Every few years a group of students in almost every high school in Utah Valley decides it's time to brand the mountain. Ah, there'd be no better way to show your high school loyalty than leaving a big white hunk of the alphabet plastered on the hillside.

When I was a student at Springville High School my classmates and I wanted to do it. Many groups since then have wanted to do it. Now another group wants to do it - the Springville Youth Council.However, council members are finding out what everyone else before them found out - the Forest Service doesn't give out permits on a daily basis to whitewash the mountain. It takes years of filling out forms and public input before you're told to forget it. Just like we found out, those who now want to put a big "S" above Springville will have kids in high school before it happens and by then they won't care. In other words, it won't happen.

Even though I supported the idea in my youth, I'm glad branding the mountain sides is a thing of the past. I'm not exactly sure what purpose the letters serve and I support the Forest Service's stance. The letters are lousy direction tools and do nothing that a road sign can't do. With big green signs all along I-15, I'm sure only a handful of people looking for Spring-ville High School take the American Fork exit. If you took that big "G" off the mountain above Pleasant Grove I bet only a dozen people or so would drive to Spanish Fork looking for Pleasant Grove High School.

And by the way, why isn't there a "P" before that "G"? Were those who put the letter there years ago afraid of such an average rating being placed on their town? Or does everyone just assume that we know students in Pleasant Grove attend "the Grove"? If Mountain View put a letter above Orem would it be a "V"? Would American Fork and Spanish Fork brand their mountain sides with an "F"?

"Hi, my name is Cleon and I'm a senior at "the Fork."

"Which `Fork'?"

My only conclusion is that the initial whitewash job of mountainside graffiti satisfies the urge to burn off school spirit, kind of like spray painting a wall burns off gang spirit. But we all know there are much better ways to display spirit.

And I'm glad to report that the Springville Youth Council has found one of those ways. The council is shifting its efforts toward installing a giant pole on the north end of the football field with a big lighted "S" on top. The lighted "S" would be the age group's mark on the school, would be a somewhat non-polluting way to show school spirit and would even serve as a direction tool. People can figure out which town Springville High School is located in but might not know what part of town.

If this innovative idea spreads it would still create a problem for American Fork and Spanish Fork high schools. A big flashing "F" above a school might make a student feel academically doomed. American Fork would be better off to go with an "A." Since Spring-ville's already dubbed the "S," Spanish Fork could use a glowing sombrero.

Jim Rayburn, Springville, is a staff writer in the Deseret News Utah County bureau.