Iconic Timpanogos shelter destroyed; here's what's next

Timpanogos shelter in October 2021. Officials say the building was destroyed by last season's record snowfall in the area. (Mike Godfrey, At Home in Wild Spaces)

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MOUNT TIMPANOGOS — In the shadow of the state's most famous alpine summit, next to a serene, emerald-blue lake, now lies the wreckage of a historic backcountry shelter — a casualty of the state's record-setting 2022-2023 snow season.

While its condition has been dilapidating for some time, the shelter has finally become completely uninhabitable. With its stone walls reduced to rubble, the question now facing forest managers and the public is, "What will become of this unique and iconic alpine landmark?"

The Emerald Lake Shelter along the Aspen Grove Trail is in "shambles" in June 2022.
The Emerald Lake Shelter along the Aspen Grove Trail is in "shambles" in June 2022. (Photo: Jeffrey Lippert via Google)

Following a long season of repairing other forest assets similarly damaged by last season's record snowpack, forest management can now turn their attention to the historic and heavily damaged Emerald Lake Shelter.

"Everything this year will all be planning and getting the key players together," said Loyal Clark, public affairs officer for Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. "As soon as our engineers have a chance to go up and look at it, to assess it, then we have some additional discussions with the (National) Park Service and their restoration team. Then (we can) make a decision on how to move forward."

Clark stressed that while the National Forest Service is planning on a restoration project, "the outcome will be based on the damage assessment of our engineers" and whether the structure can even be restored. Any construction, replacement or repair work will, of necessity, need to wait until next year "at the earliest," he said.

Whatever happens, this next chapter should prove a fascinating addition to an ongoing saga, and the relationship Utahns have with their state's natural treasures, symbolized so poignantly by the historic shelter near Emerald Lake — a simple structure that sits at an estimated 10,397-foot elevation in the middle of the Mount Timpanogos Wilderness in the Wasatch Mountains. It used to be able to shelter a dozen people along a typically rocky trail to the summit. It also served as a shelter for emergency response teams called to assist with incidents on the mountain.

The Emerald Lake Shelter on Mount Timpanogos, sits on the Aspen Grove Trail in Utah County.
The Emerald Lake Shelter on Mount Timpanogos, sits on the Aspen Grove Trail in Utah County. (Photo: Waymarking)

Utah's wild lands are very much a shelter and a refuge for so many seeking a regenerative respite from the demands of modern life. But, like the Emerald Lake shelter, Utah's wild spaces have also been the prolonged convergence point for vandalism, exploitation and abuse.

The Emerald Lake shelter, despite its protected historic status, was also the victim of relentless vandalism and has been a collection point for trash. Its recent destruction by natural forces is more than a fresh start for this alpine icon; it's a fresh start for Utahns as well.

The state's natural treasures are among Utah's most recognizable and treasured resources, and they have also become the convergence point for relentless vandalism and exploitation. The fate of the iconic Timpanogos shelter is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Utahns to assess our relationship with the state's natural treasures and recommit to a spirit of respect, preservation and stewardship.

Watch this vid eo for a fascinating before and after comparison.

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Mike is a writer, filmmaker and public speaker, who, along with his wife Michelle, owns and manages At Home in Wild Spaces Films, a film studio that produces informational outdoor adventure media and resources. Mike graduated from BYU with a degree in film and animation, and occasionally writes about entertainment and current events.


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