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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young University's Y in view of the campus in Provo Wednesday, April 25, 2012. Congressman Jason Chaffetz is asking Congress to let BYU buy the land surrounding the Y on the mountain.
Really, for the public, nothing is going to change here. They're going to continue to be able to hike it and enjoy the Y, and that's really what's most important. —BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead

PROVO — A handful of BYU alumni in Congress want to make sure the large block Y on the mountainside east of their alma mater and the trails that access it are preserved and protected for years to come.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, on Tuesday introduced the Y Mountain Access Enhancement Act, which would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to sell 80 acres of Forest Service land on Y Mountain to BYU.

BYU already owns and maintains the trailhead and a portion of the trail, Chaffetz said. Selling surrounding property to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-owned university makes sense, he said.

"Split ownership complicates maintenance and long-term management, which ultimately puts public access at risk," Chaffetz said.

The bill, co-sponsored by BYU alumni Eni Faleomavaega, D-America Samoa; Buck McKeon, R-Calif.; and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., calls for BYU to pay fair market value for the land and to cover all administrative and appraisal costs associated with the sale.

It also would mandate that BYU maintain the property and guarantee public access to the block Y, Y Mountain and surrounding trails — something the university already does, said BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead.

"Really, for the public, nothing is going to change here," Hollingshead said. "They're going to continue to be able to hike it and enjoy the Y, and that's really what's most important."

BYU used to own Y Mountain and the surrounding property, he said. It's unclear when or why the federal government took over ownership of the land.

"This is an effort to retain that original ownership," Hollingshead said.

Provo Mayor John Curtis and the Utah County Commission have issued statements of support for the Y Mountain Access Enhancement Act. In a letter to Chaffetz dated April 24, Curtis describes the block Y as "a symbol and tribute to our community for decades."

"The Y has served as a reminder of place for past graduates and current residents," he wrote. "For me personally, it's an icon welcoming me home."

An April 17 letter from Utah County Commissioners Larry Ellertson, Doug Witney and Gary Anderson wishes Chaffetz "much success" with the bill.

"It will enhance the ability to control erosion and help ensure the Y stays in place for the future," the letter states. "The Y is a well-recognized and appreciated landmark, and should be preserved."

The concrete block Y on the mountainside east of BYU measures 380 feet tall by 130 feet wide, making it larger than the well-known Hollywood sign near Los Angeles.

The Y has been there in some form since 1906, when then-BYU President George H. Brimhall signed off on the construction of block letters spelling BYU on the mountainside. The Y was laid out first to make sure the letters were centered on the mountain.

According to the BYU Athletics website, students formed a line that zigzagged up the mountainside and relayed loads of lime powder to form the Y. The process took much longer than expected, and plans to fill in the B and U were scrapped.

In 1907, a layer of rock was added to make the Y more permanent. And a year later, 20,000 pounds of sand and cement were carried up the mountain to form a 3-foot wall to hold the Y together.

In 1911, serifs were added to the top and bottom of the Y, giving it its current look. The block Y celebrated its 100th anniversary on May 20, 2006.

A purchase price for the property has not yet been determined, Hollingshead said. The bill calls for all proceeds of the sale to be put toward reducing the federal budget deficit.

The 80 acres represents less that .001 percent of U.S. Forest Service land in Utah, Chaffetz said.

Contributing: Randall Jeppesen, Sam Penrod