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Bridal Veil Falls tram line cut down

By Ace Stryker - Daily Herald - | Aug 13, 2008
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ASHLEY FRANSCELL/Daily Herald Luis Garcia and his brother Jose Alfredo Garcia, right, wind up cables from the Bridal Veil Falls tram on Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at Bridal Veil Falls. Years ago the cables had been cut and were dangling from the cliff before government officials decided to completely take them down for safety reasons. Some of the cables will be taken to a house near the Sevier River that is being made by recycled material.
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courtesy photo The Bridal Veil Falls tram began operating in 1961 and was a full-service restaurant in the 1970s. It was shut down after an avalanche on New Year's Day in 1996.

After nearly 50 years in Provo Canyon, the tram line leading to the old Eagle’s Nest Lodge atop Bridal Veil Falls has been cut down.

The line was badly damaged in a July 25 fire that authorities say was man-made, though they haven’t determined whether it was intentional. The mountaintop restaurant hadn’t been operational for more than a decade — since New Year’s Day, 1996, when an avalanche severely damaged the tram equipment. But the Grow family of Orem, which has owned the property since 1971, had been looking for the chance to restore it to working order. David Grow said the fire effectively sealed the restaurant’s fate.

“This one could’ve lasted forever,” said Grow, 69, who operated the tram during its heyday in the ’70s and ’80s. “I’m really mad at somebody.”

Grow said he’s convinced the fire was the result of arson. The U.S Forest Service is still investigating.

A grand opening

The lodge first opened in 1961. Utah State Sen. Rue Clegg acquired the land in a 1929 tax sale “for some obscene amount, like $50,” said Wyatt Grow, 27, David’s son and spokesman for the family company, Waterfall Consultants. Clegg and his wife, Margaret, worked for years to make the site ready. But following its first operating season, on a celebratory jaunt to Mexico, Clegg died of a sudden heart attack.

Control of the resort fell to Margaret, who sold it and bought it back several years later. She sold it again in the late ’60s to a Colorado group that had made its fortune in oil. From there, “it changed hands a bunch of times,” according to Wyatt, before the Grow family purchased it in 1971.

The lodge operated as a full-service restaurant for the next five years, but business was spotty, David Grow said. He recalled the routine experience of greeting large groups of customers at the base of the mountain, only to watch them turn back for one or two apprehensive members.

“It was the tram that made everyone nervous,” he said. “We used to have people that would crawl out of that tram [at the top].”

So in 1976, the restaurant became exclusively a special-event venue for weddings, receptions, class reunions and the like. It hosted countless celebrants and weathered high winds and several avalanches over the years, but closed its doors — at the time, only temporarily — in 1996.

A fiery ending

Over the past decade, the disused resort has become a haven for vagrants and daring teenagers. Graffiti sprawls over the sides of the tram station at the base, and the restaurant has been a notorious spot for uninvited visitors. The Grow family had maintained an interest in restoring the lodge, but each attempt has failed for one reason or another. The latest push in 2007 hit a wall when the Forest Service required a $100,000 environmental study before it would consider allowing a reopening, Wyatt said.

“Once we heard that, we basically ran out of steam,” he said.

An unexpected final answer to the question arrived in the early hours of July 25, when a fire was reported in Provo Canyon. The blaze gutted the restaurant, seared four tram cables off and crawled along 240 acres around the site. Wyatt said the news was a blow to the family, but won’t ruin them financially because the lodge had been closed for so long.

“It mars the face of the mountain,” he said of the skeleton structure that remains. “I hiked up to the top with some buddies just a few weeks before the fire, and it looked great.”

A second chance?

After the fire, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office ordered the Grows to pull down the remaining cable, fearing adventurers would use it to scale the rocky face by the waterfall.

“When it was disconnected from the building, it was just dangling down those cliffs,” David said.

Thus formally ended any hope of renovating the existing structure: The same lines that had spanned the mountainside for nearly 50 years were rolled up at the base and unceremoniously cut for recycling.

But there may be another chapter to the story: A group calling itself Bridal Veil Falls is in discussions with the Grow family about the future of the site. They declined to offer details, but said there will be an announcement in the coming week. Wyatt Grow suggested he plans to sell the resort if things go well.

“If they can come up with the money and make something beautiful, they’ll have our complete support,” he said.

Ace Stryker can be reached at 344-2556 or astryker@heraldextra.com.


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