The most-visited 35 acres in Utah call to tourists year-round, but especially in the summer.
And if there's a tourist who fails to set foot on Temple Square before leaving the state, it isn't because the LDS Church's Visitor Activities Coordinating Committee hasn't tried.
The committee, an arm of the church's Missionary Department, has a broad spectrum of processes all geared toward getting visitors to call on the sites that epitomize the history and ongoing activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One effort is a free shuttle service from Salt Lake City International Airport that allows air travelers with a stopover in Utah's capital to buzz into town, see Temple Square and return to the airport, relieving them of the mind-numbing frustration of waiting to board the next plane.
"We meet very interesting people. It's an opportunity to show off our city. Most have never been here before," said Burke Tangren, of Bountiful, dean of the shuttle drivers, who has made "easily 4,500 round trips" from the west gate of Temple Square to the airport and back.
"I'm starting my ninth year," he said.
AS HIS CELL phone rings, he responds, "Handcart Number One," in recognition of his longevity on the job. Like all of those who work on the church tourism program, he is a volunteer, a service missionary.
On this particular warm and sunny day in July, members of the Wondraczek family of Cologne, Germany, are among his passengers. Marcus and his son, Tom, are making a second trip to Utah, but for his wife, Britt, it's a first.
"We enjoy the Temple Square buildings very much," Marcus Wondraczek said. "My wife is very interested in them."
The family was staying at the KOA campground on North Temple, another of the stops Tangren routinely makes. They took a little side trip up the hill to the Utah state Capitol and were waiting for Tangren when he made the return trip.
The Wondraczek family did not need the assistance of a language translator, but for those who do, the van drivers have access to missionaries who speak about three dozen languages, Tangren said. All he needs to do is make a call and a translator will be waiting at the gate of Temple Square to enhance the visit.
Coming and going, Tangren and other drivers give their passengers mini-history talks about the city.
"Notice these wide streets?" he says as the van heads up North Temple. "Those are not by accident, but by design." Salt Lake founder Brigham Young wanted streets wide enough that a covered wagon could turn around easily, he tells them.
Vans, distinctively "wrapped" with a scene from Temple Square, leave the west gate area every half hour in the summer to make the circuit from Temple Square to the airport and back.
BUT TEMPLE SQUARE isn't the only destination.
Since 1996, more than 62,000 tourists have taken the Welfare Square shuttle from the airport and back, said Chip Smith, who heads the visitor coordinating effort. Translight ads inside the airport alert travelers to the opportunity, and airport workers often recommend the tours to help ease the frustration of layovers, Smith said. In all, millions of visitors see one or more of the church sites during a year.
Other shuttles also stop on the west side of the square during the summer to pick up tourists, including many from the area, who want to tour the church's Welfare Square and Humanitarian Center.
"They tour the bakery, the dairy and other areas," Smith said. "And they get free chocolate milk."
After Temple Square, historically the most-visited site in Utah, Welfare Square and the Humanitarian Center are probably the most attractive to visitors, Smith said.
"Our humanitarian projects get attention nationally, and visitors are amazed at the scope of the welfare services," he said.
In all, more than a dozen sites are available for tourists to visit. They include the Salt Lake Temple, Museum of Church History and Art, Family History Library, North and South visitors centers, Conference Center, Salt Lake Tabernacle, Assembly Hall, Relief Society Building, Church Office Building, Brigham Young Historic Park, Joseph Smith Memorial Building, Church Administration Building, Lion House and Beehive House. Guided tours of the touted church gardens attract many visitors, and the opportunity to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse is a special treat for those whose schedules allow for it.
EACH SITE HAS its own quality brochure explaining its features. Distributing the brochures to information racks in more than 158 outlets primarily motels, hotels and other businesses from Brigham City to Utah Valley that cater to tourists is a demanding church assignment for a group of service missionaries.
For Marilyn and Richard Hembrock, of Maryland, who were crossing Temple Square en route to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the most compelling of the sites is the Family History Library. Marilyn, who was in Salt Lake City to attend meetings of the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said she had "known about the center for a long time."
The couple said they were looking for a "missing link" in a family line. Their visit to the center had not exactly solved the problem, but it did inform them they were looking at a misspelled name, "from a splotched census," giving their search a bit more momentum.
Also on Temple Square on this day were Rey and Marilyn Call and their daughter, Arlene, all from San Jose, Calif. They were representative of the many church members who swell the crowds at the church sites.
Sitting near the Tabernacle and enjoying the atmosphere, Rey said simply, "We like it." They were enjoying family gatherings in the area and made the stop at Temple Square to renew acquaintance with some of the focal points of their faith.
"I was baptized right there," he said of the Tabernacle.
THE CHURCH COMMITTEE works closely with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and the Utah Travel Council, Smith said. Attracting visitors to the city and state is a mutually beneficial endeavor. The church committee also is affiliated with the National Tourism Association, which represents hundreds of government agencies, companies and suppliers concerned with tourism.
"It is rare for the association to hold a convention twice in the same place," Smith said, "but they've been to Salt Lake City three times."
The opportunity to have the Tabernacle Choir perform is a possible draw, he admitted. The touted choir entertained during a dinner at the most recent convention in 2006, actually accommodating a last-minute request, Smith said.
The involvement in the travel association is "an important aspect" of the committee's work, Smith said.
The LDS trademark of having a ready pool of volunteers service missionaries who provide the legwork for the church visitor effort without charge is the envy of the nation, Smith said.
The visitors who respond to the church invitation to see its sites do not hear a gospel discussion unless they ask questions, Smith said. ("We don't talk doctrine unless it comes up," he said.) They can fill out a card asking for missionary visits if they choose.
"We hope they will feel the spirit of the square," Smith said. "We hope to bridge gaps in their understanding of the church."
There is no way to measure the impact of the tourist effort, he said, but there are stories.
Dale Sansom, of Farmington, who coordinates the shuttle van effort, recalls the instance of a minister of another faith who missed his connecting flight at the airport. Reluctantly, to fill time, he responded to an airline representative's suggestion that he take the shuttle to Temple Square. Burdened by a huge chip on the shoulder, he took the tour. Some time later, he was baptized a member of the church.That doesn't happen every time and possibly not even very often, Smith said. But such a visit is likely to inform a person's next contact with the church in whatever context.
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