Humanity’s relationship with “nature”– the web of non-human life forms with which we coexist and are interdependent – has always been paradoxical. For much of our history we have worshiped nature even as we have also destroyed it.
In our mountainous Salt Lake Valley, since the arrival of Mormon pioneers a century and a half ago, we have largely obliterated native plant communities and eliminated many species of wildlife. All seven streams flowing from the Wasatch Mountains to the Jordan River have been submerged into an underground network of pipes. Today one of the last remaining spaces available for native communities of animals and plants in our valley is the ribbon of green along the winding path of the Jordan River.
Since Mormon pioneer days, the human perception of our valley’s only river has reflected our paradoxical relationship with nature. For the first settlers the river was a vital lifeline, providing water for drinking and cleaning, for power, for transport and for agriculture.
But when the same river flooded farms, homes or towns, presented a barrier to travel, bred mosquitoes or otherwise obstructed the spread of civilization, we naturally regarded it as a nuisance or a threat. Many saw it merely as a conveyor belt to nowhere, a convenient repository for every kind of human waste.
The original, pre-settlement river was slow and sinuous, with a flood plain up to a half-mile wide in places. Its low, gently sloped banks, regularly topped by floodwater, were lined not with trees but with coyote willow, shrubs, bulrushes and grass. It had large systems of marshy wetland ponds within its flood plain, especially on Salt Lake City’s west side as the river approached its mouth in the Great Salt Lake.
The river provided water, food and shelter for deer, elk, cougar, wolves, coyotes, foxes, and many other animals including at least 200 species of locally breeding birds, and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds traveling along two overlapping transcontinental migratory bird flyways that follow the north-south path of the river. A 2002 study by Utah Partners in Flight confirms that riparian corridors are the most important bird habitat in the state.
By 1883 the industrious Mormon settlers had built an approximately 170-mile network of canals to distribute the flow of a 50-mile long river across much of a 500-square-mile valley floor. By mid 20th century most of the land along the river, outside of cities, was farmland. At this time, Valley residents still fished and swam safely in the river.
However like all urban rivers across the world, with the development of our modern industrial infrastructure the river gradually became a staging area and dumping ground for every conceivable form of urban-industrial waste: smoke-belching power plants, pollution-seeping factories, raw human sewage (until the first sewer plants were finally built on the river in the 1950s), trash dumps, junkyards, offal from meat-packing plants, industrial chemical wastes, fertilizers and other pollutants flushed off city streets and landscapes, and eventually, refuse from the ever-present homeless people who camp up and down the river.
In addition to our valley’s vast canal system, we built out a still larger storm sewer system to drain storm water from virtually every street in the valley. This “storm water” drains into the river, essentially serving as both garbage collector and sewer main for the entire valley.
In 1910, flood control engineers built a diversion dam at 2100 South to redirect floodwater into a “surplus canal” away from the original river channel, which passes within 1.7 miles of Temple Square and the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. Despite this heroic flood control measure, Salt Lake County flood control crews still continuously dredge the original channel to control flood risk from sediment, which they pile up in riverbank levees or berms.
The river has also been straightened, shortening its length and speeding its flow. To prevent erosion on the outside of river bends, its now steep banks have been hardened with “rip rap” rock walls, car bodies, concrete blocks and other debris, to ensure that homes and commercial centers can be built right to water’s edge with minimal flood risk or flood insurance cost.
As industrial blight and pollution increased during the second half of the 20th century, some communities and residents along the river turned away from it. It developed a notoriously bad reputation. In the 1970s its water was tested and declared unsafe in places for drinking or swimming. Many parents warned their children not to go near it. Its water was muddy and dangerous to human health. It stank. Its banks were stripped almost completely of native plants, which were gradually replaced with weedy non-native plants of little value to wildlife. In some places, its wetlands and marshes were buried under trash and fill. Its channel was dredged, bermed, straightened, its banks raised, steepened and fortified. A 1971 report titled “Jordan River Parkway, an Alternative” done by Urban Technology Assoc. noted that when kids fell into the river they sometimes drowned because the banks were too steep to climb. Gradually it sank below its rising banks until it all but disappeared from the public consciousness. Many homeowners with back yards bordering the river turned away from it, building fences that block it from view and shuttering the windows facing the river.
However, beginning in the 1950s a positive change in public consciousness also began to take hold. After nearly a century of ever-intensifying abuse, city, county and state governments began the epic job of recovering the river from its status as a waste dump and sewage canal with the construction of water treatment plants along the river beginning in the 1950s. Thanks to major environmental protection laws enacted in the 1960s and 1970s, especially the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Protection Act, the Jordan river corridor is today a somewhat cleaner river, though the water is still quite polluted and mostly unsafe for swimming, let alone drinking.
During the latter part of the 20th century valley residents and city planners began to see the recreational value of the river corridor. The fast-growing cities and counties along the river’s path began to build parks along its banks. Golf courses and sports parks were constructed along the river. Duck hunting reserves and wildlife preserves proliferated across the vast wetlands at its mouth.
As part of a “Model Cities” program, during the 1960s and 1970s, urban planners conceived the ambitious idea of a “Provo Jordan River Parkway” bike and pedestrian trail running up to 150 miles along the path of the Provo River through Provo Canyon and across the city of Provo to Utah Lake, then up its eastern shoreline and continuing northward along the entire length of the Jordan River.
With the construction next year of a recently-funded $6 million bike and pedestrian bridge spanning the railroad yard between North Temple and 200 South, the Jordan River Parkway trail will be continuous all the way from Utah Lake almost to the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake, providing an extremely efficient and safe north-south bike commuting pathway across the Salt Lake Valley.
These visionary efforts to improve the river corridor eventually led real estate developers to a revelation. Because of flood risk, pollution and their unsavory reputation the river bottoms had remained undeveloped farmland, mostly zoned agricultural and priced at bottom dollar for a major urban area. But if water pollution could be reduced – if the river could be made not to smell – then residential subdivisions, office parks and strip malls might be built within its previously undeveloped flood plain, and developers could pull off one buy-low, rezone-and-sell-high subdivision and commercial center bonanza after another. Hopefully flood risk was now so well contained as to be minimal. And if flooding did occur, there would always be FEMA and the nation’s heroic taxpayers to bail out the new commercial or residential property owners.
In 1996 one of Utah’s largest construction firms succeeded in forcing South Jordan City to discard a plan to develop a park system along the river and instead to rezone the farmland it had bought for commercial use – a story well told by Utahan Paul Swenson in a meticulously accurate, true-to-life novel, Slapped. Overnight the developer realized a $17 million profit just from the rezone, and immediately flipped the property to another developer without building a single structure on the site.
The deal sent an electric thrill up the spine of the real estate development industry. Since 1996, nearly two dozen massive “mixed use” (commercial/dense residential) or “transit-oriented development centers” (TOD’s) surrounding light rail stations along the I-15/Frontrunner transit corridor have been constructed, are in progress, or planned for the river corridor. Most of these “mixed use”centers, jammed full of apartment and condo blocks as well as strip malls and towering office buildings, spill down into the river flood plain almost to the river’s edge. They range from 50 acres up to 700 acres in size. The largest of them are whole new cities within cities. For example, according to the an EPA report, the just-completed “Bingham Junction” TOD on the former Sharon Steel mill Superfund site in Midvale will house an estimated 7,000 residents, not including those shopping and working on the site, and will contain approximately 300 new buildings.
We have radically altered our idyllic mountain valley. In the mobile, high-tech world of the 21st century, American lifestyle is changing, even in Utah. Especially in University towns like ours, the educated young professionals who staff and manage industry-leading, market-dominating technology companies tend to be backcountry skiers, river runners, mountain, racing and touring bikers, climbers, and backpackers. They prefer “natural open space” (a formal zoning designation in our city) for outdoor recreation. As its once abundant riparian habitat has been gobbled up by commercial, residential and industrial development, city dwellers have begun to understand both the lifestyle amenities and the economic value of preserving that narrow ribbon of brown water and green foliage that threads its way across the west side of our city.
Between October 27, 2015 and May 19, 2016, a dedicated group of Northwest Middle School 7th graders and two of their teachers participated in a unique, after-school program titled, ReAwakened Beauty: The Past, Present, and Future of the Jordan River. Created by the Center for Documentary Expression and Art (CDEA), this place-based-learning program brought artists and ecologists into the school to guide students to explore the river through photography and writing and introduce them to native trees and shrubs. Northwest students joyously photographed the change of seasons along the river, followed beaver tracks, planted and labeled ten native species, and pondered the river’s mysteries and future potential.
The ReAwakened Beauty program at Northwest is part of a three-year (2014-17) environmental restoration and community education project being carried out by CDEA and its partners: River Restoration and the Jordan River Commission. Funded primarily by the Utah Division of Water Quality’s Willard Bay Mitigation Fund, the full program—titled the Lower Jordan River Education Outreach, Riparian Enhancement, and River Clean Up—aims to enhance the condition of the lowest downstream section of the Jordan River as it enters the Great Salt Lake and to get communities and schools involved with the long-term stewardship of this important area.
In less than two hours on a Saturday in May a small group of citizen scientists fanned out across a 7 ½-acre wetlands preserve in west Salt Lake City and made 210 observations of 44 different wildlife species.
The day could not have been more beautiful, as these nature-curious volunteers combed the new Fred and Ila Rose Fife Wetland Preserve on 900 South and the Jordan River looking for plant and animal life to photograph with their cell phone and tablet cameras. They were helping to launch Salt Lake City Open Space Lands pilot “SLC Neighborhood Naturalists” program by participating in a “bioblitz,” where volunteers find and identify as many species as possible in a given place during a given time, and have fun connecting with nature in the process.
The Fife Wetlands Preserve was largely created with funding from Chevron as mitigation for their 2010 oil spill in Red Butte Creek, and also from SLC’s Capital Improvement Fund. The Salt Lake County Fish and Game Association, a longtime wildlife-oriented nonprofit that I am involved with, drafted the original plan for the preserve’s general layout. Early on, it was displayed at Poplar Grove’s “Groove in the Grove” community festival to allow west side residents to give input to the city about what was then called the Oxbow Wetlands project.
Several years later it is amazing how similar the project reflects what came out of that grassroots effort. Creation of a large off-channel pond, and efforts to restore native vegetation have largely been successful, however the implementation of future best practices and some introductions of other native plants and animals will be necessary for the site to reach its full potential of attracting and retaining diverse, non-habituated wildlife. These bioblitzes should help.
One of the most significant efforts for any long-term restoration project like The Fife Wetlands Preserve is monitoring the ecological changes over time. In partnership with The Natural History Museum of Utah, the city is utilizing volunteers to help accomplish this lofty monitoring goal by organizing ongoing bioblitz events at various natural open space sites around the city.
SLC Neighborhood Naturalist volunteers attempt to create baseline inventories of biodiversity at these sites by taking photos and uploading them to a website through an app called iNaturalist, a social network created for people all over the world who make observations of living organisms. The observations are stored on the website, and can be confirmed by other iNaturalist users. Land managers can then share that information with the public and can use the inventory as a guide for future nature restoration projects.
To help get a more complete inventory of shy, migratory birds (like the snowy egret, local kingfisher, and a lesser goldfinch I was able to photograph at the preserve before the eager group of bioblitz volunteers arrived), individuals and local naturalists who visit the site more routinely could add to the collection of observations using the iNaturalist app on their own time.
Many Salt Lake City residents may not even notice our valley’s only river as they zoom across its many bridges in their cars. Due to continuous dredging of its channel and building up of its stream banks the river has sunk out of sight below the surface of the city. However this small, muddy stream is a defining feature of our valley and of Salt Lake City’s west side neighborhoods. Its slender ribbon of green is for the most part, well hidden and little traveled.
On a brilliant May morning the stretch of river between 900 and 1300 South is teeming with plant and animal life. It’s been a cool, wet spring. The water level has been unusually high since mid-March. Drenching rains and high water have caused an explosion of plant growth. Already some bank grasses are taller than I am, with full, heavy seed heads. The largest trees on either bank meet overhead to form a canopy-covered tunnel. The bow of my kayak cuts silently across the liquid mirror that is the tunnel floor. On its sliding surface the floor holds a stationary image of the arched ceiling, adding to the vault above a matching vault below, providing an illusion of grand height to an intimate passageway.
Cutting under an especially large tree branch, I notice a rock squirrel racing along it, its body and tail undulating smoothly. The grace of this casual athleticism is arresting. Running at breakneck speed, never hesitating at intersections, it climbs higher and higher in the canopy until, perhaps 30 feet above the river surface, it performs a lateral trampoline bounce to the bobbing end of a branch reaching out from the opposite bank. I smile with admiration at such agility, imagining the squirrel is equally pleased with itself. Clearly the sky-bridge is a regular squirrel highway. In this many-layered world, one creature’s vaulted roof is another’s floor, just as the water-floor supporting my kayak is also a ceiling for those leviathans of the deep, the common carp.
There is strong wind. Occasionally I can hear distant traffic roar, a car alarm, a train horn, but the wind masks these sounds. Every surface of the tunnel is alive with wind-stir. I follow the curving riverbank on my left, keeping the edge of the boat just inches off shore, steering with my offshore paddle blade. I’m moving upstream at the pace of a slow pedestrian, but the onrushing river current offers the sensation of speed.
As I pass a solid wall of pinkish-white wild rose blossoms, its outermost bouquets almost sweep my face. Further along a small grove of wild yellow irises borders a large eddy pool. At a height of three to four feet above water level their sword-blade stalks and drooping flowers tower overhead like old-growth forest monarchs.
A flotilla of fuzzy yellow mallard ducklings skitters across the polished surface, tweeting urgently but softly, before disappearing into a thicket of branches. The mother duck zigzags ahead, feigning a broken wing to draw me away from the chicks.
Beaver gnaw-sign is everywhere. On my evening paddles I often see a fearsomely large male beaver that used to play mind games with our 95-pound Rottweiler. It has lived in the neighborhood for decades and has grown to record size. I spot him nosing upstream. His tail hits the water with a crack like a rifle shot, followed by a melodious plunk as his raised body plunges under water.
At a certain log where I often find them lounging, a pair of box turtles slides diagonally into the water, plunking loudly from view like two dropped stones. A baby muskrat surfaces near my boat and angles off into the submerged doorway to its riverbank home.
Just ahead a female cormorant breaks suddenly, like a Loch Ness monster from the deep. Its glossy body seems unnaturally large because it is so close. At the sight of my fast-closing boat, it immediately whips its wet, dripping wings and lumbers, pterodactyl-like into flight.
Passing the face of a sawn-off Crack Willow trunk, I catch a branch, pulling the boat to a stop and holding my position to watch a steady stream of small white stars filling the river’s dark surface. It is a flotilla of just-released cottonwood seeds. The little stars swing around the stump into an eddy pool just as my kayak would, where they make a couple of turns before exiting downstream. I study this real-time map of river’s surface currents with interest.
All of this continuous movement – the star stream, the wind-waves, the tossing branches and leaves, the animals and birds, my own quick-turning boat – is an improvisational ballet of overwhelming complexity, synchronicity, and beauty. “If there is magic on this planet,” Loren Eisley wrote “it is contained in water.” That’s why in 2010 my wife and I bought a house on the west bank of the Jordan River at 1000 South. We paddle, walk or bike daily on the river and Jordan River Parkway trail. For many years we walked our dog multiple times daily through the 65 acres of city parkland surrounding our house. We can carry a kayak from our garage door to river’s edge in less than a minute. The river corridor itself – not just our 50 x 100 foot house lot – is our home.
I am a US citizen who will be at least 18 by November 8, but I am not registered to vote. How can I vote in this election?
Voting is one of the most important contributions that you can make to your community. Get registered online at www.vote.utah.gov or in person by November 1 at the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office at 2001 S State Street, #S1-200, or by October 10 for mail-in registration. (Most libraries and post offices have mail-in registration forms.) It is possible to register provisionally on Election Day (November 8), but proof of identity and address must be verifiable.
Why should I vote? There are so many candidates that I have never heard of.
True, there are a lot of candidates and they are not always easy to research, but keep three things in mind: 1) You can go to www.vote.utah.gov to view your sample ballot by typing in your address, 2) you would not invalidate a ballot if you were to skip any part of it – this is not a recommendation, just a fact, and 3) the easiest way to research the majority of candidates is to take advantage of the lieutenant governors postcard offer to receive a voter guide in your mailbox – call 801-538-1041, if you missed it. You would still need to check your sample ballot for local school board and county races. You can look up the research those candidates online, in your daily newspaper or attend a local candidate forum.
Nobody knows anything about those judges! Why do I have to vote for them?
Utah judges serve six-year terms and face retention elections every even numbered year. There is no party affiliation, and no competitive campaigning for judicial positions in Utah. Voters are simply asked to vote on whether a judge should stay in his/her position. (Very few judges ever fail a retention election.) This is all for very good reason, but it means that the average person has little awareness of judicial performance even if he/she recognizes a couple of names from news articles.
Remember, you could skip any section and still have the rest of your ballot count, but second, you do have resources to inform yourself: judges.utah.gov provides a survey conducted by the Judicial Conduct Commission. Click “Judge Reports” and select Salt Lake County from the drop down, then “View Complete List.” This information is also part of the voter guide sent out by the lieutenant governor’s office. Call 801-538-1041 if you didn’t get the postcard.
If I am a felon, can I vote?
Actually, in the state of Utah, only currently incarcerated felons are barred from voting. Voting may be a way to feel like a member of society again because it is something that a responsible citizen does.
How do I find out if I am registered? I did vote a long time ago, but maybe that was before I moved.
So easy to check: go to slco.org/clerk/elections or call 385-GOT-VOTE (385-468-8683).
I don’t vote because it is inconvenient to go to the polling place, and also it keeps changing.
Most voting is done by mail. Visit the Salt Lake County Clerk’s website to make sure that you are registered at slco.org/clerk/elections/current-election-information or call 385-468-8683. You can still vote in person if you bring ID, just use the same resources to find the polling location.
Imagine being able to walk or ride a bike from your house, along a stream, to any of the seven canyons of the Wasatch mountains. Imagine narrow, natural corridors, where fish swim in the stream with birds chirping in the trees, stretching from the Jordan River to the top of the Wasatch canyons. This is the vision of the Seven Canyons Trust: that one of Utah’s greatest assets, the Wasatch Front Mountains, would be connected to the Jordan River along urban trails and restored creeks, as it was 100 years ago.
This vision of a fully connected trail system was pioneered in a formal way by former Salt Lake City planning director, Stephen Goldsmith, under the stewardship of the Seven Canyons Trust. Mr. Goldsmith and the Trust anticipate that a project of this scale, including participation from private parties, cities, counties and the State of Utah, could take 100 years to complete.
Glendale is where the work begins. When I was a city council member, I caught the vision and convinced the other six members to begin funding the Three Creeks Project. Red Butte, Emigration, and Parley's Creeks – three of the seven creeks of the Wasatch mountains – come together at the corner of 900 West and 1300 South near the Jordan River in Glendale.
Community leaders support the project too. Poplar Grove Vice-Chair Dennis Faris says, “I’m totally in favor. Way cool. Just build it already.” As member of Salt Lake City’s Parks, Natural Areas and Urban Trails board, Dennis has been watching the project come to life on paper for years.
Currently, the confluence is paved over with a dead-end segment of the 1300 South right-of-way, and the open space land to either side is impacted by invasive species, garbage, and encroachments from private property. The Three Creeks Project would have all three creeks brought to the surface and the nearby river area cleaned up, restored and improved to support fishing, boating and relaxing.
“Buried under the asphalt, all the water that drains out of the Wasatch from Grandeur Peak to Black Mountain flows into the river here, but you’d never know it by the current appearance of the space,” said Lewis Kogan, the Open Space Lands Manager of Salt Lake City.
Sean Crossland, the new chair of the Glendale Community Council, adds that “The Glendale Community Council has shown much interest and support in conservation-minded improvement projects for the Jordan River trail.” He adds that, “Three Creeks will provide a highly visible and engaging access point to the Jordan River, cut the distance from the Sorenson Center, and hopefully increase multi-use of the river.”
The Three Creeks Project will take many years to complete. This year, the Salt Lake City Council added additional funding to the project to begin construction on the basic elements of the infrastructure.
“With funding from the federal government, the SLC Council and several city agencies, a design strategy to heal, repair and transform a parking lot into a neighborhood park is near,” said Stephen Goldsmith of the Seven Canyons Trust.
Over the summer three public open houses were held to gather feedback about what the community preferences were for the confluence. Out of 102 votes, the top four responses to the question of “How Will You Use This Site?” included environmental education (18), bird watching (16), meditation/relaxing (16), and biking (12).
My name is Gilberto Rejon Jr. and I am 13 years old. I describe myself as a soccer coach and an “uncle” to many. When I was in elementary school, my dad, Gilberto Rejon Sr., started the Hartland Soccer Club to help keep kids out of gangs and in school. Now I’m in eighth grade at Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE), and I help my dad run the program.
Last spring, he got me involved with a river signage art project with the Jordan River Community Initiative because he loves the river and wants it to be looking the way it’s supposed to – beautiful. To support that, we got many of the SLCSE soccer players to join us. on the project. My dad told them to look at the project as a field trip.
The students from SLCSE and some artists got together to create some art with spray paint. We went on a river trip with them to get a kind of picture of what to paint. The goal was to get the participants to learn more about the river and share what they already knew. Many of the students had been down the river before, but not with artists. There were some funny moments going down the river, like when the artists and some students started racing and ended up crashing into a tree, and each other.
This project was important to me. I got involved for the fun of it and to help the environment. I personally want to see the river looking beautiful and we also want it to be memorable for people who come from other places to ride their bikes on the trail. This project has changed me, because I see how people can just throw trash in the river and not care. Now, sometimes my dad and I go bike riding and bring along trash bags just to try to keep the trails and river clean.
Currently we meet every third Tuesday of the month at the Sorenson Unity Center (1383 S 900 W) from 6 pm -8 pm and every third Friday at the West View office at Citifront (600 West & North Temple, Suite 300) from 9 am - 10:30 am. We invite members of the community, business owners, teachers, and anyone else who has a story to tell about the west side to join us.
The West View community newsroom needs your story
As an emerging publication we have often wondered what community means, more importantly for the West View, what community journalism means. We've found that representing voices and including stories, resources and images that are relevant to those in the area have become priority. Through this constant search we have also discovered needs, answers to community problems and motivation to keep moving forward.
In the beginning, the best way to collect stories was to reach out and pull them from the threads of partnerships, friendships and programs that stemmed from those in the neighborhoods. As the demographic changes and the numbers expand, we have found this search has caused us to miss out on great news leads, beautiful community moments and useful bulletin announcements.
And so, we've moved on to the idea of providing a consistent space where stories can find us, we call it the West View's Monthly Community Newsroom, or Community Newsroom for short. At this monthly meeting our staff provides instruction, resources and support for aspiring writers, community contributors and editorial staff. We've had the opportunity to learn from experts in community building, journalism and writing and plan to bring many more. We understand that these interactions bring us expertise and knowledge but as members of the community we too provide expertise on our neighborhoods.
Currently we meet every third Tuesday of the month at the Sorenson Unity Center from 6pm-8pm. We invite members of the community, business owners, teachers, and anyone else who has a story to tell about the west side to join us.
Now is an exciting time to advertise with West View Media. Since 2011 we’ve been informing, inspiring and engaging the residents of the West Side of Salt Lake City. With engaging print and digital content as well as new multimedia offerings, there has never been a better way to reach the West Side.
The West View is a full-color quarterly newspaper, mailed free of charge to more than 22,000 residential and business addresses in 84104 and 84116 zip code areas—home to the vibrant and diverse communities of Rose Park, Fair Park, Jordan Meadows, Westpointe, Poplar Grove, and Glendale.
The West View is deeply embedded in our community. As one of the most enduring and respected local media organizations in Salt Lake City, we offer a brand and a mission that shows your company is committed to West Side communities and supporting local journalism.
By partnering with us, you will be promoted through:
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Before you review the following advertising opportunities, I want to thank you for your consideration. I would love to discuss your company’s values and marketing goals align with the opportunities we have to reach our unique community. Advertising with West View Media is good for our community, good for your business, and sustains local journalism at a crucial time.
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