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Highland optimistic cave visitors center will become reality

By Caleb Warnock - Daily Herald - | Feb 17, 2012

HIGHLAND — An open house in Highland on Thursday to tell the public about options for the future of Timpanogos Cave was a quiet affair.

Many of those who attended were part-time employees of the cave or Forest Service, wanting their voice to be heard. Cave superintendent Jim Ireland and other staffers were on hand to answer questions. Maps on display showed how each of five different proposals could look if built.

Highland Mayor Lynn Ritchie attended. He said the canyon will be safer if a shuttle system is used for cave visitors.

“People crossing the road at the cave is not a good idea,” he said.

Ritchie, more than anyone, understands how long the cave has needed a new visitors center — fire destroyed the visitors center in 1991, and a temporary trailer has been used every since — and how hard it has been to get congressional consideration for funding. Asked on Thursday whether he felt any of the proposed options could ever become reality, he said he was optimistic but he understands money will be slow to come.

“We are five to 10 years away,” he said. But when the new visitor’s center is built at the mouth of the canyon, “it will be a great addition to Highland. Visitors can shop and buy a burger in Highland while they wait for their tour. We are really supportive.”

Ireland said there will be a second public meeting in early summer to show people the final options chosen for consideration, based on feedback from Thursday’s meeting.

“We are looking for people to tell us if they have other ideas they want us to consider” now, while the visitors center is still in the study phase, he said.

Four of the proposed options call for a new visitors center to be built at the mouth of the canyon. And all four also call for a second, smaller “visitors facility” to be built at the trailhead, replacing the existing visitors center.

One option requires mandatory shuttle use for all cave visitors. Public parking at the cave as it now exists would be removed. A second option requires mandatory shuttle use only for visitors on weekends and holidays. During weekdays, visitors would be able to park at the cave trailhead as they do now, but only in the main parking lot. Shoulder parking along the highway would be eliminated.

A third alternative would have no shuttle system and improved parking in the canyon. A fourth option also would have no shuttle and get rid of shoulder parking along the highway in the canyon. The fifth option, called the “no action” plan, proposes no new visitors center, and no changes to existing operations.

The government owns 37 acres at the mouth of the canyon, purchased by order of Congress, but Congress has never given funding for the new building to put on the property. The facility would jointly house the cave visitors center and headquarters, and National Forest Service offices and staff.

Public comments about the options may be submitted online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/tica, or mailed to: Superintendent, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, R.R. 3 Box 200, American Fork, UT, 84003.

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