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Monday Close-Up: Vietnam War veteran bikes up Payson Canyon daily to combat PTSD

For those who frequently head up Payson Canyon during the morning hours, they’ll likely see a man riding his bike and with a grin on his face. Going up or down, it doesn’t matter — he’s always smiling.

That man is 74-year-old Jim Taylor, who for the past 30 years has started his morning on two wheels.

However, life for the Payson resident hasn’t always been joyful. Like many men his age, Taylor is a Vietnam War veteran; he began his service in 1968 at the age of 21.

When Taylor talks about his time in Vietnam, his lip quivers and tears well up. When thanked for his service, he responds with a humble, yet truthful, “I wasn’t given a choice. My country needed me to serve, and I did.”

Taylor acknowledged that his story is not unique. In fact, 2.2 million American troops were drafted between 1964 and 1973. This was a way of life for young men at the time. Even so, his time on the battlefield in Vietnam left a mark on him that would last the rest of his life.

“I was drafted along with my friends,” he said. “It was either you enlisted or you were drafted. It was expected, and we were willing to serve our country, but I’ll never forget the things that happened out there.”

Reluctant to say much, and respectfully so, Taylor recalled walking out of his first firefight and never being more afraid in his life. He then told about a time when he lost a friend.

“I was walking with a friend one night to our bunkers, and he stepped on a land mine,” he recalled. “It was very well hidden. Nobody even saw it, but one second he was there, and the next, he wasn’t. He didn’t just die. He was gone. That really affected me. So many men lost their lives, but we knew that if we survived the Vietnam War, that we would come back to a country that was free and secure.”

When Taylor returned to his home in Salem, it was safe and secure, but it wasn’t without its challenges. Unlike the hero’s welcome that soldiers are accustomed to nowadays, he was met with hostility and opposition.

“One of the worst things was to come back and be treated so poorly,” he said. “We were called baby killers, people spat on us, and there were picketers everywhere protesting the war. It was a troublesome time for this country to be in a war we couldn’t get out of. It was an unwinnable war.”

But experiencing war firsthand and being hated back home for willingly serving wasn’t the worst of it. The worst came several years later when the flashbacks started coming.

“I began having flashbacks — what I recognize now as post-traumatic stress disorder,” Taylor said. “At that time, when you’d get down or depressed, people would just tell you to ‘buck up.’ There wasn’t much help, and I got depressed. Really depressed.

“I remember thinking back on the time when my friend stepped in that land mine and thinking, ‘You lucky bugger.’ He had no pain or suffering like I was having.”

It was during his darkest time when Taylor thought back to one of the things that made him the most happy as a child — riding his bike.

“When I was a child, I grew up riding bikes with my siblings. We’d ride from Salem to Payson to swim at the pool, and ride back home,” he said. “Of course, we would have to walk our bikes up Goosenest Drive, but it was still fun. We’d ride around Salem Pond. It was a happy and simpler time. I loved riding my bike, so I started riding again to see if it would make me feel better, and it did.

“When I first started, I rode with my daughters, and I couldn’t go very far. I would see if I could make it to the tree and back, then up to Kiwanis Park in Payson Canyon. Now, I can make it up to Maple Bench Campground before turning back for home.”

The 18-mile ride includes 1,100 feet of elevation climb in the first nine miles. Taylor often rides with his younger sister, LuAnn Stones. Once they reach the camp, they eat an apple before heading back down. The combination of extreme uphill, downhill and good company has been pivotal in helping Taylor combat PTSD, he said.

“It is so fun to zip around those turns on the way down, but there are so many things to see going up at a slower pace,” he said. “I see deer, wild turkeys, horses, trees and the Peeteenteet River running down. It is hard to get up in the morning. In fact, it’s the last thing I want to do when I wake up, but I am so happy when I do. The farther into the ride I go, my thinking gets better. It just brightens me up, and I am happier.”

Taylor acknowledges that there are still bad days, but attributes much of his success in handling those days with his time on his bike, and his wife encouraging him to get out every morning. He also encourages others to follow suit.

“I want to tell anyone who is suffering with depression, whether war related or not, to give exercise a try,” he said. “What do you have to lose?”

Isaac Hale 

U.S. Army veteran Jim Taylor, 74, and his sister, LuAnn Stones, bike up Nebo Loop Road on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, in Payson Canyon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Isaac Hale 

U.S. Army veteran Jim Taylor, 74, chews a snack as he and his sister, LuAnn Stones, take in the views at the end of their bicycle climb up Nebo Loop Road on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, in Payson Canyon. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

15-year-old controversy over Lehi's Peck Park moves forward with concept plan

After two hours of discussion, the Lehi City Planning Commission made a positive recommendation for a concept plan to move forward at 1800 N. 300 East, otherwise known as Peck Park.

The recommendation will be put on the City Council’s agenda in the coming months.

On Thursday, July 11, the planning commission continued its discussion over two proposed park concepts after tabling the discussion in June. The commission needed to choose one concept to recommend to the Lehi City Council, which will then vote on the plan later this year.

The approved concept covers roughly 72 acres and would designate the park as a public facility to provide eight soccer fields owned by Arsenal Soccer Club. The agreement, which was signed by the City Council on Dec. 11, 2018, would last 10 years, at which point the city would have the option to reclaim the land.

Since the Peck family sold this land to the city in 2005, controversy has followed the development and concerns from the public continued at Thursday’s meeting.

Peck Park moves forward

The Planning Commission recommended that the City Council look closer into the safety issues, parking issues and traffic concerns that were brought up by the community. The commission also recommended that the council look into a long-term plan to move the soccer fields to the opposite end of the land.

Other items brought up for consideration included fencing, restrooms, sidewalks and an alternate proposal brought up by Cole Peck, a member of the Peck family, to sell an additional 17 acres of land to the city in exchange for cooperation with their wishes.

“My dad made the agreement and it’s really been frustrating,” Peck said. “There’s so much potential in this park. I just want to make it work. Lehi City has to be held accountable and we have to do things right. We can’t impact the people who live there.”

Peck told the overflowing room of people that he believes “people who leave legacies for others make sacrifices” and that his dad made a sacrifice he expects the city to honor.

Although the public hearing had been closed for this item, the Commission allowed for public comment because the concept plans they were discussing had changed from the month before.

“We have the land now, but we don’t have the money to build anything, so we have to get creative,” said Lehi Mayor Mark Johnson.

The Mayor explained that Lehi would ask Arsenal to use grant money to build irrigation and maintain the soccer fields.

“We get 30% of the land in use and they get 70%,” Johnson said. “The advantage is we have green space that we can use when needed.”

Arsenal would only develop 20 acres as grass now, but Johnson said Lehi City wants to continue to develop every year. According to two surveys that were sent out to residents, a consensus showed that the community was in favor of a leisure park.

“It’s the hardest thing to fund because it doesn’t generate any revenue, but we are going to do the best we can,” Johnson said. “There will be no lighting or speakers. The park will be shut down at night. It will be an asphalt parking lot that allows us to stripe it if we need to.”

Johnson said that Lehi City has no intention of putting in sidewalks or restrooms, but those accommodations may be made in the future.

“I’m going to tell you, we’re going cheap,” Johnson said. “When citizens turned down the RAP tax, they sent a very clear message that they want us to go cheap and that’s OK, we’ll go cheap.”

Community concerns

“The original agreement has always been to build a park, but it was never specified what kind of park,” said Ryan Wood, city attorney. “There is no legal obligation to put anything in terms of facilities into the park.”

Wood said Arsenal Soccer Club would take care of the restrooms until permanent ones were installed and there would be no need for security because “with the neighborhood around, there’s an element of self-policing.”

Dave Christofferson, a resident of Lehi, said that in the last 45 years, he has seen plans come and go.

“I’m concerned with the parking,” Christofferson said. “There’s potential for 1,500 cars at any time. We don’t mind what the city does with that property. Sure, we have our opinions, but it’s not our property. We just want parking and infrastructure to be addressed.”

Commission member Abram Nielsen said that he believed “something is better than nothing.”

“Grass is the easiest thing in the world to redevelop,” Nielsen said. “In 10 years if the cities decide to vote that parks are important to them, we can redevelop. It seems like this has been mostly an issue of baseball versus soccer.”

However, Nielsen said he was conflicted.

“It’s 15 years later, why rush now to get something in?” Nielsen said. “I see the benefit of having someone willing to invest in the city. It should have a master plan in place, so we are working towards a means to an end.”

This was one of the recommendations made to the City Council as the plan for Peck Park moves forward.

“Parking is a great concern of mine,” said commission member Jared Petersen. “I know this is temporary, but it has the potential to be a 15-year deal. That doesn’t seem temporary to me.”

Commission member Roger Ellis said the he thinks the city did put up a “very thorough and thought-out plan for parks.”

“We put it in front of the public and the public said they don’t want to pay for it,” Ellis said.

Behind the 15-year controversy

After the motion to recommend changes to the plan was passed, during a short recess, a representative from Alder Soccer Clubs walked over to Cole Peck and shook his hand.

“I’d love to meet with you, too,” Peck said ensuring there is more cooperation and discussion to come between now and when Peck Park is inevitably built.

The Peck family advocated Thursday for baseball fields to be built on the land and for private entities to be kept out of the deal. Peck even offered to sell his 17 acres of land directly to Arsenal Soccer Club in exchange for them moving their fields.

Former Mayor Ken Greenwood was present and sided with the Peck family. Greenwood served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2006 and in an email to Mayor Johnson, then a city councilmember, he said that Peck Park was not envisioned as solely as sports park, but that was a large part of its use.

“I saw the [deal we made with Pecks] as a benefit to the city and to the Pecks,” Greenwood wrote. “It breaks my heart to feel the rancor all the way in Africa that seems to have replaced the great feeling over the wonderful opportunity to benefit all parties for generations to come. I feel I need to remind everyone that the Pecks did not have to sell the property to the city – it was just under contract to Ivory Homes. It was not an easy task to pull that out of the fire. Their family will take many years to heal these wounds caused because they worked with the city.”

Multiple members of the Peck family said that they were hurt and frustrated by Lehi City.

“When this deal was made, my father shook hands with Mayor Greenwood,” Peck said. “We didn’t care how long it takes for this park to be built, only that it is built the way we agreed upon.”

Suspect in reported Lehi burglary in hospital with multiple gunshot wounds

Lehi Police arrived on scene of a reported burglary to find the suspect wounded with multiple gunshot wounds Saturday night, according to Sgt. Robert Marshall with Lehi Police.

The 20-year-old suspect was transported to a hospital in stable condition and was reported to still be in the hospital as of Sunday morning, according to Marshall. He will be taken into custody after hospital release.

Officers were dispatched at approximately 8:40 p.m. to 391 N. 900 East in Lehi, where the suspect had left and then returned to the house and was trying to forcibly enter, according to police.

When officers secured the suspect and found the gunshot wounds, a medical team arrived on scene and transported the suspect to Intermountain Medical Center for treatment. Marshall said they predicted the suspect would be held at the hospital for 12 to 24 hours with an officer present.

According to Marshall, Lehi city detectives are currently investigating the incident.

“We’re trying to get down to why he’s fixated on that house,” Marshall said. “We’re not seeing any relationship between him and the house.”

No names of people involved in the incident have yet been released.

The investigation is ongoing and this story will be updated when more information is available.