Just weeks after the Utah County Commission voted to protect Bridal Veil falls as a public asset, a legislator is seeking to further elevate the landmark’s status.
Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, filed a bill request Thursday titled “Bridal Veil Falls State Monument Designation.” The bill request is still pending, and does not yet have a number or text, but Stratton said his goal is to highlight Bridal Veils as a natural wonder and assist the county in preserving its public access.
“One of the challenges is, the falls is being loved to death right now,” Stratton said. “We need to provide better safety and a better venue to accommodate the visitors who want to enjoy that treasure.”
The Utah Legislature passed HB14 in 2019, allowing lawmakers to create state monuments. In 2020, they declared the first two — Danger Cave State Park Heritage Area near Wendover and Old Iron Town in Iron County. State monument status allows the Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation to make a management plan for the property and, potentially, funnels state funds to help.
“It’s really in place to deal with some of these precious treasures across the state that don’t fit the parameters for a state park,” Stratton said. “It designates resources to create a safe and world-class opportunity for people to come and enjoy [them].”
Stratton added that he envisions improvements to Bridal Veil Falls similar to those seen at Timpanogos Cave, which is a national monument managed by the National Park Service.
And like Timpanogos, Stratton said his intent is not to place entry fees at the falls.
“That’s the blessing of a state monument and that’s one of the barriers of a state park,” he said. “We don’t want to have an entry fee.”
State monuments require approval from county governments. The Utah County Commission voted last month to place a conservation easement on Bridal Veil Falls and block commercial development at the site. Stratton said state monument status will complement the county’s conservation easement status.
In fact, the county commissioners raised the idea of later placing the falls under state monument status during their hearing on conservation plan for the falls on Dec. 9.
“During the whole process when we were talking about preservation, I floated it. I personally thought making it a state monument was a higher form of conservation,” said Commissioner Bill Lee, who supports the proposed bill.
The county has set aside nearly $2 million to improve trails and safety at the falls. Plans to put those funds to use were temporarily derailed this summer due to the pandemic.
Stratton raised the idea of contributing another $2 million in state funds, or a matching grant, but emphasized that none of those details have been worked out.
Lee said he would like to see restrooms and a visitor center added to the falls, along with other planned improvements.
“Of course, public access is number one,” Lee said.
Concerns about privatized development at Bridal Veil Falls remains fresh on the minds of many county residents. Richard Losee, a developer and owner of the fancy Cirque Lodge drug treatment centers, had been meeting with Lee and ironing out a vision to build an exclusive lodge at the top of the falls with tram access. Under Losee’s plan, the public would have been able to pay to use the tram for part of the year.
In November of last year, outgoing-Commissioner Nathan Ivie pushed a conservation easement plan to foil those plans, which Commissioner Tanner Ainge also supported. Lee ultimately joined the two other commissioners and voted to conserve the falls.
But on Wednesday, Losee filed a lawsuit that seeks to undo the commission’s action.
Lee declined to comment on the pending litigation and whether it could also disrupt a state monument designation. Stratton, however, said he did not think it would present an obstacle.
“That [lawsuit] will play out as it plays out, but I don’t think that will be a roadblock here, I do not,” he said.
A tram could still be a future possibility at the site under both the conservation easement and state monument designation, Lee said, but it would have to be owned by either the state or county and operated as a noncommercial amenity.
Although details of Stratton’s bill aren’t available, conservation groups expressed cautious approval.
“There are some legitimate concerns people might have,” said Brigham Daniels, co-founder of Conserve Utah Valley, a new nonprofit formed in response to the Bridal Veil Falls debate. “For example, if they started charging immediately to go to Bridal Veil Falls I’d feel differently about it.”
Daniels, who is also a Brigham Young University professor, also said he doubted county residents had the appetite for another tram at Bridal Veil Falls.
The county’s conservation easement was the most important first step in ensuring public access, he said, but adding state monument status represents another positive step forward.
“If Losee is successful in court, this [becoming] a state monument is better than no protection at all, or no commitment to the site at all,” Daniels said.
Conserve Utah Valley is currently circulating a petition to support making Bridal Veil Falls a state monument. Daniels said Utah County residents often ask why it matters, given the county commission’s conservation action.
“It takes education to explain that there is expertise at the state that the county doesn’t have on its payroll. The state has pots of money the county might need to provide public access,” Daniels said. “And I think a lot of people are assuming this is a done deal, but with the Losee lawsuit … the developer is at least making the challenge that this isn’t a done deal.”