Infusing Life Into a Historic Town
Helper is getting a lot of help these days. A passionate posse of boosters is infusing life, art and money into this historic-town-turned-artist-community sitting in the shadows of the sandstone Book Cliffs eight miles north of Price.
“Our town is experiencing a renaissance right now,” says Cindy Lund, Helper resident and one of the town’s biggest advocates. “Some are predicting it will be a destination in and of itself in the next three to five years”
“Professional visitor” Roger Brooks visited Carbon County last year and raved about Helper’s recent beautification efforts, calling the town one of the greatest examples of a community-wide effort that is making a real difference.
A few of those efforts and plans include The Helper Project, a nonprofit created by Anne and Roy Jespersen to foster the town’s revitalization, beautification and promote cultural connections for the city. Tom and Cindy Lund recently completed Castle Gate RV Park with 106 sites along the river to host the growing influx of visitors coming to town. There are several new Airbnbs on Main Street and around town with additional new construction and renovations underway. There is an improved river walk, and now a boulder park for kids.
“People don’t need to drive all the way to Moab to recreate,” Lund says. “Helper provides access to hiking, biking and ATV trails directly from town, plus so much more.”
A Place to Wander
Intriguing rock formations, cliffs, boulders and forest line Utah Highway 6 en route to Helper through Price Canyon, making it a beautiful drive. Travel time from Salt Lake City is about two hours, with Helper midway between it and Moab.
A fun place to start your day in Helper is the Price River Walk. The path winds through cottonwood trees, has plaques about the area’s ghost towns, a swinging bridge, picnic tables and benches, a spacious wooden deck overlooking the river, and a walkable labyrinth. Bring your own tube if you want to float instead of walk.
Back on Main Street, owner Marsha Ellington popped out from the kitchen of Marsha’s Sammich Shop & Bakery to say hi just as we finished eating her homemade pecan sticky buns. “I’m world-famous,” she announced. “That couple who just left were from Germany. People from all over the world have eaten here.”
Remarkably for such a small town, 12 art galleries and studios line Main Street. Other Main Street attractions include the fascinating Western Mining and Railroad Museum, historic Strand Theatre building, Happiness Within coffee shop, the Balanced Rock restaurant, Three Little Llamas shop, and a neon Zions Bank ATM sign in the shape of a train — an icon in the city.
Town of Artists
“We have some big-name artists here who sell their work around the country,” Lund says proudly. “Artists like Ben Steele, David Dornan, David Johnsen and Steven Lee Adams.”
Every month year-round, these galleries and working studios open from 6-9 p.m. as part of the town’s First Friday event, featuring established as well as emerging artists, food vendors, entertainment and kids’ activities. The 25th Helper Art, Music and Film Festival is Aug. 15-18.
A former art professor at the University of Utah, Dornan was one of the first artists to arrive in Helper about 20 years ago. He purchased decaying buildings, spruced them up and opened an art school. Some of his students followed suit, also buying property while still affordable. As artists begat more artists, Helper gradually metamorphized into the art community it is today.
“There’s a camaraderie and energy here,” Dornan says. “Expenses are manageable, and there is a lot of passion. Helper is an isolated town so there aren’t a lot of distractions, which makes it perfect for artists. They can be alone but also have peers.”
Gary DeVincent is another of the town’s boosters. He lovingly restored the town’s whimsical bookends — a gas station sitting on each end of town — one authentic, the other not. Both are charming. Recently, he moved his collection of vintage motorcycles into a remodeled building on Main Street and opened a Motorcycle Museum.
Currently, The Spike 150 Art Exhibition of Helper’s history in railroad, mining and landscape is being shown at the Anne Jesperson Fine Art Gallery in conjunction with the statewide Golden Spike 150th anniversary celebration. The exhibition continues through July.
“Zions Bank has been an invaluable partner in our community,” Anne Jesperson says. “They have been a major sponsor of the Helper Arts and Music Festival, helped fund art exhibitions featuring Helper artists as well as some of Utah’s most prestigious artists, and they recently brought the Youth Symphony Orchestra to Helper for a live performance.”
Next time you’re heading east on Utah Highway 6, take the Helper exit and see for yourself what the buzz is about. Spend an hour or spend a day, you won’t be disappointed. You may end up booking your next vacation there.