Hops hunting for conservation

By Katherine Pioli

Summit Land Conservancy’s summer tours celebrate open space and teach history while stalking the Neomexicanus, and indigenous variety of hops

For nearly a century Park City’s Empire Canyon, at the heart of the city’s historic ore mining and processing operations, was dug out, dynamited, pulverized and pro­cessed. Today, the canyon is valued for other reasons, namely real estate. Despite being listed as an EPA superfund site, developers jump at the chance to put new hotels along the canyon, sandwiched between the city’s two world-famous ski resorts.

Summit Land Conservancy also saw value in the remaining land of Empire Canyon, despite the environmental damage, the new development and the numerous old rusting mining artifacts. In 2002 the organization, along with supporters, were able to purchase and preserve 1,093 acres of Empire Canyon. Today the area holds miles of public trails. It is also home to another special secret, one that Summit Land Conservancy is eager to share with the community. The canyon is full of wild hops.

It turns out that hops are growing all over the hills and canyons around Park City—and at numerous sites protected by Summit Land Conservancy. Using this interesting little fact to draw attention to the incredible work they are doing, saving Park City’s open space legacy, Summit Land Conservancy created a summer program, six years ago, taking the public on walks through the organization’s various conservation easements to look for these wild hops. Along the tour, participants also learn about the local history and local flora. Summit’s programs coordinator Julia McCarrier Edwards also hopes that the tours leave people with a greater love for the land and appreciation for protecting it.

Julia took over the Hops Hunters program two years ago when she joined the Summit team. “I was really interested in the intersection of the town’s history, of the easements and the natural aspects of that area. I spent lots of time in the archives of the Park City Museum learning facts about this place where we work and live.”

This year, there are five locations for the Conservancy’s Hops Hunter hikes, scheduled June  through August. Julia’s favorite hike is in Empire Canyon. Here she likes to stop at the old mining structures and talk about the work that first brought people to these mountains in the 1870s. She talks about the first ski resort started in the area by the mining company in the 1960s. And she recounts the story of the biggest mining disaster in Park City’s history.

Julia also talks about the hops. And on this year’s tour she has some interesting news about the pungent, scaly green buds. “For the longest time the lore, and the story we were telling tour participants, was that these were hops from Bavaria, planted and cultivated by German miners. Last year, an expert who had been on one of our tours contacted us and said they are not Bavarian hops. They are actually Neomexicanus. It is a hop that is completely indigenous to the United States.”

Neomexicanus were first found growing wild in New Mexico. Their flavor and aroma differ from the normal citrusy, piney profile. It has a touch more earthiness and bitterness. Some like to call it “rough around the edges.” But many small brewers are finding this hop very drinkable. Crazy Mountain Brewery in Colorado and California’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. make brews with Neomexicanus. And as part of Summit Land Conservancy’s Hops Hunter program our own Wasatch Brewery makes a special small-batch, locally sourced ale every year using these wild hops (and malt produced by the local Solstice Malt company, the first in Utah in 50 years).

Tour participants can be a part of the harvest party that collects the hops during the very last Hops Hunter outing (at a TBD date in the fall). To celebrate, the hops pickers are invited to deliver the harvest to Wasatch Brewery and share in a lunch, with some nice brews to match. Once the wild hop brew is ready for sale, Wasatch Brewery gives a portion of the proceeds to Summit Land Conservancy.


—Katherine Pioli


Summit Land Conservancy’s Hops Hunter hikes are free. Tours are appropriate for all ages and hiking abilities. It’s fun for everyone. Space in each tour is limit to 40 people.


July 7: Virginia Mining Claims, July 21: Rail Trail, August 4: Prospect Ridge and Harvest Assessment, TBD: Hops Harvest!

Sign up on the Summit Land Conservancy website.



This article was originally published on June 30, 2019.