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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Mountain Enthusiasts, Utahns Call For Conserving Bridal Veil Falls Ahead Of Public Hearing

A waterfall streams down a mossy cliff face.
Wikimedia Commons
The question of whether to sell Bridal Veil Falls, a popular Utah County attraction, to a private developer has proven one of the most contentious issues the county has seen in years, local officials say.

For the past few weeks, Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee’s inbox has been a mess.

Hundreds — maybe even 1,000 — people have reached out to him about one issue in recent weeks, one he said that’s attracted more attention than any other topic in his roughly six years on the commission.

“There is one theme that … seems to be the majority of the emails I’m receiving,” Lee said. “Don’t sell Bridal Veil Falls.”

The commissioner’s inbox will come to life at 3 p.m. Wednesday, when the county commission will hold a public hearing on whether they should move forward on selling all or a portion of the falls to a private developer or place the area under a conservation easement.

The prospect of development near the falls has sparked strong feelings along the Wasatch Front, particularly around the question of how the project would affect free public access to the popular destination.

The developer, Richard Losee of Cirque Lodge addiction recovery centers, seeks to build a rehab lodge at the top of the falls. His plans also include a tramway to ferry clients up and down the cliffs. The tramway would be open to the public for a fee between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The county commission has rejected Losee’s proposals in the past, Lee said, because they would have privatized the entire site of the falls.

Lee added he began working with Losee to refine this iteration plan to ensure public access after commissioner Tanner Ainge signaled his initial support, which Ainge has since withdrawn.

Lee described private discussions between prospective developers and county officials as commonplace.

“What happens in government that I think a lot of people misunderstand is that when developers or proposals come forward, we meet and talk and it happens all the time,” he said.

Still, news of this cooperation caught many by surprise, including Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi.

“I learned of a possible drug treatment center there when it hit the news,” said Kaufusi, who grew up in Provo and has frequently visited the falls. “And like the many citizens who I’ve personally heard from, I was very concerned.”

Kaufusi said her office has been flooded with comments about the falls, which she said were unanimously in favor of conserving the area.

Last week, the Provo City Council approved a resolution in support of placing Bridal Veil Falls and its surrounding area under a conservation easement. Kaufusi plans to read a letter at the county commision meeting on Wednesday, advancing the same position.

Recreationalists Speak Out

Climbers and mountain adventurers across the state have also been speaking out in favor of protecting the falls.

Those include recent posts from the advocacy group Salt Lake Climbers Alliance and adventure photographer Andrew Burr.

The falls hold a special significance for Utah’s climbing and mountaineering community, said Julie Faure, the owner and president of Utah Mountain Adventures — one of the state’s oldest guiding services.

Faure said Bridal Veil Falls have played an instrumental role in the development of ice climbing due to their width, reliable ice and proximity to a roadway. She added the area remains an invaluable asset to the adventure industry and the overall profile of the Wasatch Front.

“Why do you think Black Diamond ended up here in Salt Lake City? Why do you think we’ve had a trade show for this many years,” she said. “It’s been an amazing attraction. It’s helped the economy and put Utah County on the map.”

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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