Smithsonian traveling exhibit highlights change in Utahs rural areas

Sep 16, 2023, 4:32 PM | Updated: Sep 18, 2023, 5:07 am

COALVILLE, Utah — There are many places in Utah where someone can still find that small hometown feeling, where people like Tom Chappell are proud of their rural roots.

“Seventy-one years. Coalville really means a lot to me,” Chappell said. “My great-great-great granddad came here. Homesteaded here.”

In the past few years, though, he has noticed the inevitable change many rural areas are starting to see.

“You know, we have got development, and the people that have moved here have been good people. Contributed to the community. So, I am not really against it, but I would like to keep my rural freedoms if that’s a good way to put that,” Chappell said.

It’s exactly what a new exhibit at the Ledges Event Center in Coalville is all about.

“It is a big deal,” said Coalville resident Lynn Wood. “I don’t believe that we’ve ever had a Smithsonian exhibit here in Coalville.”

The Smithsonian’s “Crossroads” exhibit in Coalville, Utah. (KSL TV)

One of the biggest names when it comes to museums, the Smithsonian selected Coalville as one of the locations for its national traveling exhibit, called Crossroads, which highlights change in rural America.

“Rural communities are changing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We tend to always think it’s a bad thing, but it can be a good thing,” Wood said. “It’s just a matter of listening to each other.”

Wood is also the project director of the Coalville exhibit. She understands how rural main streets are changing, how tough it is for many mom and pops to stay in business, and also the importance of making sure local voices are heard whenever outside voices start coming in.

“One of the struggles is how do we welcome new people, new ideas, into our community but keep that rural identity,” she said.

The Smithsonian’s “Crossroads” exhibit in Coalville, Utah. (KSL TV)

It is a question some Utah communities, like St. George, Lehi and even Moab have been trying to answer as growth has started changing their identities.

“They have their challenges,” Chappell said.

Chappell hopes Coalville doesn’t get as big as those communities, but he figures some change might be a good thing.

“Everyone needs a place to live,” he said. “Again, I am not against development. But we would like to see it done in a smart way.”

The exhibit will remain in Coalville until Oct. 29. From there, it will move to other Utah communities during its tour, such as Heber City, Price, Green River, Leeds, Ephraim, Brigham City and Blanding.

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Smithsonian traveling exhibit highlights change in Utahs rural areas