Area: 1,191 square miles; population: 15,215 (in 2000); county seat: Heber City; origin of county name: from the Wasatch Mountains; principal cities/towns: Heber City, Midway, Charleston, Wallsburg; economy: hay, livestock, recreation; points of interest: Strawberry, Deer Creek, and Jordanelle reservoirs, Wasatch Mountain State Park, Wasatch LDS Tabernacle in Heber City, Heber Creeper, historic homes in Midway. Heber Valley, one of several back valleys in the Wasatch Mountains, is often called Utah’s Switzerland because of the rugged beauty of Mount Timpanogos located to the west, its climate, and a large population of Swiss that settled in Midway. The county’s highest peaks top 10,000 feet, and over half of the land is 7,500 feet above sea level. The climate zone, classified as undifferentiated highlands, offers cool summers and very cold winters. The average annual precipitation is about sixteen inches.
The county is divided into two watersheds–the Colorado and the Great Basin drainage systems. Because of its annual precipitation and its location between the Uinta and Wasatch mountains, Heber Valley is well endowed with water. Flowing from the east are Daniels, Lake Fork, and Center creeks. From the north and northeast is the Provo River. From the west Snake Creek drains a central portion of the Wasatch Mountains. Two additional sources of water are man-made: the Ontario Drain Tunnel west of Keetley drains many of the Park City mines, and the Weber/Provo diversion canal diverts water from the Weber across the Kamas prairie in Summit County to the Provo River in Wasatch County.
Prior to the 1850s, Heber Valley was an important summer hunting ground for the Timpanogos Utes living around Utah Lake. The first white men to visit the county were members of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition in 1776. They skirted Heber Valley, traveling down Diamond Fork to Spanish Fork Canyon and then into Utah Valley. Fifty years later fur trappers entered the county. In 1824 and 1825 Etienne Provost from Taos, New Mexico, trapped beaver in the Uinta and Wasatch mountains. About the same time, William Henry Ashley and members of his fur company from St. Louis also hunted and trapped for beaver in the county.
The first settlers came into Wasatch County from Utah Valley in the spring of 1859 and located a short distance north of present Heber City at the London or John McDonald Spring. That same year, Midway and Charleston were also settled. In 1862 the territorial legislature created Wasatch County, which then included all of the Uinta Basin. Wasatch in Ute means “mountain pass” or “low pass over high range.” Heber City, named for Mormon Apostle Heber C. Kimball, was selected as the county seat. The last boundary change occurred in 1914 when Duchesne County was created out of the eastern half of Wasatch County.
The county produces hay, dairy products, sheep and cattle. During the early 1900s, after the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad completed a line into the county from Provo, Heber City became an important shipping terminal for wool and sheep. In 1922 the Union Pacific Railroad constructed a spur from Park City to the mines west of Keetley. Lead, zinc, and silver ore were shipped from these mines on this railroad spur. Today neither railroad line is in full operation, and other economic activities are more important to the county than transportation and mining.
Strawberry Reservoir (completed in the 1910s), Deer Creek Reservoir (completed in the 1940s), and Jordanelle Reservoir (scheduled for completion in the 1990s), together with sparkling streams and beautiful mountain scenery, have made Wasatch a popular recreation area. The county provides excellent opportunities for fishing, boating, and other summer and winter outdoor activities. Also, Heber Valley increasingly is becoming the home for many people who work in Utah Valley, Park City and Salt Lake City.