Park City parts with popular ‘Church of Dirt’
Oct 18, 2023, 6:23 PM | Updated: 7:11 pm
PARK CITY — City leaders said bad behavior from some brides and grooms have forced them to close down a wedding venue.
The so-called “Church of Dirt” sits in the city’s Bonanza Flat conservation area.
The Park City Council voted to close the venue earlier this month citing issues with misuse and abuse of the area.
“What we see up there on the weekends is it’s very, very popular especially during the fall leaf peeping times, and the ceremonies are also on the weekends,” Trails and Open Space Program Manager Heinrich Deters said.
How the ‘Church of Dirt’ first came about
The site was first constructed by Scott House and his wife for their 2012 wedding.
In a text message to KSL, House wrote, “No permission was obtained, and like a lot of us in those days, we just figured we’d ask for forgiveness if we got caught.”
House said they intended to take down the homemade altar, but got carried away with their reception, then went on their honeymoon. He said when they returned, they found it was still standing and decided to leave it.
Since then, it’s become an unofficial, free wedding venue in high demand.
Couples scratch or paint their name on rock or a piece wood to reserve their wedding date and time. There’s also a planner on site.
Salt Lake City couple Jose Manzo and Mandy Harmon tied the knot at the outdoor venue on Oct. 6, 2023.
“We actually booked a plan B because we were nervous that somehow we missed someone else was going to get married,” Manzo said.
The couple said they love the outdoors, and the nonexistent price tag was a huge plus.
“I think we got really lucky because that was a dream location for us to have it,” Manzo said.
They were one of the last couples to exchange vows there before it was announced it would close.
“The use just grew and grew,” Deters said. “We had numerous reports of, what I have been calling, sort of the privatization of the area.”
Site never approved by city
Deters said wedding planners, caterers and tents would be brought to the venue. He said the city never permitted or approved the site as a wedding venue.
He said after monitoring the use since 2017, the city decided they could no longer police issues that stemmed from the unofficial wedding venue.
“People were actually cordoning off the trailhead up there and basically saying, private event you can’t park up here, and even stopping the trail users,” Deters said.
He said there was some conflict over overlapping wedding dates and times, litter would be left over and the parking lot, available for trail user, was often at capacity.
Park City resident Lenny Leslie has had several friends tie the knot at the Church of Dirt.
“I can’t imagine taking something like this away from the community,” he said.
Leslie said he thinks there needs to be more education for people visiting from out of town, but argues locals should still have access to the site.
“If there are people that are abusing it or not following with the regulations, or just being a good neighbor or good part of the community, they need to change that,” he said. “They need to put in some rules.”
Manzo said parking was a difficulty when he and his wife were planning their wedding. He said they visited the venue one week before their ceremony.
“It seemed very chaotic because it’s a very trafficked area so we were planning how we were going to transport all our guests there,” he said. “We didn’t want to make much of a mess.”
Site became unmanageable
Deters said the influx of visitors ultimately made the site unmanageable.
“We have rangers that are up there and they talk to people,” he said. “Their enforcement ability is basically parking enforcement.”
He said it’s unfortunate the city had to make the decision.
“Probably a few bad apples ruin it for everybody, so that’s what we have to manage to sometimes and it’s unfortunate,” Deters said.
He said the city will take down the altar and pews in November of December when access to the upper part of the road closes.
Leslie said he’ll be sad to see it go.
“To get rid of it I think is a real loss to our Park City community,” he said. “It takes away from the core of who we are.”
House said, for his family and friends, “the site will always be the Church of Dirt regardless of the structures placed there or its recognition.”
The city said it will be contacting the couples who reserved dates in the coming months and years to let them know they will need to find another venue.