Bridal Veil Falls closure 04

Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon is seen on April 13, 2017. 

Few areas in Utah County, if any, illicit as much awe and wonder as Bridal Veil Falls. Located just a few miles up Provo Canyon, the 607-foot-tall natural waterfall has been a favorite of Utah Valley residents for decades and has attracted tourists from around the country and the world.

With a hiking trail that’s open year-round, Bridal Veil Falls lures joggers, climbers, cyclists and sightseers to its lush waters regardless of the season, be it warm and blue-skied summers, chilly autumns or ice-laden winters.

While Utahns’ love for Bridal Veil Falls is unquestionable, the natural attraction’s future has been nebulous. In July 2015, the Utah County Commission purchased the property surrounding the waterfall for $2.4 million from a private owner that controlled the land since the 1970s. In the years since this transfer of ownership, the county has puzzled over what to do with the land, whether to build attractions in the area to bring in revenue or whether to preserve the falls’ natural beauty.

Five years later, the future of Bridal Veil Falls has been decided. The commission voted on Nov. 26 to approve a concept plan for development at the falls put together by the Utah County Public Works Department. The developments are expected to cost around $900,000 and will include trail enhancements, public restrooms and improved safety measures.

“This is good we’re finally starting to do something up there in Bridal Veil Falls,” said Commissioner Bill Lee, who entered office just days after the county purchased the waterfall.

Preserving ‘natural beauty’

The public works department’s concept plan shows that the county aims to make Bridal Veil Falls an appealing, safe and fun attraction without undermining the aesthetics that make it so popular.

“It wouldn’t be like a traditional city park,” said Richard Nielson, Public Works Director for the county. “But it would have some parking areas and benches, viewing areas of the falls, just a general place to go and be in nature.”

Included in the plan is a “viewing platform near the base of the falls” that would have a guardrail around it to prevent viewers from falling, according to Nielson.

Public opinion influenced the county’s concept plan, Nielson said. When the commission purchased the area, the county surveyed residents and asked what developments they would like to see.

“The main thing they said is (that) they want to be able to see the falls and enjoy it,” Nielson said, as well as “have some restroom facilities up there.”

The public works department solicited development proposals from private groups, said Nielson. Some of these proposals included building a restaurant at the top of the falls and refashioning a tram that was destroyed by an avalanche on New Year’s Day in 1996.

In October 2018, the county commission rejected two separate proposals to build a tram at Bridal Veil Falls. At the time, Lee said neither of the proposals “knocked our socks off” and that public feedback hadn’t indicated support for a tram.

“(The 2018 proposals) didn’t really provide what (the commissioners) were thinking the public wanted,” Nielson said, “in that (the proposals) maybe commercialized things too much. And … didn’t necessarily provide the public amenities that they felt the public was asking for.”

Commissioner Nathan Ivie said during an Oct. 1 commission meeting that he wanted a proposal that would be “an enhancement of the natural beauty of the area that allows people to enjoy it.”

Following the commission’s approval of the public works plan, Ivie said in a Facebook post that the development proposal would be funded through Utah County’s Tourism, Recreation, Cultural and Convention (TRCC) tax fund, “meaning no property tax or general fund obligations will pay for the park.”

“I am very excited to be part of preserving this unique waterfall as a pristine and non-commercial area where we can connect with nature and find peace,” the commissioner said.

Safety concerns

One of the biggest concerns regarding development at Bridal Veil Falls is how to keep residents and tourists safe. In recent years alone, multiple people have died or been critically injured while climbing or simply viewing the falls.

On Oct. 30, 2016, a 28-year-old Springville man and a 14-year-old exchange student from China fell hundreds of feet while climbing the falls in separate incidents. Both died from their injuries.

On June 12, a 17-year-old hiking with a group of friends strayed from the trail and slipped and fell about six feet, smacking his head on a rock. The teen was life-flighted out of the canyon and recovered from his head injuries.

A month and a half later, on July 28, a 25-year-old man from Mexico was climbing the waterfall when he was struck by a piece of fallen debris, believed to be a large log. Family members attempted to revive him but his injuries proved fatal.

“It is (a concern),” Nielson said when asked about safety at Bridal Veil Falls.

When demolition crews removed tram remnants from the falls in 2017, they removed ropes and “various things to climb up with” in an effort to discourage amateurs from climbing, Nielson said.

Under the plan, technical areas for climbing or rappelling would be gated off “similar to like what you would (have) at a ski resort where you go into the out of bounds area,” the public works director said, adding that in the past people have ventured to areas “beyond their abilities.”

Valuable county asset

Since the county’s acquisition of Bridal Veil Falls, there has been discussion over whether the property would be best managed by the government or by a private entity.

During the October commission meeting, Commissioner Tanner Ainge described private use of the waterfall as “not at all ideal,” a sentiment shared by Ivie.

“I personally have no interest in selling any of the property there,” Ivie said. “I believe it was probably one of the greatest acquisitions the county has made. And I believe that the county will do a great job in always keeping and maintaining that for the enhancement of public life in Utah County.”

Under its relatively new ownership, Nielson said the county plans to do what it can to preserve the natural treasure that is Bridal Veil Falls.

“At least in my mind, and what I feel like the county’s perspective is on it … it’s a symbol of Utah County,” Nielson said. “It’s recognizable and it’s something that shows our connection with nature.”

“It’s a gem for us,” Lee said on Oct. 1. “I’ve been wanting to do something up there ever since it’s been purchased … And do something that is beneficial to the residents.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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