City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 25, 2017

March 25th

Filed under: Geology, Plants, Weather — canopus56 @ 3:34 pm

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

Noon. Another great Coriolis effect band of clouds and rain that stretches from central Canada to New Mexico sweeps in from the north west and across the canyon. The canyon in plunged into a freezing but refreshing rain that runs through the surrounding rocks and delivers nutrients to the soil. The water feels soft on the skin, and it cleanses the canyon. At picnic site 5, a new broadleaf plant unfolds close to the ground. It has an arrowhead or deltoid shape, is light green, and is covered in small hairs.

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In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 25th, 1858, he records many sparrows.

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In 2004, Root and colleagues at Carleton College, Minnesota, analyzed 51 rainwater samples for 48 sites across the United States, including Sandy, Utah (Root 2005). They found that rainwater in the central United States (east of Nevada and west of Pennsylvania) contains less chloride because they consist of less salt water evaporated from the oceans (id), but amounts are miniscule: 0.5 milligrams per liter of rainwater. An average range for the pH of rainwater is 5.7 to 5.9, an acidic level created by water forming carbonic acid with carbon in the air. This may explain why rainwater in the canyon feels soft. But once the water runs across and filters through the limestones in upper City Creek Canyon, the nature of water in the stream changes. Water quality data from 1963 to 1968 averages a basic pH of 7.9 and chloride content of 22.4 milligram per liter of stream water (U.S.G.S. 2017c).

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The amount of lumber taken from the canyon is not known, but is must have been substantial. Miller noted that he engaged in lumber harvesting in part for gathering personal firewood. Although coal was available, firewood cost a fraction of coal. Another significant demand above homebuilding may have been fencing. In 1853, the Territorial Legislature passed a law requiring all allotments given by Young or the State of Deseret to be fenced as a precondition to asserting a claim of land ownership (Hooten, 19; Larson, 313). Enclosure was intended to prevent claim jumping on property between landowners, given that much of the land was not surveyed. An 1861 Utah Territorial statute provided for obtaining title by enclosure of property. The statute may have also been anticipation of the Federal surveyors and a land office giving title to the colonists of the original Church allotments, and who had made beneficial improvements to the land. With the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1868, the Federal Land Office started to settle land claims (Larson). Miller fenced his lot, and this subsequently allowed him to obtain title to his property at no additional cost (Salt Lake Tribune, 1903, Apr 5). Miller reported that those who did not enclose their land ended up have to pay Young $200 for title. Two-hundred dollars in 1868 is worth about $3,200 today. Again, the need for fencing may have created more lumber demand that was satisfied from City Creek trees. Another demand for timber came from the City’s initial water infrastructure. One and one-half miles of the city’s original aqueduct the Brick Tank reservoir in City Creek to the downtown was made of wood (Salt Lake Herald, Dec. 13, 1893; Salt Lake Tribune, February 20th, 1909; not mentioned in Hooten). Construction of the homes and the 1863 commencement of construction of the wooden truss Mormon Tabernacle placed further demands on all of the canyons for lumber.

An 1869 newspaper article regarding Brigham Young’s assets estimated his annual income from City Creek,

“First – City Creek Canyon, a grant by the Legislative Assembly of Utah, a heavily wooded district, from which the Saints obtain their wood exclusively, every third load going to Brigham Young’s pile; fine water power, running four miles; income from this source $20,000 per annum.” (Record of the Times).

This would imply that about $60,000 in wood products were taken from City Creek from approximately the mid-1850s to the mid-1870s, or about $24,000,000 in wood products over twenty years in 2016 currency. Prices for wood products in Salt Lake City in the 1860s or 1870 were not found, and 10 cords of wood from each acre of old growth forest is a reasonable estimate. Assuming $20 in 1869 currency could be obtained from each cord, then harvesting 300 acres per year would generate $60,000 in 1869 gross revenues. Over 20 years and harvesting 300 acres per year, 6,000 acres would have been harvested, or about one-third the approximately 19,000 acres in the canyon. At 500 acres per year, about half the canyon’s lumber would have been harvested over 20 years. The true percentage is unknown.

Thus, the degree to which our current view of the canyon consists of a second growth forest is not clear. In 1918, City Water Commissioner Nelsen reported that City Creek was “well timbered” in his boyhood (Jan. 9th), but fewer trees existed in 1918.

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On March 25th, 1927, university students scheduled a hike over Big Black Mountain in City Creek and over to Bountiful (Utah Daily Chronicle). On March 25, 1920, a public meeting considered opening a new entrance to the mouth of City Creek from North Temple (Salt Lake Telegram). On March 25th, 1909, the geology class of University Prof. Fred J. Pack discovered new fossils in City Creek in what had been previously supposed to be igneous rock (Salt Lake Herald, Salt Lake Tribune on March 26th, Intermountain Republican on March 27th). On March 25th, 1896, the Salt Lake Herald reported on new mining claims in the Hot Springs District, including in City Creek Canyon – three new claims including the Washington Mine, in Dry Canyon (now behind the University of Utah) – the Blue Bird, Molly McGuire, Anarchist, and Agnes mines, below Ensign Peak – the Gold Leaf mine (by Parley P. Pratt), the Dunedin and First Chance mines, and in the Popperton district – the Express and Billy mines.


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