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Guest op-ed: Citizens lead out on conservation

By Shannon Ellsworth - | May 20, 2021

In August 1921, Elon and Vearl Manwill, sister and brother, set out hiking in American Fork Canyon. After visiting the defaced Hansen Cave with their friends, the group split up looking for a cave rumored to exist in the area. Hiking to the east, Vearl stumbled upon the entrance of the mysterious cave and the group explored the dark caverns of what we now call Timpanogos Cave. That very night, Elon, Vearl and their friends convened to form the Payson Alpine Club, dedicating themselves to the preservation of this cave.

Utah has a unique history of ordinary people protecting extraordinary places. In 1902 when the Logan River ran low, locals lobbied the federal government to dedicate part of the watershed as a forest reserve, resulting in the establishment of the Logan Forest Reserve. Two decades later and to the south, the Manwills organized to protect mountain caverns from mining and vandalism. And in recent years, Utah has achieved the highest concentration of International Dark-Sky Association-certified sites, preserving celestial views. But you don’t have to look past your own street to find people leading out on conservation.

Home to 650,000 Utahns, 20,000 of which are new since 2019, Utah County has no shortage of visionaries, most of whom are everyday citizens. Some new and some familiar, they are joining forces to protect Utah County’s natural wonders.

When I heard about the development of Bridal Veil Falls, the first person I called was Brigham Daniels. He quickly pulled together the best and brightest and created a nonprofit, Conserve Utah Valley, to proactively protect Bridal Veil Falls and other threatened natural landmarks. Brigham’s ability to build an inclusive team, see the next move and call plays makes him an MVP.

Kaye Nelson played a key role in maintaining trail access and open space in Provo Canyon and the adjacent foothills. She and her neighbors worked wonders, activating more than a hundred citizens to email and show up in support of this conservation effort. Naturally, Kaye also stepped up and mobilized people to protect Bridal Veil Falls.

Ben Abbott is considered the godfather of environmental quality in Utah Valley. He shepherds students at BYU, leading them in research that is vital if we intend to protect water quality, air quality and the valley’s ecosystems. His work studying wildfires, watersheds and nutrient pollution will allow Utah Valley residents, human and otherwise, to live longer, healthier lives.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone as passionate about environmental education as Kristina Davis. From elementary school kids to university students, Kristina has supported thousands of learners in discovering wildlife, wetlands and noxious weeds. Last month, Kristina led more than 300 volunteers in removing graffiti, picking up trash and learning about the canyon’s flora and fauna. Her bias for action and determination make her an incredible leader.

No one deserves more credit than the indefatigable Professor George Handley. George’s work to preserve rivers and ecosystems in the West aren’t confined to a classroom; he teaches environmental values as a scholar, a public servant and a daily steward. He has supported sustainable growth and open space for decades, but most recently he has spent long hours leading the Provo City Council’s Foothills Committee, making the foothills, canyons and trails more accessible for everyone.

It’s been 100 years since the Manwill siblings formed a coalition to protect Timpanogos Cave, preserving something totally unique and awe-inspiring for future generations, and our neighbors today are no less visionary. Name after name comes to mind in addition to this list, and that’s just proof that Utah is in good hands.


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