New facility has potential for economic impact.
By Dahl Erickson
Star Valley residents were both stunned and surprised as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the future construction of a temple site in the area.
According to the LDS Church, there are currently 135 temples in operation with 13 more under construction and 18 that have been announced to be built in the future. With so many differing locations for these buildings, it is a rare occasion for such a facility to be built in such a rural area. With the lack of one centralized incorporated town, Star Valley will almost certainly be the world’s smallest population to boast such an addition.
Some recent smaller population areas to add a temple include Snowflake, Ariz., with a population of between 5,500 and 6,000 residents and Vernal, Utah which has just over 9,000 citizens.
According to Ken Bassett, City Manager for Vernal, the temple will likely bring an underappreciated positive impact to the area in a variety of ways.
“It is a great opportunity for the area,” he said in a telephone interview with the Independent. “When it was announced in Vernal, it was very warmly received. We had no clue that it would ever happen.”
Bassett explained that the Vernal facility was converted from an old tabernacle which had fallen into disrepair and no longer met building codes. Because of the historic nature of the building, the community was excited to see the process move forward. Bassett also said that Vernal differs from other Utah towns in terms of LDS church membership and that the city was about “50-50” in terms of LDS member and those of other faiths when the temple was dedicated in 1997.
The mayor at the time, a member of the Catholic church, spent a considerable amount of time with the LDS Church’s Temple Division to better understand the nature of the structure.
“I would emphasize that the temple division has a lot of bright individuals and respect the area in which they are working with and will respect and make sure all the area criteria is met,” Bassett continued. “They bend over backwards to make sure that this property will be taken care of. I have found that regardless of the location, the temple division is very respectful and knowledgeable about how things should work and they pay their fees and do things the right way.”
The new building is expected to draw temple patrons from the region. Depending upon future designations, church members from other towns such as Cokeville, Kemmerer and Montpelier will almost certainly be included in the Star Valley temple district with other cities under consideration.
“When you look at that, it is more people coming into your community,” said Bassett. “I think local merchants get excited because usually your patronage is a clean crowd that spends money and doesn’t cause problems. More hotel visits, more restaurants, and I think the retail community was very excited. Many [of our retail community] were not members and they just knew that it was going to draw more people into their business and it certainly has. We are grateful for that. The church does an incredible job with the finest contractors and the finest materials. I sure it will be beautiful. We really had no growing pains. A few have even moved to Vernal who wanted to be in a rural area with a temple. During the winter this is going to be a great blessing to a lot of people in Star Valley.”
It is estimated that approximately 100 couples perform temple work in Idaho Falls each week from the Star Valley area.
As well as adding to the LDS Church’s overall total, the Star Valley temple will be the first such structure within the State of Wyoming. Currently, members of the LDS faith travel outside of the Cowboy State to attend the temple. Some of the closest to the border include Billings, Mont., Logan, Utah, Idaho Falls, Idaho and Rexburg, Idaho. A temple is currently under construction in Fort Collins, Colo., which would make it the closest to the border in terms of mileage until the Star Valley site is completed.