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 Shannon Miller, president of the Central Utah Pioneer Heritage Association.
"We have a group of people that understand what beauty is and why we should appreciate it, and because of that people have come out and helped, and our garden is complete," Miller said.
The property lies just west of the temple and is part of the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage area, which runs along U.S. 89 in central and southern Utah.
The 2.5-acre gardens include a reflecting pool for the temple, an amphitheater and benches. The gardens are also near the Manti Cemetery, where many early pioneers are buried.
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell attended the event, and Elder Marlin K. Jensen of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Quorum of the Seventy offered the dedicatory prayer.
"This Pioneer Heritage Garden has captured, I think, the essence of what makes these little Utah communities great. 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," Elder Jensen said.
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 2,000 people attended.
The dedication of the gardens is a dream come true for Manti resident Jane Braithwaite, 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. This location alone is the result of a tremendous effort."
Private donations and volunteers who helped with the landscaping, made the gardens a reality.
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"Wow" was the reaction from Manti resident Mike Kohut, who was admiring the gardens early Saturday, before the dedication. "This will really make a difference to those who stop, and it will help us to honor our pioneer heritage."
Miller believes the gardens, in the shadow of the temple, will add to the beauty of the area. She is excited the park is finished, before thousands visit Manti for the annual Mormon Miracle Pageant, which begins 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."