In August 1921, sister and brother Elon and Vearl Manwill went on a hike in American Fork Canyon. After visiting the degraded Hansen Cave with their friends, the group split up in search of a cave that may have existed in the area. While walking east, Vearl stumbled upon the entrance to the mysterious cave and the group explored the dark caverns of what we now call Timpanogos Cave. That same evening, Elon, Vearl and their friends came together to form the Payson Alpine Club, dedicated to the preservation of this cave.
Utah has a unique history of ordinary people protecting extraordinary places. In 1902, when the Logan River was low, locals pressured the federal government to dedicate part of the watershed as a forest reserve, which resulted in the creation of the Logan Forest Reserve. Two decades later and to the south, the Manwills organized themselves to protect the mountain caves from mining and vandalism. And in recent years, Utah has achieved the highest concentration of sites certified by the International Dark-Sky Association, preserving celestial views. But you don’t have to look beyond your own street to find people who are dedicated to conservation.
Home to 650,000 Utahns, 20,000 of which are new since 2019, Utah County has no shortage of visionaries, most of whom are ordinary citizens. Some new and some familiar, they are joining forces to protect Utah County’s natural wonders.
When I heard about the development of Bridal Veil Falls, the first person I called was Brigham Daniels. He quickly brought together the best and brightest and created a nonprofit, Conserve Utah Valley, to proactively protect Bridal Veil Falls and other endangered natural sites. Brigham’s ability to build an inclusive team, see the next move, and keep up with the games makes him an MVP.
Kaye Nelson has played a key role in keeping trail access and open space in Provo Canyon and the adjacent foothills. She and her neighbors have done wonders, prompting over a hundred citizens to email and come forward to support this conservation effort. Naturally, Kaye also stepped up and mobilized people to protect Bridal Veil Falls.
Ben Abbott is considered the godfather of environmental quality in the Utah Valley. He mentors BYU students, leading them in research that is vital if we are to protect the valley’s water quality, air quality, and ecosystems. His work on forest fires, watersheds and nutrient pollution will help Utah Valley residents, humans and others, live longer and healthier lives.
You would be hard pressed to find someone as passionate about environmental education as Kristina Davis. From elementary school students to college students, Kristina has helped thousands of learners learn about wildlife, wetlands, and noxious weeds. Last month, Kristina led more than 300 volunteers to remove graffiti, pick up trash, and learn about the canyon’s flora and fauna. Her bias for action and her determination make her an incredible leader.
No one deserves more credit than the tireless Professor George Handley. George’s work to preserve the rivers and ecosystems of the West isn’t confined to a classroom; he teaches environmental values ââas a scholar, civil servant and daily steward. He has supported sustainable growth and open spaces for decades, but more recently he has spent long hours leading the Provo City Council Foothills Committee, making foothills, canyons, and trails more accessible to everyone.
It’s been 100 years since the Manwill siblings formed a coalition to protect Timpanogos Cave, preserving something totally unique and awe-inspiring for future generations, and our neighbors today are no less visionary. Name after name comes to mind on top of this list, and it’s just proof that Utah is in good hands.
Shannon Ellsworth, AICP, holds an MBA and a Diploma in Environmental Planning. She resides in Provo, sits on city council and is a founding member of Conserve Utah Valley.