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Historic tree removal in Midway is on hold after public backlash

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Ben Lasseter
With construction of a new campsite at Wasatch Mountain State Park underway, concerned residents walk among trees they don't want to see cut down at the site.

A new campsite planned for an open space area in Wasatch County paused construction last week after a group of citizens raised concerns over trees being cut down.

Just outside Midway, a few acres on the edge of Wasatch Mountain State Park are home to a grassy field overlooked on each side by rows of thick, tall black willow trees estimated to be more than 100 years old. Within those trees and a wetland area nearby are owls, cranes and other species of birds and wildlife.

But a new campground is in the works, and plans to remove several of the trees have outraged and mobilized some residents. That began when 10 trees were marked in early June for removal. When that happened, dozens of locals took to social media to voice concerns.

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Ben Lasseter
Many of the trees marked for removal form a line along the side of the space where new campsites are planned. Utah State Parks representatives say large branches that hang over areas where people will camp, walk and drive pose a safety threat.

Earlier this month, Division of State Parks Information Officer Devan Chavez said plans for the campground included cutting down 10 of the black willows. He said it was necessary because the huge branches could fall on roads or campsites, and added that the parks division would plant at least 30 new trees there as replacements.

After trucks began clearing the field, residents showed up in person to find out what was happening and try to stop any tree-cutting.

Tree removal was scheduled for last week, but was delayed at the last minute so parks officials could consider the concerns raised by the community.

Locals enjoy the spot for the shade and continuous bird call background noise.

“As I walk through here pretty much daily year-round, you've got so many different wildlife aspects,” said glass mosaic artist Stacey Heverling, “from the tiniest bugs to the, to the owls and the cranes and the bobcats, the butterflies and the wetlands.”

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Credit Lani Lively
Heber City photographer Willie Holdman stands on one of the trees tagged for removal.

She said it would be “devastating” to see the trees cut down.

Jennifer Tringham of Heber City went to the site nearly every day last week. She said she had heard and seen hundreds of comments from people who also hoped the trees will remain and hopes there can be a compromise.

“I've been told that a campground is coming, whether we like it or not,” Tringham said. “They've already been cutting ground, they're working very quickly. It's a sacred valley, and we need to treat it as such. We need to be responsible, and we need to have respect for the land.”

According to Chavez, the state parks division has hired arborists and construction specialists to explore options. He said that could lead to changes to the original plans but didn’t know specifics yet.

People who have concerns can reach out to a park ranger or staff member at Wasatch Mountain State Park.

Heber City resident and Park City photography gallery owner Willie Holdman said he would not support RVs in place of historic trees at the site.

“As a photographer, I'm always capturing the beauty of Heber Valley and Midway, and the trees are a big part of that, [such as] these 100- to 200- year-old trees,” Holdman said. “A lot of people that come here just to look at things just to see things and experience things, and when that's gone, suddenly we're bringing the city into the mountains, right, instead of keeping the mountains and the rural area how it is.”

Chavez said there’s no timeline for decisions about the future campsite. He said there could be a plan to resume construction in the upcoming weeks.

Ben Lasseter
An owl sits perched in a tree near where campsites are planned to be built in Wasatch Mountain State Park last Wednesday. The tree pictured was not tagged for removal.

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