An unidentified hiker or group of hikers by Thursday had knocked down a flagpole that Mormon missionaries illegally erected on the summit of Mount Olympus last weekend.
Hiker Joe Bullough said he found the pole lying on the ground when he hiked to the top of the peak east of Salt Lake City Thursday morning.
He had seen the pole, adorned with an American flag and autographed mission T-shirt, last weekend.
Bullough, who has climbed the 9,026-foot-elevation peak 478 times, carried the pole back down the mountain Thursday because he doesn’t like to see litter, he said. The peak is in the Mount Olympus Wilderness Area.
Eight missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints created a concrete anchor and placed the 8-foot flagpole on the famous Salt Lake Valley landmark, apparently on Saturday.
Along with the flag, they attached a T-shirt adorned with their autographs and the message "Go Baptize! Only Utah Salt Lake City EAST Mission."
Church spokeswoman Jessica Moody said Thursday, "The church has reached out to the Forest Service and is working on a resolution."
Moody declined to comment on whether Salt Lake City East Mission leaders were aware of or sanctioned the missionaries’ flagpole-erecting activity.
Cathy Kahlow, Salt Lake district ranger, confirmed that a church attorney contacted the U.S. Forest Service and assured the agency that the missionaries would remove the concrete.
"It needs to be naturalized and the area needs to be back to its natural state," Kahlow said.
Mount Olympus is part of a 15,300-acre wilderness area, which means no mechanized equipment or permanent improvements are allowed. The Mount Olympus Wilderness also includes Mount Raymond and Gobbler’s Knob.
Even outside of a wilderness area, a flagpole would require a permit, she said. "Generally we don’t issue permits for random structures on the forest," Kahlow said.
"When it’s a flag it’s always tricky. It’s not about the patriotism. Everybody likes the flag but there are places where they are appropriate," Kahlow said. "It’s a newly created structure that is offensive to some as it relates to wilderness values... It’s a challenge because it’s so close to a city."
She said people don’t usually try to build permanent structures in the wilderness area. More commonly, they ride mountain bikes or bring mechanized equipment.
Kahlow said she doesn’t plan to pursue charges against the elders, as long as they remove the concrete.
The penalty for violating the Wilderness Act ranges from a fine of several hundred dollars to prosecution if violators are not compliant with requests to remove structures.
Reporter Brian Maffly contributed to this story.
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