Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young University's Y in view of the campus in Provo Wednesday, April 25, 2012. A bill to preserve the land around the Y has cleared the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Y is iconic. —BYU student Tim Frost

PROVO — A bill to preserve the land around Brigham Young University’s Y Mountain has cleared the U.S. House of Representatives.

The famous Y has been a landmark since 1906, and there was concern about the future of the land around it, including the hiking trails under split ownership. BYU owns the land surrounding the trailhead, but the U.S. Forest Service owns the land surrounding the block Y.

“This is a very unique situation,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “It used to be that Brigham Young owned the land. They transferred it to a trust, who then transferred it to the federal government many decades ago, so to transfer it back seems like a natural progression.”

Preserving the land around it, including the hiking trail, has become a priority for BYU alumnus Chaffetz.

"This permit that had been out there needed to be reviewed every 10 years every so often, and there was concern that at some point, somebody would say, 'No, let's just not do that,' and then nobody would have access," Chaffetz said. "So this solved that problem."

Chaffetz said HR4484, known as The Y Mountain Access Enhancement Act, allows BYU to buy the 80 acres of land at fair market value, with proceeds from the sale used to reduce the federal deficit. The bill passed the U.S. House Monday. It now moves to the Senate where Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has introduced a companion bill, SB2471.

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.

The public has also been very excited about the continued access to the Y for hiking and calls for the Y Mountain Trail to be maintained.

"The Y is iconic," said BYU student Tim Frost. "Every time my family come up here, from a distance you see the Y. I think it's a huge deal."

Access to the Y will not change, and the public probably won't know any difference there. But local ownership, like the Y itself, will become an even bigger symbol of pride.

"It's a symbol," said native Megan Smith. "It's a symbol of what's below it — that it's BYU." 

Contributing:  Viviane Vo-Duc