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MANTI — A vacant lot that for decades has been full of weeds is now a beautiful new park, honoring the early settlers of the Sanpete Valley.
The Pioneer Heritage Center and Gardens sit just below the Manti LDS temple. The project was dedicated on Saturday, more than 30 years after it was envisioned.
"We are the luckiest people in the State of Utah," said President of the Central Utah Pioneer Heritage Association Shannon Miller.
"We have a group of people that understand what beauty is and why we should appreciate it," Miller said. "And because of that, people have come out and helped and our garden is complete."
The property is just west of the temple and is part of the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage area, which runs along Highway 89 in Central and Southern Utah.
The 2.5 acre gardens include a reflecting pool for the temple, an amphitheater, and benches to meditate. The gardens are also near the Manti Cemetery, where many early pioneers are buried.
Lt. Governor Greg Bell attended the event and Elder Marlin K. Jensen, of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offered the dedicatory prayer.
We have a group of people that understand what beauty is and why we should appreciate it.
–- Shannon Miller, Pioneer Heritage Association
"This Pioneer Heritage Garden has captured, I think, the essence of what makes these little Utah communities great," Jensen said. "It addresses the issues of industry, and cooperation, and education, and especially faith. Anyone stopping here will be prompted to reflect and dig a little bit deeper in their own lives."
To celebrate the new Heritage Gardens, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performed a concert at nearby Snow College in Ephraim. More than two thousand people attended.
The dedication of the gardens is a dream come true for Jane Braithwaite of Manti, who founded the Manti Destiny Committee in 1981. The organization is now part of the Central Utah Pioneer Heritage Association.
"It's all turned out more glorious than we ever imagined and it's truly a miracle," Braithwaite said. "This location alone is the result of a tremendous effort."
Private donations and volunteers helped with the landscaping and made the gardens a reality.
Manti resident Mike Kohut, admired the gardens early Saturday morning before the dedication. " Wow," he said. "This will really make a difference to those who stop and it will help us to honor our pioneer heritage."
Miller believes the gardens — literally in the shadow of the temple — will add to the beauty of the area. She is excited the park was finished before thousands visit Manti for the annual Mormon Miracle Pageant, which begins on June 21.
"It's an important piece of ground right by the Manti Temple and it will forever be taken care of, so come and see it," Miller said.