Last updated: December 6, 2013
The first big winter storm of the season has left American Fork Canyon under a blanket a snow, and I am reminded just how much we all depend upon the water that flows through these mountains. American Fork City, for example, receives about 8% of its culinary water supply from springs inside the boundaries of Timpanogos Cave National Monument. For about 90 years now, city pipes have collected water from the hillside directly behind the “Rock House” (originally the home of the Monument superintendent and now used for staff offices and library space) and carried it to homes and businesses in the valley below.
In 1982, the Rock House, along with the adjacent Cave Camp area and its collection of wonderful rock walls and structures, was included in the Timpanogos Cave Historic District and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. We are obligated by law to preserve these structures and their historic character. Generally, this is not an issue, since the preservation of all of our resources – natural and cultural – is a foundation of the mission of the National Park Service.
Today though, after almost 90 years of service, the American Fork City water system is in need of repair and upgrades to improve its performance and to meet current state regulations for domestic water systems. This work will likely mean the removal and reconstruction of the parking lot around the Rock House, removal of some large trees, and possibly removal and reconstruction of some of the iconic rock walls.
Here then, is one of the often unseen ways we spend our winter. Key park staff has been meeting with American Fork City engineers and their contractors, along with partners from UDOT, the US Forest Service, the State Historic Preservation Office, and others, to find the best way to keep water flowing safely while minimizing impacts to these historic resources. An Environmental Assessment is underway, and there will be several opportunities for the public to obtain more information and provide their ideas and comments as we move forward.
It’s not always easy to convince people of the value of historic preservation. Why should a few old rock walls stand in the way of a needed repair to an important water system? Perhaps because so many of us are only a generation or two removed from those early pioneers who quarried the stones and built these walls, or who mined, hunted, or cut timber in the canyon, people here seem to understand and cherish these pieces of our community history, and we are working together in a spirit of positive collaboration. May it always be so.