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Temple Square, the venerable world symbol of the Church, reached a milestone Dec. 19 when the 4 millionth visitor this year walked through the ornate iron gates.

The arrival of the visitor, Teresa Hughes from Kingsport, Tenn., marked not only the highest number of visitors ever to visit the Square in a year, but also the rapid increase of 1 million visitors in just one year, said Joseph F. Horne, Temple Square director.He said that several factors have drawn an unusually high number of visitors to the Square this year. One factor has been the invitations and brochures sent across the United States and abroad, resulting in an increased number of tours. Another factor has been previous visitors who speak highly of their experience to friends.

And, all tours are complimentary, and that is inviting to visitors, particularly when contrasted with other tourist attractions, he said.

Once visitors arrive, Temple Square guides and the exhibits combine to make the visit a memorable one.

"We are very service-oriented. We just have to be," said Horne. "Visitors come from every state and from many other countries. Germany was our No. 1 visiting country this year.

"We have 1,300 guides, of whom 300 to 350 are language guides, and they are available on all shifts."

The guides are highly organized, particularly during peak times in the summer when buses are constantly arriving, and tours are formed every 10 minutes. Guides are waiting for every scheduled bus as it arrives, and even for buses that are not scheduled. More than 2,000 tours arrived this summer, bringing just a fraction of the 4 million total. About a fourth of the visitors come to Utah by airline, indicated a Temple Square survey conducted this summer.

Temple Square is now among the most popular attractions in the Mountain West. By comparison, for example, Yellowstone Park has 2.6 million and Grand Canyon has 3.5 million visitors annually. (Neither the park totals nor Temple Square's total includes those who are just passing through.)

Crowd management is a significant challenge on the 10-acre site. Groups must be skillfully handled as guides cope with the ever-increasing numbers. Additional ways to accommodate crowds are on the drawing boards, said Horne.

He explained that visitors are counted by an electronic means, and volunteers double check the figures.

He said the guides "want visitors to leave with a good impression of the Church."

Those who are interested in hearing more are given the opportunity to say so. Horne, former president of the Florida Tallahassee Mission, said 77,000 copies of the Book of Mormon were given to interested visitors last year.

"The Spirit here is most important," said Horne. "I feel it myself every time I come in."