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Should Timpanogos Cave National Monument Replace Switchbacks with Stairs?

The trail to Timpanogos Cave

The trail to Timpanogos Cave is popular with many visitors to the park. NPS photo.

Part of the trail that provides access to the cave at Timpanogos Cave National Monument is subject to dangerous rockfalls. Park officials propose replacing switchbacks near the cave exit with stairs to reduce the hazard, and they're accepting public comments on the idea.

Timpanogos Cave National Monument is located in the Wasatch Mountains in northern Utah, about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City. Although the area's primary resource is the cave itself, the one and one-half mile paved trail that leads to the cave is also a popular attraction. According to the park,

The trail provides spectacular views of the geology of the American Fork Canyon and the expanding cities of the Utah Valley.

A hike up and down this trail is also a bit of a challenge. It has an elevation gain of 1,160 feet during that mile and a half trek, and part of the trail includes a series of switchbacks. Park officials have identified a potential safety hazard on part of this trail:

The current trail switchbacks below a vertical cliff face that regularly drops rocks onto the trail. Rockfall analysis experts recently visited the park and identified major pending rockfall hazards that could result in catastrophic damage to the trail, the electrical power, and most importantly, visitors or employees.

That's clearly a problem that can't be ignored, and the staff has a proposed solution:

The National Park Service is proposing to build a new stairway at the exit of the cave that would reduce the rockfall hazards for our staff and visitors and enable a safer experience while visiting the caves. The new stairway would be placed at the exit of the cave and descend along the cliff face, meeting up with the present trail below. To provide additional protection, the current exit roof would be extended to cover the new stairs.

The proposed action would improve the monument's ability to protect visitors and employees, and improve their experience as they exit the caves. In addition to the stairs, the current trail would be maintained for use by staff to access the cave with trail support vehicles but blocked off for regular visitor and staff use.

The toilet near the exit would be relocated or replaced in order to keep people from having to walk out on the switchback trail sections.

The NPS is working to complete an Environmental Assessment in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This environmental document provides the decision-making framework that 1) analyzes a reasonable range of alternatives to meet project objectives, 2) evaluates potential issues and impacts to park resources and values, and 3) identifies mitigation measures to lessen the degree or extent of these impacts.

NPS encourages public participation throughout the NEPA process during which the public has two opportunities to formally comment on the EA. We are currently in the scoping phase of this project, and invite you to submit your written comments online at this page on the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website

The Park Superintendent, Denis Davis, notes,

If you are not able to submit comments electronically through this website, then you may also submit written comments to me at Timpanogos Cave National Monument, R.R. 3 Box 200, American Fork, Utah 84003, or make an appointment to discuss this project in person with me. Please provide all comments by December 21, 2009. These comments will be considered when finalizing the EA. We look forward to hearing from you.

Here's your chance to voice your opinion early in the process on the project.


Why does everything have to be so "safe"?? There's nothing wrong with the switchbacks. Has there been an actual incident with rockfalls??

I guess I'm tired of living in a bubble-wrapped world. Life is full of danger, we can't pave it all over.


My travels through the National Park System:

Paul "Barky" Dionne:
Why does everything have to be so "safe"?? There's nothing wrong with the switchbacks. Has there been an actual incident with rockfalls??

I guess I'm tired of living in a bubble-wrapped world. Life is full of danger, we can't pave it all over.

Deadly rock slab at Timp Cave prompts new exit trail

The problem is that rocks at the cave exit "fall from very high up, and fall silently" thus giving anyone on the trail no warning, said Davis. "They are not bouncing, so the rocks that come down there are potentially very deadly. About four years ago we had a student (visiting the cave) and she was exiting the cave and she literally had the backpack ripped off her back. I said we need to do something about this."

Seems to be a little bit different path of the rock or maybe a slightly different time to be there and this student gets konked in the head with a rock big enough to rip a pack off her back. We're not really talking about a normal trail but a paved path. We reroute roads (see Yosemite in 2007) when rocks take them out and blast away. They've determined that a rock there is poised to fall and is big enough to kill someone.

I'd think rerouting the public exit should be a no brainer. I've been there before (85 deg F outside and about 50 deg inside) and I could see how rocks might be a problem.

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