Story and Photos By Ray Wheeler
One possible future for the Jordan River corridor across Salt Lake City is an ambitious plan to create a linked series of nature parks along the river all the way across the city. This “Nature in the City Riparian and Community Restoration Plan” has been endorsed by 17 local and regional environmental groups, the Glendale Community Council, and several former and current Salt Lake City councilmembers.
“The central idea of this plan is to think of river as one entity, and to challenge ourselves to find every possible way to enhance its ecological health and biological diversity as well as its recreational, spiritual and economic value for all of us who live near it,” says botanist and riparian restoration ecologist Ty Harrison, one of the plan’s principal designers. “How creative are we?”
The plan identifies 17 target land parcels along the river, ranging from four to 160 acres in size, which could potentially be restored with native plants, wetlands, native fish, water quality control facilities. The goal is to establish a continuous habitat and travel corridor for wildlife and humans along the river.
Most of the land identified for possible conversion to nature parks is within existing city or state parks, city-owned golf courses or other public open space, such as part of the Utah State Fair Park or a portion of the Jordan River OHV Park near the I-215 bridge over the river. In addition to removing non-native plant species and restoring native plant communities, the plan would:
- Re-grade stream banks and replant them with native species wherever possible to reduce soil erosion;
- Create new wetlands ponds and bioswales to provide wildlife habitat especially for migratory birds traveling along two overlapping transcontinental bird flyways that follow the Jordan River from Utah Lake to the abundant wetlands of the Great Salt Lake shorelines.
- Improve water quality by removing pollution and sediment in wetlands, bioswales and sediment trap devices installed at stream confluences and major storm water outfalls.
- “Daylight” tributary streams (bring City Creek and water from Red Butte, Emigration and Parley’s creeks up out of underground pipes as they approach the river, and restore native plant communities and fisheries along these stream courses.
- Provide nature education opportunities on the city’s west side, including two nature education buildings, one a potential west side campus for Tracy Aviary proposed for the former Par 3 golf course property in Rose Park, plus a wildlife education center for hunters and fishermen. In addition, each of the proposed nature parks would serve as a hands-on, outdoor classroom where school kids, college students and residents can learn how to restore native plant communities and wildlife by doing restoration work under the supervision of experts.
- Develop spaces for urban agriculture at a variety of scales, from 2 to 10-acre urban farms down through community gardens, eco-gardens, permaculture gardens, or food forests (self-sustaining natural orchards open to the public and managed by volunteers).
- Expand the off-street bike commuter trail system to improve air quality by completing a missing link in the north-south Jordan Parkway bike trail, while providing additional east-west connector trails connecting downtown to the river at about 200 South, and by extending the “9 Line” trail all the way from Redwood Road east to the Wasatch Foothills and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.
- Create new community centers to serve as gateways to the river. For example: at the century-old Fisher Mansion, an architectural classic on the east bank of the Jordan river at 200 South – now city-owned and in need of about $3.5 million restoration funding.
- Provide other social and recreational amenities away from the river along the city-edge of larger properties, such as repurposed golf courses, the State Fair Park, or the Jordan River OHV Park on the north edge of the city. Such features might include, where appropriate, community fisheries, dog parks, children’s play parks, hiking trails, perimeter bicycle or mountain bike trails, wildlife observation stations, and other traditional features of city parks.
- Enhance property values, tax revenue, and economic opportunity. Land value increases substantially along any protected urban greenway, often repaying cities and counties for the cost of purchasing and restoring land.
“This plan has many benefits,” says Bill Watters, whose family has lived near the Jordan River for 60 years. “The best reason to restore nature in our city is for its beauty, peace and vitality. The next best reason is that a riparian greenway will stimulate our economy by attracting disruptive companies drawn to University towns like ours which have great outdoor recreation opportunities.”