City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 23, 2017

March 23rd

Filed under: earthworm, Leopard slug, Lichen, moss, Weather — canopus56 @ 6:56 pm

This is Not the Natural Place. – Part IV – Timber Harvesting

2:30 p.m. Winter has returned for a day. Temperatures have dropped 35 degrees Fahrenheit in two days, and a combination of rain and snow has fallen continuously since this morning. All is water in the canyon. Trees and soaked and below picnic site 6, lichens on the west side of some trees puff and glow with a light-green and orange radiance. The stream runs high from melting snow runoff Although there is no snow in the lower canyon, checking the automated SNOTEL data from City Creek’s Louis Meadow station in the upper canyon eight miles away (Feb. 1st), there is 10 inches of water equivalent snow on the ground. However, the station’s data also shows that one-half of the snow pack melted in the last two weeks. At its current melting rate, the snowpack will be gone by the beginning of April – almost one month early. This will impact next summer’s wildlife, and they may be facing a severe lack of water in a few months.

The recent warm weather has woken the earthworms from their over-wintering freeze and stimulated their cocoons. Leopard slugs also woke, two are seen on the road, but today’s heavy rain has driven both the earthworms and slugs from the ground. In the first mile of the road, I count in a swath of one-quarter of road, 712 earthworms, and they are evenly distributed across the entire road. This means there about 2,800 earthworms in the first road mile. Almost all will die by the morning. They so numerous that it is impossible for bicycles and runners to avoid them, and the remaining are drowning or will finished off by tonight’s cold. Hopefully, there are more worm cocoons hibernating between the soil who will continue their good work.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 23rd, 1853, he hears a robin and records maples blooming. On March 23rd, 1855, he returns the squirrel to the wild. On March 23, 1856, he lists animals that have been exterminated in the east including cougar, panther, wolverine, wolf, bear, moose, deer, beaver, and turkey. (Excepting panther, all these animals can be in modern Utah. All but the panther, wolverine, and wolf can be found in modern have been seen in modern City Creek Canyon. Beaver are removed by the City, if found. The wolf, which has returned to western Utah, might return to City Creek in the future.) He records that snow is one foot deep. He notes that on south facing hillsides, mice have eaten sedge; a squirrel is heard; and, partridges are seen. On March 23rd, 1859, he sees two red-tailed hawks. He notes the black and brown color of the land, and he notes how during sunset, ridgelines with red birch twigs contrast with the purple of a sunset sky. He sees two goosanders.

* * * *

Twenty-eight hundred worms along one mile may seem like the entire canyon worm population, but soil researchers have found depending on type of soil, its cover, and the amount of its disturbance, there can be between 10 and 1,300 earthworms per square yard (Natural Resources Conservation Service 2001). Taking some mid-range estimates of 280 and 475 worms and worm cocoons per square yard, there may be between 1,900,000 and 3,300,000 in the 2 yards along both sides of the first mile of road (5,280 divided by 3 x 4 x 280=1.9M). But those densities were based on studies in more fecund climates, and using the lowest study value, 12 worms per square yard and doubling it, still suggests a respectable population between 84,500 and 169,000 worms along the first road mile. Earthworms can consume and turnover between 6 percent to ten percent of the topsoil each year.

* * * *

Young’s control of City Creek and the entrance at its mouth marked the first phase of canyon use and development: timber harvesting. The Deseret Evening News claimed that the first trees felled in Utah by a saw, where cut by the pioneers in City Creek Canyon using a whip saw a few days after they entered the valley on July 24th, 1847 (Deseret News, September 10, 1895). Various water-powered mills were quickly established: an adobe mill, an early wheat mill (Salt Lake Herald, Jan 1908, Bancroft, 275), the Empire Flour Mill owned by Young (Day), a threshing mill (Bancraft, 279), a grist mill for barley (Watson), a cording mill (Watson), a turning mill (Watson), an experimental silk farming and spinning building (Arrington), two Church owned Public Works factories for nail and paper production (Day), a blacksmith shop (Day), and five lumber mills in City Creek including a toll saw mill at the canyon mouth owned by Young (Day; Watson). Young constructed the Lion House and by 1853 had a wall built across from the Lion House to First Avenue that prevented access to the canyon. A photograph from the 1800s shows how Young then constructed a gate in the wall topped by a great arch (J. Willard Marriott Library, ID207887). On the apex of the arch was a large wooden eagle statute frozen in a downward gliding pose. (In the 1960s, the historical Eagle Gate Monument was installed over State Street with an iron replica of the wooden original.) The wall provided Young with monopolistic control access to canyon timber (Salt Lake Tribune, 1903, Apr 5), and in coordination with the Church Public Works Office, he used newly arrived immigrants, such as newly arrived Scotland immigrant James Livingston, to construct a road up the canyon (Watt, 65). Then, as was the custom since major road construction in the nineteenth century was privately financed, Young charged a toll for entering the canyon equal to one-third of all lumber removed (Salt Lake Tribune, April 5, 1903; Watson).

Through 1855, Young also employed persons to clear the first eight or nine miles of City Creek’s bed of dead trees and other blockages in order to increase stream flow. And on September 21, 1855, the Territorial Legislature appropriated $500 in compensation for that work. (Hooten, 12-13). That amount is worth approximately $14,500 in 2016.

* * * *

On March 23rd, 2006, the Utah Rivers Council plans a stream clean-up in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 23rd, 1907, runners from L.D.S. University practiced in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On March 23rd, 1898, the Utah Forestry Association urged the City Council to take some trees scheduled for planting in Liberty Park and to use them to reforest City Creek Canyon with hardwoods of all kinds (Deseret Evening News, Salt Lake Herald, March 23 and 25).

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