualists who roamed the range years ago.

All in all, he added, "this has been a pretty good job, … a good way to spend my retirement."

mikeg@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribmikeg —

Stansbury Mountains

Name • Honors Capt. Howard Stansbury of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, who led an 1849 survey of the Great Salt Lake and its surroundings.

Geology • The Stansbury Mountains are a massif, a compact, uplifted block of old rocks resistant to erosion and bounded by faults — similar to the Teton Range in Wyoming.

Highlight • Deseret Peak, elevation 11,031 feet. A 25,500-acre wilderness area surrounding the peak was created by Congress in 1984.

Other attractions • South Willow Canyon has six campgrounds; informal camping sites are scattered throughout other drainages. The 23-mile Stansbury Front Trail traverses the range. —

Paul Dart

Age • 71.

Family • Wife Geneal was a Tooele Army Depot budget analyst. They have four children, 13 grandchildren.

Employment • Retired science and physical education teacher at Tooele High School, where he was also wrestling coach and athletic director.

Passions • Fan of Atlanta Braves since they were in Boston and Milwaukee, particularly Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews.