It’s a busy Saturday morning in December for the Islamic Society of Bosniaks. They are hosting an open house to share their culture with the wider community and to celebrate the recent renovation of their new mosque. (“Bosniak” refers to Bosnians who are Muslim.)
There is a group of people listening to a children’s choir perform in the main space. On the floor listening to the performance are two little girls sitting side by side. One is wearing a headscarf and the other a Santa hat. At times there is a line to get in. One little boy sees his friend in line and says, “I didn’t know you were Muslim!” People are chatting and taking off their shoes to enter the mosque. In front of the niche in the wall of the main space that indicates the direction of Mecca, towards which Muslims pray five times a day, The Bulbuli Children’s Choir performs several songs in English, Bosnian and Arabic. Yes, the mosque is a place of prayer, but it is also a social gathering place for community events.
Imam Sabahudin Ceman, who traveled from Phoenix for the event, is the Head Imam of the Islamic Association of Bosniaks in North America. Imam Ceman describes the religious tolerance in Bosnia and Herzegovina and particularly in the capital Sarajevo. “They call Sarajevo the European Jerusalem. In one courtyard there is a mosque, synagogue and a church,” he says. “Although differences exist, we have more similarities. We as human beings get stuck on differences.”
In an effort to help build bridges with the Christian community The Islamic Society of Bosniaks In Utah have chosen to name their mosque “Maryam.” The prophet Jesus and his mother Maryam are important people in Islam. The open house is a way for the Bosniaks to reach out to non-Muslims to share their history, culture and religion, but in particular to try and combat the negative stereotypes of Muslims in the media and popular culture.
A study conducted by Media Tenor, a media analysis organization based out of Switzerland, showed that as many as 80 percent of the news stories on U.S. television featuring Islam are negative. The four most common topics while covering Islam were international terrorism, international conflicts, political unrest and domestic terrorism.
Imam Ceman says, “We are human beings and citizens. That is why we are having this open house. This is our home, not only to live here, but to defend as well.”
Downstairs people are sitting, talking, and eating a variety of Bosnian dishes and desserts. Coffee, cream, and sugar are offered around the room.
Mesha Zelkovich holds his toddler daughter on his lap as the call to prayer sounds from upstairs. After a few minutes of silence, Zelkovich continues speaking about some of his experiences. He was born in Bosnia and lived in Sarajevo. He escaped Bosnia during the Bosnian War and came to Salt Lake City. He jokes that since Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympic Games and Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic games, he “only lives in Olympic cities.” He went to Highland High School and met and married his Catholic wife here in Salt Lake City. When asked if he and his wife’s different religions have ever been a problem he replies, “The more we talk about religion, the better our marriage. It’s all about mutual respect.” He adds, “We come here to mosque and then we’ll go home and set up a Christmas tree.” Their twin daughters are young, so they have options for religion when they grow up. “They could be Muslim, Catholic...or they could even be Jewish,” Zelkovich muses.
Zelkovich was in the U.S. military and dealt with stereotypes. However, he believes education is the solution. “If you don’t know the answer to something, ask, don’t stereotype. The misconception is that all Muslims are Arabs. There are all types and colors of Muslims…It's a lack of education.” Utah is his home and he enjoys that it has four seasons, low crime, and that his “LDS neighbors are awesome.” He is bothered by ignorant comments made by some public officials. “It is the politicians that are making it like this. Most people in Bosnia have mixed marriages.”
There weren’t many Bosnian families in Utah prior to 1992. Many of the Bosnians in the U.S., like Imam Ceman and Zelkovich, came here as refugees from the Bosnian War. The Bosnian War saw the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II, characterized by genocide, ethnic cleansing and systematic mass rape. It is estimated that 100,000 were killed and 2.2 million people were displaced in the conflict. Some of the worst atrocities were committed against the Bosniaks, most notably, the Srebrenica massacre. The Bosniaks fled religious persecution and ethnic cleansing. They settled all over the U.S. and seven to eight thousand found their way to make new lives for themselves in the Salt Lake Valley.
Today, there are multiple generations of Bosniaks living in Utah and they struggle to maintain their cultural identity here in the US. Before the Islamic Society of Bosniaks was founded in 2007, Salt Lake Bosniaks didn’t have their own place of worship. In 2007, they rented a space for their prayer services. In 2010, they purchased the former Baptist church at 425 N. 700 W. and finally had a space to call their own. Samra Boskailo, a member of the mosque, says, “The community came together and we bought it. We are happy to have our own little mosque.”
There are social spots for Bosnians to hang out like restaurants and coffee shops, but now they have their own place for cultural events and religious ceremonies like marriages and funeral services. Choir Director and Sunday School teacher Lejla Ramic says that having their own newly renovated space allows Bosniaks the opportunity to teach and preserve some of their cultural traditions that would otherwise be lost.
Many west Salt Lake City residents participated in the March for Refugees at the Utah State Capitol on February 4, 2016. They were among thousands of Utahns from all backgrounds who marched from the Federal Building to the capitol in opposition to President Trump’s executive orders that temporarily halted acceptance of refugees and banned travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries into the U.S.
After falling in love with city skylines in Shanghai, Istanbul and San Francisco, I believed I would remain loyal to my love of the transformation of land from man’s vision, to a plan on paper, to a creation with brick. I’m reminded of Woody Harrelson’s class lecture in Indecent Proposal, where he says, “Even a common ordinary brick wants to be something more than it is…” That’s exactly what I feel when I see cities – ambition. Man’s, the brick’s and everything in the universe that made it happen.
For the past year or so, I have been suffering a heartbreak living in Salt Lake City and missing mega-cities. I did not understand how to enjoy and make peace with the reality of living in the smaller, non-cosmopolitan city that adopted me.
Friends rant about going camping, hiking, skiing and other outdoorsy things that are completely foreign to me. How do you introduce nature to a soul who is uninitiated to the ways of cherishing it?
Well, little by little. That’s how.
So I made a pact with myself to start bicycling on an inner-city trail I kept seeing as I drove by. I set my alarm at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. and explored the trail for an hour at an embarrassing snail’s speed.
What struck me at first, was how well nestled some parts of the river were.
Then how beautiful dawn’s reflection looked on it.
Then the mountains and the river together.
Then I discovered a heady formula: Sunrise + Mountains + Greenery + River = Serenity.
The Jordan River taught me how to fall in love and stay in love with nature. Because, on the days I visited the river, it gave me reflection, which I forgot how to seek in mega-cities.
Why I Love the Jordan River Parkway
By Rebecca Burton
When most people think of Utah’s outdoor beauty, their mind wanders east to the Wasatch Range or south to the state’s great national parks. Most people don’t think to simply turn around and look right behind them—right in their own backyard. If they did, they would find one of the state’s most beautiful treasures.
The Jordan River Parkway is a spectacular 50-mile park notable not only for its length, but for the fact that it is easily accessible to the majority of Utah’s citizens. Extending from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake, it is within miles of hundreds of thousands of homes, from Saratoga Springs to North Salt Lake.
If you have even an hour to wander the trail, you’re sure to pass through shady groves, preserved wetlands, manicured fields, and windswept vistas. You’ll hear birdsong and rustling leaves to drown out nearby traffic. You’ll see panoramic views of the mountains and acres of verdant farmland. All along the way, the Jordan River will be your murky, yet powerful, companion.
Personally, I love the parkway so much because it preserves nature in our midst. On an evening run, I often see flitting monarchs, swarms of swallows and curious deer. I love it because I can bike from my parents’ home in Sandy to my sister’s home in Rose Park and enjoy uninterrupted beauty and peace the entire way.
The Jordan River Parkway is a mix of manmade and natural beauty with bridges and bluffs, pavilions and pelicans, miles of trails and groves of trees. It is a gift from the cities along its path. I’m so grateful for the local government workers who clear the trails of snow in winter and trim wild grass in the summer. They create an amazing amenity for adventurers who don’t have the time or means to ski, hike, mountain bike or otherwise enjoy the bountiful nature for which we’re known.
Instead, the parkway is the everyman’s playground—a place for families to gather, athletes to train, children to skate, and couples to wander. If New York has Central Park as an oasis for its city dwellers, we’re lucky to have a sanctuary that is equally accessible and beautiful—and much, much larger. If you visit this marvelous treasure, chances are you will leave feeling refreshed.
Finding faith in myself on the Jordan River
By Sarah Williams
I didn’t know we had white owls in Utah until one crossed my path on the Jordan River Parkway. The first time I saw it, it was dark out, probably too dark to be on this stretch of the river alone, but I had my bike, and I always felt safer on my bike than on foot. Summer was brand new, and I could not be kept inside. The bird flew from a high branch on the west shore of the river, right in front of me to some hidden place in the east I couldn’t find for all my looking. It’s wings wide and so silent it was like it wasn’t even there, a white shadow, a photo negative of the night. The summer was full of promise and I took it as a good and beautiful omen.
I had recently lost my religious faith, and taken up a new and fresh faith in myself. Leaving my old world shattered, I stood at a new door I was just beginning to open with fear and joy. It was going to be beautiful, I knew it. The owl meant good things. The river was part of my new faith because it was part of me. The smell of the river, thick in the summer night permeated my skin so deeply that even after a shower, I would still be able to smell it on my pillow. In summer I am the river.
The second time I saw the white owl, I was pedaling down the same stretch of river in the darkness, the last strains of summer evaporating in cool autumn foreshadowings. She flew in front of me in silence. Again, she was a promise, a good omen, but this time it was different. Through the summer, I had opened the door to my new life, and found that parts of my old life were more damaging and painful than I thought. Moving past them meant I first had to open closed places inside myself. There I found a sort of Pandora’s Box of shocks and I was knocked to my knees. It had hurt so deeply that I had come to the river night after night to heal. It was over, though. I’d found my new place and exorcized the old. The white owl stretched her wings wide in front of me like Noah’s dove with the olive leaf. The worst was over. I was free. I rode on in the darkness with the river towards home.
People on the Parkway
By Thomas Motter
I and my trusty sidekick, "Wills, the Mighty Wonder-Dog" bicycle along the Jordan River Parkway (weather permitting) every day.
Recently, I happened upon Bicycle Patrolman and Salt Lake City Police Officer, Cody Orgill and his partner. The two were posting public notices at strategic points along the Jordan River Parkway trail warning people of the recent algae bloom in the river that had posed a potential health threat especially to their canine partners.
Many of the folks who use the Parkway, jog or bike with a furry friend. On especially hot days, which were in abundance this past summer, pets are inclined to jump in and cool off as well as slake their thirst in the river's cool pools and eddies. In order to avoid the threat to man and beast alike, Officer Orgill explained that the leadership of the bicycle patrol force had decided to expand their patrol area to include the parkway.
On another day, I encountered a senior husband and wife team biking along the parkway. The two had stopped for a drink and rest. After initiating a conversation, they informed me that they had relocated from Sausalito, California to retire. When asked why they had decided to move to the Wasatch Front, they replied that they enjoyed outdoor activities and being in such close proximity to pristine wilderness. They bike along the river on a regular basis in order to maintain the cardio-vascular fitness level necessary to ski "The Greatest Snow On Earth" during the Winter Season.
The first wildlife article I wrote for The West View was titled: “If You Build It, They Will Come.” That editorial, published in the Summer 2012 Issue, promoted the creation of wildlife habitat.
I, along with many other nature proponents in Salt Lake City were disappointed that the city had developed 140 acres on the north Jordan River for the construction of the controversial Regional Sports Complex, rather than the wildlife preserve and nature center that were originally proposed. This was at a time when other cities along the Jordan River were moving ahead with their own large nature restoration projects.
Since then, mitigation funding for the Chevron oil spill into Red Butte Creek has provided several opportunities for Utah’s capital city to restore wildlife habitat. One of those projects here on the west side is a small 7.5 acre parcel on the Jordan River at 900 South. Following my recommendation, this wetland preserve was recently named after longtime west side residents Fred and Ila Rose Fife.
The earth-moving portion of that project is now complete, resulting in a large, shallow pond, and the area has been re-planted with numerous native plants.
The most common questions I hear about the Fife Wetlands Preserve are: “Has the project resulted in more wildlife?” and “Now that we built it, what new wildlife will come?”
To answer these questions it is important to define what wildlife is not. It does not take an expert to understand that most people do not consider house mice, Norway rats, raccoons, English house sparrows, European starlings, Eurasian collared doves, or any other common, non-native, urban non-migratory species to be wildlife. Rather they are often considered to be pests.
What many do not understand, however, is that even some of our native wildlife species can no longer be considered wild. Classic examples include mallard ducks and Canadian geese, many of which no longer migrate, live year round here in Salt Lake City’s ice free waterways, and are routinely fed by people. They have so adapted to our urban lifestyle that they have lost many of their protective instincts, becoming almost domesticated. Experts refer to this type of behavior as "habituation." A great example of habituation here in our west side neighborhoods is the recent influx of rock squirrels that are quickly becoming pests, especially for neighbors with fruit trees.
The non-habituated wildlife species featured in my previous columns include amphibians, fish, reptiles, mammals, and migratory birds. From the beginning, the Fife Preserve has been home for several wildlife species including tiger salamanders, fathead minnows, and wandering garter snakes. More recently we have seen new arrivals including snowy egrets, common mergansers, muskrats, red-winged blackbirds, and even a rare sage thrasher (see photo).
In the future, the preserve should expect to attract new fish like speckled dace, chorus frogs, valley garter snakes, mammals like long-legged bats and meadow voles, and of course a large and growing list of migratory, neotropical birds like black-crowned night-herons, cinnamon teal, American kestrels, purple martins, marsh wrens, yellow-breasted chats, and spotted towhees, just to name a few. Many of these animals are unique, beautiful, and really fun to watch.
I find that there are three things that most citizens do not understand about wildlife restoration.
First, good wildlife habitats are naturally messy and diverse, and should NOT be managed as “people parks” with their traditional Kentucky bluegrass and shade trees. Some people think that wildlife prefer the tidy, orderliness of the city's parks. Those parks, however, are designed and managed for people, not wildlife. Artificial watering and mowing at restoration sites should not be continued indefinitely, because there are no sprinklers or lawn mowers in the wild.
Second, people do not realize that restoration projects like the Fife Wetlands Preserve often take decades to reach their full wildlife potential. Therefore, the public needs to be patient.
Third, to realize the best results from our restoration efforts requires the use of “best practices,” such as the complete exclusion of both dogs and bicycles. This is essential to minimize disruption to wildlife in such a small preserve. People walking dogs or riding bikes have many other more appropriate, designated areas to use.
Over the years, I have showcased many truly wild species in my column, and appreciate the many compliments received for my efforts. It will take many years to feature all of the “true” wildlife here along the Jordan River in The West View, but if "We build it; they will come!"
On 600 West, among all the apartment construction in the west Downtown-Gateway area, “Futsal 801” pops out of the warehouse drab. The murals of international soccer stars Messi and Ronaldinho colorfully announce the indoor soccer facility for Utah Development Academy (UDA).
While UDA is a serious soccer club with 22 competitive teams, its mission isn’t the typical “winning at any cost” philosophy of many youth soccer clubs in the U.S.
Founded in 2012 by Tyler Stockstill, UDA declares its mission as “inspiring diverse youth to achieve their potential through education and sport.” Tyler’s wife and the club’s Health and Education Coordinator, Libby Stockstill says Tyler’s vision was born out of his connection with Latino players while coaching for east side clubs in Salt Lake City.
Wanting to provide a different experience for west side youth, Tyler focuses on quality, accessibility, affordability, and meeting west side kids’ needs. UDA set an early goal of improving players’ grades, graduating high school, and getting them to think about higher education.
Libby emphasizes how important it is for them to reach middle schoolers. “Currently we’re trying to expand middle-school sports, because at that age boys and girls need a lot of support.” Gang life calls some students, and traumatic events like the violent death of a family member are not uncommon. UDA was created to help kids with life both on and off-field.
After a summer evening training session on West High’s football field, Edgar Mesquita, age 14, from Rose Park, says soccer is the best part of his day. “With soccer I have fun. I can be free, instead of being in the streets. It keeps me entertained.” He thinks UDA is special because of “the bond they create between the players and coaches.” Mesquita estimates that 20 of his friends play for UDA teams.
“Chino” Fernández, age 14, also from Rose Park and a freshman at West High speaks to the benefits of soccer in his life. “It helps take things off my mind,” he said. A midfield playmaker, “Chino” cites Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and James Rodríguez of Colombia as his on-field role models.
UDA provides off-the-field mentors as well. Students from the Bennion Center for community service at the University of Utah offer homework assistance sessions, which are twice a week for some teams. Volunteers in UDA’s academic assistance program also teach an ACT preparation class and take trips to college campuses so that players see higher education as a real possibility.
Where most clubs run on a pattern of competitive selection and frequent turnover, for UDA “the main goal is retention.” Citing the benefits of extended relationships over time, Libby remembers with teary pride the club’s very first team, all of whom recently graduated high school after sticking together for four years.
Libby, a Spanish speaker, says it requires “personal and cultural sensitivity” to understand kids’ life challenges at home. “We try to make sure that every child who joins the team is important as a kid.”
Health education is also a main part of UDA’s mission. In partnership with Molina Healthcare, the club’s jersey sponsor, club families are offered nutrition and wellness workshops. Per the club’s purpose, the “whole kid” is the focus.
Where many other clubs are out to field the strongest teams regardless of other considerations, UDA gives a place to any child who is willing to work towards athletic and scholastic goals. While the annual player fees for other clubs can reach $3000, UDA keeps their fees to $350 for income-qualifying families, and $1100 for others.
Highland High graduate Bewar Yousif, recently signed on as assistant coach to Tyler Stockstill and Competition Director at UDA. At his former club, goals for inclusivity were made but never achieved. He thinks UDA’s success comes from “giving the kids attention. They help them with their grades, they go to their graduation.”
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.”
Residents of Salt Lake’s west side may be aware of the new Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex that opened this past April in Westpointe but many may not fully understand exactly what it is. Some may be confused as to whether it is a park, recreation center, or just some open green space. Does it serve some need of the local community and is it even open to the public?
The Regional Athletic Complex (RAC) is a 140-acre, 16-field sports venue, meant to host tournaments for soccer, rugby, lacrosse, football, quidditch (that’s a thing outside of Harry Potter - who knew!?) and ultimate frisbee. It is located right off the freeway, nestled between I-215 and the Jordan River and north of Northwest Middle School.
Although there is no shortage of these types of facilities throughout the country, including five more that will be built in the mountain west and an existing facility already in West Jordan, the RAC hopes to win the hearts (and bids) of tournament organizers with its premier location, spectacular service and amenities, and world-class fields and grass. While many sports venues are located in suburbs that can accommodate the acreage needed for such as facility, the RAC is located in Salt Lake City proper, five minutes from the airport and conveniently close to downtown hotels and restaurants.
Several tournaments have already taken place at the RAC this past summer including the World Rugby Super Series, Real Salt Lake State Cup, La Roca Cup, and the North American Rugby Invitational 7s. These events are free and open to the public, allowing locals to catch a glimpse of some sports that they otherwise might not have an opportunity to have any exposure to at such a skilled level.
However, while events are free to attend for spectators, the fields are not free for players. The facility has a strict “pay to play” policy and while local youth can reserve a field for a discounted $45/hour during the week, they must also provide proof of resident status, certificate of insurance, and a W-9. This is not the type of venue for kids to play a pick up soccer game, but rather, a premier space for them to experience tournament level play, on the best grass the city can grow.
The actual construction of the fields is state-of-the-art, similar to the sand-based fields used at Rio Tinto Stadium that allows better water drainage so soil compaction and puddling on the field does not occur. Play is limited to 25 hours a week so that the turf can recover and maintain its high level of quality for all the tournaments. While normal grass level is usually three inches, the length at the RAC is 1.5 inches. Many people who visit mistakenly believe that the fields are artificial turf because they look so flawless.
All this did not come without a price. Although the operation is currently 100% funded by field fees, the initial cost to construct was $23 million dollars, with Salt Lake City residents voting for a $15.3 million dollar bond back in 2003 and a $7.5 million dollar match coming from Real Salt Lake. Four full-time city employees run the facility with seven seasonal employees. In addition, Salt Lake City’s Mosquito Abatement comes out daily for treatment due to its close proximity to the Jordan River.
Beyond the dollar cost to construct and run the facility, there is an environmental cost as well. 13 acres of wetlands were lost during construction, with only two acres rebuilt. The RAC currently uses Salt Lake City’s culinary water for its extensive irrigation, placing an increased burden on an area with already strained water usage.
Despite the hefty price, Lisa Schmidt, the Program Manager of the Regional Athletic Complex contests that the facility is a strong economic driver for Salt Lake City, bringing in millions of dollars of spending from out-of-town attendees at Salt Lake City hotels, restaurants, and shops. They have already secured funding to construct a shade structure that should be done by 2017 and are currently working on road realignment. She hopes that they will be able to expand, developing an additional 65 acres north of the existing fields, adding more trees, a new restroom, stadium seating, as well as additional full-time staff.
As to the immediate benefit for west-side residents, perhaps they will want to check it out themselves. To find out what events are occurring at the RAC, you can follow them on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/slcregionalathleticcomplex/ or call them at 801-972-7879.
The 50-mile Jordan River passes through fifteen cities and three counties along the Wasatch Front. Historically, there has been a lack of coordination among these different municipalities. That was until the Jordan River Commission was formed in 2010.
The Jordan River Commission is a public entity created to help implement the Blueprint Jordan River, a regional plan outlining a future vision of the entire Jordan River corridor.
The Blueprint Jordan River was the result of a year-long planning effort in 2008 involving nearly 3,000 public workshop participants. In these workshops, people from all along the Wasatch Front identified a vision of the river as a 7,300-acre nature corridor with trails, open space, wildlife viewing and recreation opportunities. Many other ideas and goals, such as stormwater management, environmental education, and rehabilitation of former industrial areas into “river centers” with recreation and dining, were identified. The final Blueprint plan received a resolution of support from the majority of local governments adjacent to the river.
Currently 25 governmental entities have signed an interlocal cooperation agreement as members of the Jordan River Commission (JRC). These members represent 14 cities, three counties, two state agencies and six special service districts, including the Utah Transit Authority, the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, and several water treatment facilities.
In a most unusual organizational framework, the JRC’s Governing Board has more members than members of the commission itself. The Governing Board has 36 voting members of which two-thirds are government entities and one-third are non-governmental or community partners. The community members have a variety of perspectives including recreation, environment, education, business, land ownership, utilities/infrastructure, and fundraising/development.
The JRC’s purpose is to “enhance, preserve, protect, and responsibly develop the river corridor.” The commission and its small staff raise public awareness, promote coordination among numerous stakeholders and assist in the implementation of projects identified in the Blueprint in accordance with a strategic plan.
The Jordan River Commission is a successful model of how interlocal government entities can work with each other and the greater community to achieve large public goals.
They developed a corridor-wide invasive vegetation management calendar and treatment schedule, and a GIS inventory of all remaining open space along the river. They developed best practices for riverfront communities including a model ordinance, checklist and available resources. They co-host the annual Get Into the River Festival which happens every spring in different municipalities along the river. They also fund various projects. For example, they gave $205,639 toward future completion of the gap in the Jordan River Parkway trail between 200 South and North Temple, $81,000 toward puncturevine management over a three-year period, and $15,000 toward Salt Lake County’s annual Watershed Symposium.
Specific projects are funded by either grants or private donations. Basic administrative funding for the JRC (mostly staffing) comes from annual fees charged to its members based upon a formula with equal weights for an entity’s population, geographic area, and linear river frontage.
How to Get Involved?
The Jordan River Commission meets at 9 a.m. on the first Thursday of every month, usually at Taylorsville City Hall. Time is set aside at the end of each meeting for public comment. Members of the public can also request to be on the agenda. Staff will accept such requests by phone, mail or email at any time and the item will be placed on the next available agenda. Agendas are closed a week prior to the meeting.
For more information and a comprehensive look at , visit their website at www.jordanrivercommission.com.
Who makes up the Jordan River Commission?
25 Government Members:
3 counties: Davis, Salt Lake and Utah
14 cities: Bluffdale, Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Midvale, North Salt Lake, Riverton, Sandy, Salt Lake City, Saratoga Springs, South Jordan, South Salt Lake, Taylorsville, West Jordan, and West Valley City. (Murray City is the only major governmental entity along the river corridor not included on the Commission.)\
2 state agencies: Utah Dept. of Environmental Quality, Utah Dept. of Natural Resources
6 special service districts: Utah Transit Authority, and others (see website)
Who makes up the JRC’s governing board?
4 county members – Utah County, Davis County, and two from Salt Lake County, the mayor and a council member
13 city representatives
4 state government representatives from the Governor’s Office, the State Legislature, the Utah Division of Water Quality, and the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands.
6 special service districts: UTA, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, South Davis and Central Valley Water Treatment Facilities, Worker’s Compensation Fund, and the Utah State Fair Park.
7 community partners: Jordan River Foundation, the Wasatch Rowing Foundation, Tracy Aviary, Chevron Oil Company, Rocky Mountain Power, Zions Bank, and one Community at-large member – Simon Sorenson. Two vacancies exist.
Executive Director Laura Hanson, AICP ()
Brian Tonetti, Program & Policy Planner ()
Michaela Boothe, Executive Assistant (
Technical Assistance Committee - 42 members listed on website
I feel lucky sitting down with Gilberto Rejon Magana and Van Hoover of the Jordan River Community Initiative. Lucky to learn about such a creative, multifaceted nonprofit in my neighborhood, and lucky to hear the stories about kids stepping into a canoe, and stepping out with a greater understanding of their own purpose.
The way Gilberto talks about the Jordan River resonates with me, a girl who explored in the backyard creek from sun up to sun down on long summer days. “I am Mayan Indian,” he says, “and in my culture a river is many things. It is fish, it is recreation, but it’s more than that …it is peace. It is water and water is life.” For this reason, Gilberto, Executive Director and Soccer Coach for Hartland Community 4 Youth and Families, found that caring for the river and using the river to engage local youth came naturally.
Almost eleven years ago Gilberto’s young son offered Gilberto’s services as a soccer coach to a group of troublesome kids at Mountainview Elementary school. When he found out about the offer, Gilberto, knowing his son had acted out of concern, decided he would dig in and do what he could. Little did he know what struggles and successes lie ahead, or that he had just stumbled upon one of the greatest passions of his life.
Each year as Gilberto’s group of kids increased in size, so did its purpose and place in the community. In 2015, Hartland Community 4 Youth and Families became an official non-profit, but it was over a year earlier that the group adopted the stretch along the Jordan River from 1100 South to 1700 South in an effort to branch out and care for their community. As Gilberto explains, Hartland Community 4 Youth and Families offers kids more than soccer, it offers them a place to grow based on what he calls the “The Three Pillars: Responsibility, Respect and Self Discipline.”
It was in late 2013 that Gilberto and fellow Westside Leadership Institute graduate Van Hoover were given a challenge by former Sorenson Unity Center Director Chris Peterson to create a community driven project around the improvement of the Jordan River. Together they created the Jordan River Community Initiative. As a project under the HCFY&F, the new organization would have the undercurrent of youth involvement, but reach broader into the community for support.
Van, who had commuted by bike along the Jordan River from Midvale to Salt Lake City for years, had formed an attachment to the waterway and found himself eager to participate in the project. Van’s love of the wildlife along the river is apparent when he speaks about the creatures he encounters on his rides. “There is this spot where a bald eagle comes every year. Somewhere in late January, BOOM, it’s there, in the same tree.” He smiles thinking about it. “One issue we struggle with is the perception people have of the river. Yes, it’s a post-industrial river, but it’s also an incredible place to spend time.”
Last spring the Jordan River Community Initiative rolled out the first installment of their Art Sign project, an exciting community effort where local artists and kids created paintings together to replace older signs along the river – signs that had for years only served as blank canvases for graffiti, giving the river a neglected feel. Van felt that creating original artwork that rotated year after year would demonstrate that there is ongoing investment in the space.
Thanks to the support of Salt Lake City’s Open Space Lands Program and a grant from the Jordan River Commission, Van and his team were able to put their idea into action. Kids from a variety of programs including Gilberto’s group from Hartland Community, YouthCity, Utah Association for the Deaf, and Splore joined forces with local artists, led by Justin Johnson of Justified Ink. Together they created five gorgeous paintings that celebrate the river and its wildlife. The project will move forward in spring of 2017 with a second round of paintings.
Gilberto, a long time west side resident, admits the Jordan River has a colorful past, and not every stretch of the river has a reputation for being clean or even safe. He addresses this issue at times by engaging his kids in conversation about community and accountability, taking them to a spot piled with trash and belongings and asking “How do you think that got here?”
Van speaks to a central purpose of their organization when he says that it is important to foster “a community value of stewardship, because the river doesn’t take care of itself.” A true statement for a river that may have at one point flowed free and pure, but has long since been altered and used to serve the city.
I love what Sarah Williams, a photo contributor for the Jordan River Community Initiative Facebook page, says about the river. “The river seems to reflect all the different colors of our city. In parts urban, or industrial, while in others meandering and serene. It is a complicated beauty.”
For updates on projects, activities and cleanups, check out the Jordan River Community Initiative group on Facebook.
Salt Lake City’s west side has arguably produced some of the most outstanding athletes in the state. And yet, many of these athletes have to travel miles to access facilities to match their talent. Consequently, many must trade their neighborhood identity for more known programs that offer far greater athletic and educational opportunities.
One such program has been football. For decades now, East and West little leagues have gained and groomed multiple generations of high school, college and even NFL players from the west side. If such athletes were coming out of the west side, and more specifically, the Glendale neighborhood, then why shouldn’t they have a team of their own? Some of that answer is due to socio-economic challenges many players and their parents face. Football provides a dual role: investment and risk. Many specifically Pacific Islander parents see their children’s football success as a way out of socioeconomic challenges. This is both a myth and a fact. Pacific Islanders are 28 percent more likely to play football professionally than any other ethnic group. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/content/polynesian-nfl-players-pipeline-to-the-pinnacle-of-football/
And so, for decades many Pacific Islander parents in Salt Lake City have held to that myth, invested years of their limited resources and time so that their sons could play little league, high school, college and then the NFL (as seen in Football We Trust). For years now, the community has gotten accustomed to outsourcing their talent and travelling to other neighborhoods to play. There has never been a little league team in the neighborhood and not many have questioned that status quo.
Last year, a group of concerned parents recognized the gap and decided to fill it. Hence, the birth of the Glendale Griffins little league football program. Roxanne Langi, Executive Vice President stated, “there is no way my kids would be playing football before high school [without this league]. . .the league is low cost and close to home so boys can walk to practice.” She and other dedicated parent volunteers also suggest that the team fosters a positive neighborhood identity where the community steps in when parents can’t meet the costs.
However, the formation of the Griffins league has not been completely well-received in the neighborhood. Some have chosen to continue driving their children to long standing little league teams. And yet, this a good thing. It’s a great thing. Choices foster competition – competition not just on the field but in the costs that parents make in terms of time and money.
This fall will be the Griffins’ second year. They have four teams. That’s four more teams that didn’t exist in years past; four more opportunities for kids to play football in their own backyard; and four more times the chance of putting Glendale on the map.