City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

April 6, 2017

April 6th

Filed under: Arrowleaf balsamroot, Kingfisher — canopus56 @ 8:26 pm

It is enough. This is the Right [Natural] Place – Part III – Challenges for the Future

3:00 p.m. While going down canyon, a Kingfisher calls from the branch overlooking the stream below the red bridge. Then it flits downstream for a hundred feet, lands again, and starts calling. This repeats again and again for about one-third of mile down to picnic site 3. The Kingfisher is looking for dinner in the stream. Along the road, there is a six inch diameter circular clump of thin twigs suitable building a nest. I cannot tell if this is refuse from a prior season’s nest that the wind has released from the trees or if it is a cache dropped by a bird building a nest for this year. As I leave the canyon, the next storm front is rolling in from the west. On the drive out to the state capitol along Bonneville Drive, the first Arrowleaf balsamroot plant has bloomed with its small yellow sunflowers. In the upper canyon, these plants are barely forming.

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In Thoreau’s “Journal” on April 6th, 1853, he hears a robin, a lark, a bluebird, song-sparrows, and a Dark-eyed junco, and he sees a pigeon woodpecker. He watches honeybees feeding on skunk-cabbage flowers. April 6, 1854, he again sees honeybees feeding. He notes that white maples and alders are shedding pollen. On April 6thm, 1855, he sees blackbirds, ducks, and a goosander. He sees flies over decaying leaves.

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The Mormons have more choices to make regarding the canyons of Salt Lake valley, including City Creek Canyon. In other canyons not protected by planning similar to City Creek’s, development conflicts between elites seeking massive development and locals seeking to preserve all seven of the Salt Lake valley canyons continue today, principally in the form of proposals for high density ski area development and associated real estate expansion. Two new pressures for high-density development in the Salt Lake valley canyons have arisen since the Great Recession of 2008-2009. There has been a large expansion in hotels on the valley floor, and there are now over 20,000 hotel rooms in Salt Lake valley. Ski resorts in the Park City area have consolidated ownership under a large national company, and they have long sought to create the largest ski resort in the United States by interconnecting the Park City resorts by both developments and ski lifts that span ridge between the western Salt Lake valley canyons and the eastern Park City mega-ski resorts. The principal counter forces to those development pressures in the Salt Lake valley are Salt Lake City Corporation and the Metropolitan Water District (Feb. 24th) which seek to preserve the canyons as a watershed resource and the general Salt Lake County population that see its adjacent canyons as an outdoor recreation resource.

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Above, I say “the Mormons have more choices to make” because theodemocracy has again arisen in Utah. Although the non-LDS population in Salt Lake valley remains about thirty-three percent and is a slight majority in Salt Lake City limits, Brigham Young’s original vision of theodemocracy (March 16th) has combined with a larger Republican program of gerrymandering, the national Republican Redmap program (Daley 2016). The result of Redmap program has been the national gerrymandering of districts and the transformation of the country into more political groups with more divergent views. In Utah Redmap gerrymandering has resulted in odd wedge-shaped Utah federal congressional districts that stretch of hundreds of miles from Salt Lake City to rural areas in southern Utah and state level districts that minimize the probability of non-Mormon democrats being elected. On the federal level, the purpose of that gerrymandering is to dilute non-Mormon Democratic voters into larger pools of Mormon Republican voters and on the state level, the purpose of that gerrymandering is to result in the highest concentration and lowest number of non-Mormon Democratic legislative seats. The result over the last twenty years has been the increase the percentage of Republican Mormon state legislators from sixty-six percent to over eighty-five percent of legislators. Although Utah State legislators rank issues with similar priorities to the majority of Mormon Utah voters, the people who select Republican Utah legislators, Republican party delegates, have opinions that are far more right-wing leaning that the already conservative majority (Utah Foundation). The practical result of national gerrymandering in concert with Utah’s L.D.S. culture and a local political super-majority is the resurrection of Young’s theodemocracy (see Salt Lake City Tribune, March 28, 2012). Armed with political certainty that is amplified with underlying religious certainty, the Utah State legislature often implements policies that are disconnected from with the wishes of the local population. The scope of local community political options are always overshadowed and restricted by the questions of “What will the legislature allow?” or “Will the legislature override a local action when a compromise is reached?”. This is Young’s theodemocracy of religious elites in action. An example of theodemocracy in action was the Utah State Legislature deciding to allow Salt Lake County’s Mountainland Planning District (H.B. 293-S2) to sunset. This Salt Lake County planning commission included by legislative authorization, members drawn from all local municipalities and the unincorporated areas of the county instead of a small geographical unrepresentative region of the unincorporated county.

One choice and one task left undone in City Creek Canyon is the process of reforestation promised by the City in 1914 and 1934 in Public Law 63-199 and Public Law 73-259 (March 12th). Given the possibility that future peak flooding will be more extreme than the historical experience (Bekker et al. 2014; Feb. 9th), the lessons of Forsling (1931), the Utah Flood Commission (1931) and Cottam (1945) regarding reforestation learned during the floods of the 1920s and 1930s should be taken seriously. Even minor 12 percent removal of forests in the upper canyons can result in severe flooding in the valley, given an extreme storm event (Forsling). The Salt Lake canyons, including City Creek Canyon, should all be completely reforested as insurance against future flooding. Current cultural and political battles between theodemocratic elites favoring massive development of Salt Lake canyons and the general population that favors canyon preservation remain a continuing process that may never have an resolving endpoint. Again, these are choices to made by ordinary people, and which as shown in the history of City Creek Canyon can had good outcomes.

In his “Sound of Mountain Water” (Introduction, 38), Stegner, although disturbed by the changes in Salt Lake City since his boyhood (At Home in the Fields of the Lord), remained optimistic about the future of natural lands in the Western United States despite the broader historical conflict between the bravado of the West’s rugged individualism and the cooperative conservation that restored parts of the region from 1900 to the present. He noted that “cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves” the region (id). The individualistic approach historically gave way to the nature’s hand that forces cooperation during the regions’ and the canyon’s periodic aridity (id). That pattern of cooperation vs. competition is repeated in the history of City Creek Canyon as both a natural and an unnatural place.

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On April 6th, 2006, the snowpack at Lookout Peak is 173 percent of normal, prompting flooding concerns (Salt Lake Tribune, April 26, 2006). On April 6, 1919, a road going to the base of Ensign Peak, built with City funds, is nearly completed (Salt Lake Herald). On April 6, 1898, the Utah Forestry Association meets and plans to present a proposal to the City to plant trees in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Herald and Deseret News).


March 18, 2017

March 18th

Filed under: Arrowleaf balsamroot, red bridge, Seasons, Sounds, Stream, Woods Rose — canopus56 @ 7:24 pm

Modern Distractions

3:00 p.m. Only a few reminders remain of this morning’s 300 person St. Patrick’s Day scenic fun run from the Capitol and down City Creek Canyon below Bonneville Drive. Running and bicycling events are common in the modern canyon, and I estimate that there are about twenty held each year. Today’s eighty degree temperature is another record breaking high, and the canyon and its wildlife is in new uncharted terrain. The stream remains well below flood stage, but runs high and loud. All I can hear is the stream. The sounds of the few birds in the canyon are muffled under the stream’s white noise. On a whim, I decide to hike along part of the route of the 1880s water pipeline that runs along the south east wall of the canyon from the red bridge to the Morris Reservoir in the Avenues. There is no trail. There is just a path made by re-burying the water main, and at points along its route, the two-foot diameter iron pipe is exposed. Confusingly, this gravity feed water pipeline runs uphill to Morris Reservoir, although its intake pipe at the water treatment plant is higher than its low point at the red bridge. If gravity fed, pipeline must act as a four mile long siphon.

While hiking along the pipeline, I notice several Wood’s rose plants who, like the one I saw a few days ago near mile 0.2, have opened their buds and extended small leaves. Along this south-west facing sunny hillside, there are many broad leaf ground plants, including Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata Nutt.), have begun to poke up through the earth. Returning down-canyon, I examine dirt areas more closely, but only a stretch near mile 0.1 on the west side of the road shows similar growth by new ground cover plants. These are signs of the coming spring.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 18th, 1853, he sees a blackbird and a song-sparrow, and on March 18th, 1855, a gull. March 18th, 1858, he records many song-sparrows. On March 18th, 1860, he notes skunk cabbage is in bloom.

I have almost reached my third full year of daily jogging in the canyon. During the first nine months, I ran with headphones and listening to music, and today, I estimate for runners more than half run with digital devices playing music, and for bicyclists, about one-third ride listening to music. After the first nine months, I came to feel that the music was a distraction from experiencing the canyon. In a 2014 study, University of Utah psychologist David Strayer, who regularly walks in City Creek Canyon, and his colleagues Ruth Ann and Paul Acthley of University of Kansas, published a study comparing the pre- and post-creativity scores of two small groups of women before and after four day nature hikes where digital devices were banned (Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 14, 2012; Strayer 2012). Test scores in this small study supported new effects of the Attention Restoration Theory (ART) hypothesis. The ART hypothesis is that immersion in nature has a restorative effect on the brain’s depleted pre-frontal executive attention mechanisms. In obvious non-research terms, going outwards restores the soul and replenishes the body. No news there since Lord Byron invented the Grand European Tour to the Alps. But Strayer and colleagues’ small size study also found a new additional effect: immersion in nature is not just restful. Several days without technological devices increases creativity and problem-solving scores measured by a generally accepted psychological test by fifty percent. However, the study size is small and has not been replicated. Medical proof usually requires larger studies or many smaller studies that reproduce the original effect. Usually, I regard the results of one-off small-sample-size studies and their conclusions as provisional, and the results of such studies are are frequently found to be incorrect in follow-up research using larger sample sizes. But while jogging today, I happy to accept Strayer and the Acthleys’ findings, even if it may just be my ego’s confirmation bias seeking self-approval of my decision to ditch my music player. After two-years of running without music and, as today, listening to the sound of the stream, I see runners with cell phones strapped to their arms as disconnected from the canyon experience. But I am being haughty and judgmental.

On March 18th, 1996, Salt Lake City hydrologist Dan Schenck reported 64 inches of snow in upper City Creek Canyon, more than 130 percent of normal (Salt Lake Tribune).

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