Th Heber Valley Railroad
By Carla Boecklin
One of the most entertaining, beautiful, and historic experiences around Park City isn’t on the slopes or in the shops. In fact, nestled in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains lies a slice of Americana available to tourists and locals alike. Perhaps you’ve seen it chugging along US-189 and wondered about it.
The Heber Valley Railroad, once known as the “Heber Creeper,” is an authentic heritage train system that carries passengers along 16 miles of track from Heber City through the Provo Canyon. Transport yourself into the past while riding in 1920’s-era coach railcars hauled by diesel locomotives. Lounge next to one of the many windows and catch a glimpse of a bald eagle, moose, or mountain lion from the windows. Watch people working and playing along the Provo River, Deer Creek Reservoir, and Heber Valley farmlands from the perspective of the rails. With the breathtaking Mount Timpanogos looming in the near distance, this dazzling ride provides picturesque panoramas of some of the most unique scenery in Utah.
Dating back to 1899, the HVRR has a rich history that accompanies its humbling views and ample wildlife gazing. Before the turn of the 20th century, pioneers heavily utilized the freight rail service, employing the line in their settling of the Heber Valley. Decades later, the line was abandoned, and the train risked becoming a blip in the U.S. railway history. According to Craig Lacey, the Executive Director of the HVRR, one of the last loads of the freight line was the hauling of the White House Christmas tree in 1968. Throughout 1968 and 1969, local citizens dedicated to preserving the train’s history succeeded in revitalizing the line, renaming it the “Heber Creeper” and reopening it as a recreational trail. Popularity waned again in the late 1980s, and again locals fought to save the line.
Through hope, perseverance, and persuasion, Heber residents procured funds from the Utah State Legislature to back the start-up of a new organization to operate the railroad. As a result, the Heber Valley Railroad Authority was developed in the early 1990s, and the organization still runs the line as a non- profit attraction.
HVRR isn’t host solely to amazing visual tableaus and unique wildlife. The ride is also fun, providing entertainment to the nearly 65,000 riders annually. Specialty excursions are widely popular, sprouting enthusiasm for holidays and family-oriented activities. For example, summertime dinner trips include the Comedy Murder Mystery and the Sunset BBQ Special, which run on select Saturday nights; and activity trains include the Raft n’ Rails, where riders are guided along the Class 1 rapids of the Provo River following a scenic train ride from the Heber depot. During the holidays, HVRR operates the North Pole Express, highlighted by regional choirs wandering train-to-train performing carols while hot chocolate and cookies are handed out by Cocoa Chefs.
Last but not least, the railway educates its passengers to enjoy “a slice of Americana which has otherwise disappeared.” The HVRR journey helps people experience history come alive through a first-hand encounter with the U.S. railroading days of yore. “It’s more than just a train ride,” said Lacey, “it’s history in motion.” Loco-motion, indeed.
The 2012 season kicks off with HVRR’s annual Day Out With Thomas adventure this Memorial Day Weekend (Friday, May 25 – Monday, May 28, 2012). Please join the HVRR for this event, which gives hopeful engineers of all ages the chance to ride with the classic storybook engine, Thomas the Tank Engine.
For ticket price information, schedules, and special ride information, visit hebervalleyrr.org or call 435-654-5601.