Utah hiker preserving legacy of Mt. Timpanogos pre-hiking program

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Reed Miller has lived in several states, in Argentina and has traveled “most places between here and Buenos Aires.”

But Mt. Timpanogos is still “one of the most gorgeous places in all the earth as far as I’m concerned,” Miller said. “(It’s) a wonderful place to see what God has left us.”

It’s also a place that holds personal memories for the 85-year-old American Fork resident, who spent his youth participating in the annual Mt. Timpanogos pre-hike program. The program, usually held on a Friday night in mid-August, included a performance of “The Story of Utana and Red Eagle,” with a 12-foot bonfire after.

The following day, anyone who wanted to could make the 15-mile hike up Mt. Timpanogos, where those who reached the summit were awarded “little metal badges.” Miller and his brother were hired about six times at $10 each to carry 2,000 badges to the top of the summit and hand them out to hikers.

The pre-hike program was the legacy of BYU physical education instructor Edward Roberts, who started it in 1913 as part of summer athletic program established the previous year, according to BYU Magazine.

The pre-hike program became so popular during the 1920s that the U.S. Forest Service built the trail from BYU’s Aspen Grove to the summit of Mt. Timpanogos. The Theater in the Pines was built at the Aspen Grove trailhead in 1926 to accommodate the pre-hike program, and in later years as many as 10,000 people attended. However, BYU and the U.S. Forest Service discontinued the pre-hike program in 1970 due to the large number of hikers reaching the summit.

Now, however, that legacy is being preserved.

Miller held a meeting at the Theater of the Pines in the Aspen Grove Campground on Oct. 15 in support of the Annual Timpanogos Hike Restoration Project. The meeting included historians, U.S. Forest Service representatives and family members of Alfred Pace, who earned 42 Mt. Timpanogos hike badges throughout his lifetime.

The project began in March and includes the restoration and preservation of sites associated with the old Mt. Timpanogos pre-hike program, such as the stage where the show was performed, the backstage area where performers changed and the slab of cement where the show’s generator used to run. (Miller’s father, then the superintendent of buildings and grounds at BYU, sometimes hauled a generator to the campground during the 40s and 50s, where Miller and his brothers worked on the program’s electricity.)

“The years go by, and hundreds and hundreds of people go to the trailhead, and they go dashing up and come back, and they’re exhausted and they never ever — hardly ever — go over to the Theater of the Pines where the annual Timpanogos Hike program (was held),” Miller said. “I want to bring that to the attention of the people of Utah (and) the United States. People worldwide come and take that hike.”

Miller said the restoration could take one to five years to complete and would include kiosks that would provide information about the various restored sites. The kiosks range in cost from $100 to $1,000 to over $20,000, depending on what’s in it.

He clarified, however, that the meeting was not a fundraiser, and this is not a BYU project — though BYU has been “a good neighbor” to the project and to the Mt. Timpanogos hike.

“I’m making it strongly known to everybody that this is a Forest Service project done under the direction of the federal government,” he said, adding that the U.S. Forest Service has already done work building the Theater of the Pines including seating, cement work and building two new bridges on either side of the theater.

He also said it remains to be seen if they’ll restore any elements of the pre-hike program, such as the show or the bonfire. In addition, he said aspects of the restoration could make good Eagle Scout projects.

Sarah Flinders, a recreation staff officer with the U.S. Forest Service, clarified that the Forest Service is opposed to large groups on the hiking trail, but they’re “absolutely” in favor of more people coming out to see the amphitheater. Flinders specified that the maximum hiking group size is 15.

In addition, District Ranger Russ Hanson with the U.S. Forest Service said the Mt. Timpanogos hike sees 60,000 to 65,000 hikers a year.

U.S. Forest Service archaeologist Rachelle Handley said the Theater of the Pines has historical significance because it was built under two New Deal programs during the Roosevelt era. She also said it’s considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Alfred L. Pace III and Elayne Pace Mackey, the son and daughter of Alfred Pace, brought all 42 of their father’s badges to the meeting. The siblings grew up hiking Mt. Timpanogos with their family, with Pace earning 23 badges and Mackey earning about eight.

Pace said people should climb Mt. Timpanogos to see the beauty of it.

“It’s just fabulous,” Pace said. “Go up there and see.”

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