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Utah's Hidden Fairy Forest
I first heard about Utah's secret Fairy Forest about 5 years ago on a blog I follow. The writer had adorable pictures of her kids walking with anticipation along the trail, across a river in effort to discover the magical fairy villages known as The Secret Fairy Forest.
She wrote of the light in her kids eyes as they added their own contribution. It looked like so much fun. So, my hubby and I made a visit that same year, and have gone back every year ever since.
I have had intentions to write a blog post each year since and have a plethora of pictures from year upon year of tiny tributes that have interested me. But oddly, every time I sat to write, the story in my mind had changed, just as the forest itself had, and I just couldn't find the words or motivation. I'm glad now for the writers block and see why I stumbled. Sometimes it takes a child's point of view to help the words flow.
Each year the borders of this forest of enchantment have gotten bigger, the displays more elaborate and the painted markers more colorful. With each years visit I was left puzzling over exactly how big and obscure this pine tree wooded area, plunked in the middle of one of one of our most scenic and treasured nature spots, would be allowed to grow? Last year, in particular I could not believe the growth, little houses and brightly colored rocks dotted the path as far as I could see.
Where is the Fairy Forest in Utah?
Located on Mirror Lake Highway at mile marker 17, this "secret" little forest, that has now been widely publicized by news media and blogs around the country, attracts 1,000's of visitors and is definitely no longer a secret.
Camping at the Utah Fairy Forest
Instead it's become a state attraction and is something that draws not only Utah families, but represents our state to visitors from all around the country, many of them camping at the Shady Dell campground right next door. There are bathrooms on the south side of the Campground, just before the river for those that may find they need to make a pit stop.
Admission is free, but there is a $6.00 National Forest day usage fee that you'll need to pay at the booth prior to entering. Now nearly triple the size since my first visit years ago, this time around I actually lost my bearings when leaving and it took a bit of time to find the path leading out.
How did the Fairy Forest in Utah Start?
It's not known exactly who or how it started, but while doing some online research watching blogger posted videos made by past visitors, I discovered that it could have been a single fairy cottage built from sticks and rocks that was set up as a Geocache.
Planning my visit this year I was particularly excited, as my 7 year old granddaughter was finally home from 3 years of living in Italy. So, we went to work creating our own little cottages, my hubby chipped in by adding some furniture made of sticks cut from branches in our yard. We crafted our contribution at home imagining that a fairy would choose to reside in our creations. It was the making of a memory I'm sure she will always treasure and a tradition I've heard many families have adopted.
After finding our plot of land and setting up wooden houses, we wandered the forest enjoying the little hideaways, castles, furniture dangling from trees and even spotted an adorable fairy theater. As we walked my granddaughter stopped to admire each contribution with joy and imagined not only the fairies that inhabited the forest when night fell, but the art of the creations. It was truly a wonderful moment for her and time and money I don't regret spending.
Is the Fairy Forest Children's Art or Graffiti?
And then .... something magical happened, my granddaughter, who has been taught like most children, to respect and appreciate our environment, spotted what she called "something ugly" and stopped me in my tracks to make sure I saw it too. A single random rock placed at the end of the trail seemed to have more of graffiti style to it and caused her take notice in a different way.
Recognizing that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, especially when it comes to a child's art, I suggested we should not judge others art, the rock was probably painted by a toddler, but to myself I agreed that there were many things left behind that didn't belong and made the forest feel cluttered and uninviting.
She began to point out villages cluttered and left as broken with garbage and old broken toys, plastic that she knows wouldn't break down in the forest, ribbons and paint in trees that she'd been taught could beharmful to birds or other animals (parents, this probably isn't the place to teach about where to recycle your trash).
Well, as things go, once you see something a certain way it's hard to turn a blind-eye, and when I looked around where we stood, the forest as a whole appeared to be some kind of dumping ground in the midst of our Utah beauty. In mere moments, the mystical magic of the Fairy Forest was lost and became nothing but a forest encased in graffiti a full 360 degrees.
I felt sad to watch her leave the forest with such a great amount of disenchantment. She pondered it all the way back to my house and we agreed to each other that after she returned to her home out of state, I would go back at the end of the season and remove all trace of our little houses.... "If fairies had not taken up residency" of course.
(photo Boy Scouts of America)
An Idea for a Scout Project
The forest service reports that it takes hours to clean up and that they removed nearly 5 truck loads of garbage last year, it took me a moment digest that.. FIVE truck loads of garbage in maybe 2/3 of a square mile. The forest is much bigger this year and I'm thinking with numbers like that a few of our scout troops may consider taking on a yearly clean up project.
What are you allowed to bring to the Fairy Forest?
I don't know what the legacy of the Fairy Forest will be and have wondered how long it will continue to be allowed to grow larger without any guidelines. I've read bloggers that say to take your own rocks and materials, and others, like the video below, that suggest a paint party is the way to go. I personally feel that it needs some clearly marked parameters and officially posted rules of what is and isn't allowed so people know what's acceptable and how to respect the area.
Until then keep in mind that federal law prohibits leaving things in the forest, removing nature from the forest, painting and defacing the forest. Until some clear rules have been decided, telling your kids, as I did, that it's okay to contribute, while quietly justifying it because everyone else is doing it, is a fairy tale.
My purpose in sharing our story isn't to stop you from visiting the forest, or leaving a piece of your children's art work behind. My story is meant to create awareness that, depending on the way you see things and where you are on your life journey, you and your child may see it as something other than a magical place to visit that's hidden away in the Utah mountains.
When I go back to pick up the memories we left behind, it will be my last visit. It no longer holds any enchantment for my family. Instead I'll choose to take a hike along the many other beguiling and less occupied trials in the area the next time my granddaughter visits. In a matter of a single hour she outgrew the Fairy Village in the mountains of Utah, right before my eyes. We'll find room in my garden to set up a cottage, and hope a fairy will stop by our house for a visit instead.
What do you Think?
Have you been to the Fairy Forest? Should the Fairy Forest remain a Utah tradition, or is the natural beauty of our forest enchanting enough? Should there be restrictions on its boundaries and materials that can be used to decorate it? Or, should we confine the Fairy's to our own backyards?
List of hikes near Mirror Lake Highway:
Ruth Lake: Located 10,000 feet up in the high Uintahs, this beautiful alpine lake is great for hikers and fishermen. It is a 2 mile round trip hike through meadows of wildflowers to a glassy lake that our boys loved.
Fehr Lake: This lake is just .5 miles each way (1 mile RT) and there are animals and critters to see along the way. One of the 600 lakes in the Uintahs is found at the end of the trail, and you can hike all the way around it.
Provo River Falls: There is a pullout along the Mirror Lake Highway that overlooks the Provo River Falls. This waterfall is pretty spectacular and easily accessible to everyone. If you drive the Mirror Lake Highway, this is a must-see.
Mirror Lake Hike: The Grand Central Station of the Mirror Lake Highway is obviously Mirror Lake. A trail leads all the way around the lake. It is too rocky for a stroller, but just right for a stroll.
Teapot Lake: Teapot Lake is located right on the Highway, and a 1 mile long path leads all the way around it. This beautiful lake is often surrounded by fishermen. The path is well marked and easy to follow, and this makes a great hike for little ones.
Additional notes: Hike information provided by Utah's Adventure Family. Visit each of the links above for hiking details. Written with respect and understanding to those who's children's art pieces are in the photos, no presumptions have been made. The Laws, Regulations and Policies of the US Forest Service Management can be found here. All images are the copyright of Coupons4Utah.com and my not be redistributed without permission.