Two summers ago, the number of transient people living in Provo Canyon in makeshift homes of boxes, tents, blankets and other materials had increased significantly over previous years.
Since that time, changes have been made and work has been done to reduce that number and make Provo Canyon’s recreation areas more clean and safe.
During summer 2018, members of the Utah County Fire Department worked to clean out debris and thin out foliage in areas that were so thick, it was easy to camp long-term without even being seen. The goal of the work was primarily fire reduction as well as making areas more visible.
This summer, that work has continued.
According to Lt. Wayne Keith, with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, a tremendous amount of work has been done during the past few months in the canyon.
“It’s still a work in progress, but it is cleaner and better,” he said. Keith said that complaints about transient people living in the canyon have greatly decreased.
According to Deputy Nich Friedrichsen, there are deputies who are part of a recreation and canyon team tasked with going to the canyons in Utah County where people recreate and reducing transient populations.
“Provo Canyon has been the biggest problem of the canyons,” he said. “That is probably due to the close proximity to the city and bathrooms.”
“Our fire department has been all the way up the canyon to Mount Timpanogos Park and cleared a 30-foot section north of the trail from the mouth of the canyon and half of a mile past the park,” Friedrichsen said.
Department members thinned out the brush from areas where people would previously have been able to find cover.
Additionally, deputies regularly patrol the canyon on mountain bikes, riding along trails and stopping in all of the areas where transients commonly used to be, Friedrichsen said.
“They don’t have the option to camp in those places anymore without being seen,” he said. “One of the best things we’ve seen is that people are cleaning up. We haven’t had to come in and do major cleanups like last year.”
When people are found to be camping in the canyon illegally, the deputies advise them about where they can go and because some are homeless, they do offer them help and services, Friedrichsen said.
Keith said that overall, crime has decreased in the canyon.
“I believe it has been a combination of opening up the areas that have been a problem and stepping up our deputies’ presence in the area,” he said.
Crimes that used to be more common just two years ago include stolen backpacks, purses and wallets from cars parked in the canyon. There were reports of people exposing themselves to women using the trail. Deputies would also find signs of drug use among the transient camps.
Areas that were once strewn with empty bottles, cans, old clothing, discarded containers and even buckets and bottles that had been used as toilets are once again areas where families, university students and other groups are recreating.
The work is not done. The Utah County Fire Department will continue to work to open up the overgrown areas that have been a problem, according to Keith. People are beginning to use those areas again for picnicking and hammocking.
“I believe that is part of the success,” Keith said.