City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

April 6, 2017

April 5th

Filed under: Black-billed magpie, Mallard — canopus56 @ 8:14 pm

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part II – Preserving the Future

1:30 p.m. The insects try to rise again in response to a string of warm days, but the plants, both slumbering and those in early bloom, remain in stasis. There are ten to twelve small butterflies on the road. A pair of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) hide in the stream near the gate parking lot. Although I am screened by a thicket of understory branches, the alert male spots me watching him through a monocular, and he paddles to a hidden alcove under some exposed River birch roots. It is usual for one pair of mallards or ducks to nest and raise a brood in the stream. The stream is well-stocked with both moss and watercress. Near mile 0.3, a Black-billed magpie lands on branch such five feet from the road and at eye level. As I jog past, he remains nonplused at my presence, and this gives me an opportunity to appreciate the detail of its black, blue, white and green plumage. Its feathers, that are grouped in distinct regions, are immaculately clean even after the winter season, and this magpie looks more like a statute then living being.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 5th, 1854, he notes a white-bellied swallow, hawks, sparrows, and a butterfly. On April 5th, 1855, he sees a hen hawk, snipes, crows, robins, blackbirds, sparrows, and a white-bellied swallow.

* * * *

The 1986 City Creek Master Plan declared that the canyon should be managed such that undeveloped areas “should be maintained in their natural state . . .” (Salt Lake City Corp. 1986). In a 1992 open space plan, Salt Lake City managers and its residents envisaged a future in which City Creek Canyon, the Jordan River, and all other major parks that are associated with canyon mouths would be interconnected by bikeways like the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (Salt Lake City Corporation 1992). This is revived and updated version of missed opportunity of Rear Admiral Jason Henry Selwyn’s 1893 Emerald Parkway vision for Salt Lake (Jan. 21st). A second grand boulevard parkway system was implemented by the City in the early 1900s via a driving tour from Eagle Gate, up City Creek, and along 11th Avenue (then called Wasatch Boulevard), to Fort Douglas and then down 13th East to 13th South (Salt Lake Telegram, May 23, 1914; Salt Lake Herald June 28, 1905). The vision of the 1992 plan updates the grand boulevard idea with urban trail exercise amenities and modern ideas of eco-system island integrity by both connecting urban natural areas and purchasing valley winter forage wildlife refuges (id). In 2006, the Chamber of Commerce proposed a similar interconnected system (Salt Lake Tribune, Aug. 29, 2006). The City’s 2006 acquisition of the Bonneville Shoreline Preserve near the Davis County line is an example of a winter wildlife refuge (Salt Lake City Corporation 2010b). Supporting land acquisition continues, e.g. 300 acres were purchased in and near City Creek in 2016 (Salt Lake Tribune, July 29, 2016).

In 2015 and 2016 on the county level, competing development and environmental preservation land use interests in the canyons have been worked through by a local county-level solution, a mountain stakeholder blue-ribbon commission. This resulted in a informal compromise document, the Wasatch Mountain Accord, that was signed by Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert, County Mayor Ben McAdams, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, major Salt Lake valley ski resorts, and local environmental groups including Carl Fisher of Save Our Canyons and Joan DeGorgio of the Nature Conservancy (Mountain Accord; Mountain Accord Final Report). The signatory list of the Accord reads like a “who’s who” of persons involved in both development and preservation issues in the Salt Lake valleys for the past thirty years. Utah Federal Representative Chaffetz introduced congressional legislation to implement some of the goals of the Accord (Deseret News, July 11, 2016), which include in exchange for title to 2,000 acres of federal land in the canyon, limiting ski resorts to their current boundaries. The Accord establishes planning goals to:

• Redesignate forest lands in the Salt Lake valley canyons as a National Conservation and Recreation Area;

• Preserve land, protect watersheds, and water resources;

• Improve and connect a regional trail system; and,

• Preserve back-country terrain; while,

• Improving transportation to existing ski resorts; and,

• Promoting sustainable tourism growth in the canyons.

By the Accord, the Salt Lake valley has been following the preservation path of other highly urbanized cities with large adjacent tracks of U.S. Forest lands. Following the lead of Frederick Olmstead’s Emerald Necklace plans from the late nineteenth century, those cities have consolidated U.S. Forests lands in national conservation recreation areas (Nevada’s Lake Mead National Recreation Area, San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Cleveland’s Cuyahogua National Recreation Area, and Boston Harbor’s National Recreation Area) or national monuments (Los Angles’ San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in 2014). In Utah, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area also provides precedent. In a 1987 public comment, I suggested that the long-term fate of the Wasatch Tri-Canyon Area was to be converted into a National Conservation and Recreation Area, and the Accord’s objective is heartening result.

* * * *

On April 5th, 2009, Salt Lake City plans to hold a public meeting on its proposal to clear firebreaks along City Creek Road. On April 5th, 1995, the Steiner Corporation, the State Trails Fund and the City match grants to raise $140,000 to begin construction of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail between the University of Utah, City Creek and radio towers behind Ensign Peak in July 1996 (Salt Lake Tribune). On April 5, 1925, runners are preparing for an annual competition run up City Creek (Salt Lake Telegram). On April 5, 1906, City Street Superintendent J. T. Raleigh describes preparations for anticipated spring flooding downtown (Intermountain Republican). On April 5th, 1903, John H. Miller described his life in the Salt Lake Valley from the 1860s. His jobs included harvesting trees from City Creek, making adobe blocks at Popperton, and working on the Church Farm (Salt Lake Tribune). Miller gives a detailed account of lumbering in City Creek. On April 5, 1876, 40 tons of explosives stored at Arsenal Hill (now Capitol Hill), exploded, killed four people, and threw debris into City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune, October 20, 1996 and April 13, 1997; Deseret News, April 13, 1997).

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