The public is invited to an open house today to explore alternatives for the future of the popular cave and visitors center. At the meeting, cave staff will present the five options and ask the public if any other options should be included.
The first option is called the "no action" plan, meaning no new visitors center and no changes to existing operations.
The second would build a new visitors center at the mouth of the canyon and require mandatory shuttle use for all cave visitors. Public parking at the cave would be removed.
The third alternative would build the new visitors center at the mouth of the canyon, but only require mandatory shuttle use for visitors on weekends and holidays. On weekdays visitors would be able to park at the cave trailhead as they do now, but only in the main parking lot. Shoulder parking along the highway would be eliminated.
The fourth alternative would have no shuttle system. The highway at the cave would be reconfigured for construction of a new visitors center "outside the primary rock fall area, consolidation of parking and elimination of pedestrian highway crossings."
In the fifth alternative, there would be no shuttle system. The visitors center would be built near the existing visitors center. Existing parking at the cave would be reconfigured to improve pedestrian safety, and highway shoulder parking would continue.
In all four "action" alternatives, existing concessions would be removed and replaced with vending machines. Food and gift sales are not necessary for the use and enjoyment of the cave and can be bought in Highland, according to documents explaining the alternatives.
The point of all this is to increase the safety of the huge number of visitors -- 97,000 in 2011 -- to the cave each year, cave superintendent Jim Ireland has said.
A fire destroyed the visitors center in 1991. The trailer that replaced it was always meant to be temporary. Falling rocks regularly punch holes through the roof, leaving staff in fear for their lives.
The government owns 37 acres at the mouth of the canyon, purchased by order of Congress, but Congress has never given funding for the new building to put on the property. The facility would jointly house the cave visitors center and headquarters, and National Forest Service offices and staff. Ireland said he is hopeful that a final building and transportation plan can be approved this year and sent to Congress, where it is likely to be five years or more before the building is given consideration for funding -- especially in the current economy. But it is important for the public to weigh in now, because without choosing a preferred alternative, no funding request will be considered by Congress.
The National Park Service will host a public open house about the proposals for the future of the Timpanogos Cave visitors center from 5 to 8 p.m. today in the multi-purpose room at Highland City Hall, 5400 W. Civic Center Drive. The public may submit written comments about the proposal by March 2.
Comments may be submitted online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/tica, or mailed to: Superintendent, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, R.R. 3 Box 200, American Fork, UT, 84003.
Source: Herald Extra