Facebook Twitter



Mention the Jordan River and most people turn up their noses in scorn or look perplexed.

A surprising number of people don't even know the river flows through Salt Lake City. And most who do have only negative impressions.But people close to the river recognize it as something positive, and they want the rest of the city to know about it. Developments along the Jordan River, they say, will be the key to changing the inferior image and reputation the city's west side can't seem to shake.

"I think the Jordan River, if it is developed properly, can really be an image-builder for the west side," said Salt Lake City Councilman Wayne Horrocks. "(The west side) is a good place to live and raise your kids.

"When you look at the thing we have down here, you've got the makings of an excellent community." Horrocks said if people would frequent Jordan River developments, their negative impressions of the surrounding community would change.

Developments along the river have become numerous over the years. A visitor to the west side may be surprised to find some of the cleanest and most beautiful parks in the city - many of them underused because people don't realize they're there.

A popular 18-hole golf course, canoe docks, a flying-disk golf course, Raging Waters water park, a wheelchair exercise course, the beautiful International Peace Gardens, a jogging and exercise course, a model-airplane port, several parks and other developments currently dot the river's banks.

Residents and officials have always had high hopes for the river's continued development. They'd like to see additional greenery and parks along the river banks. Additional housing developments, eating establishments and recreational facilities such as canoe rentals and a continuous trail system are among the written and unwritten goals. Others would like to see a riverside mall, an art gallery, a reception center and a Scout arboretum.

"There's nothing you can't do if you're willing to put the time into it," said former City Councilman Grant Mabey.

Most observers agree that the most helpful tool has been what is now the Provo-Jordan River Parkway Foundation - a mechanism established by then-Gov. Scott M. Matheson whereby private industry and individuals could contribute to the development of the parkway on a tax-exempt basis. The foundation also was designed to publicize developments and advise the state concerning the river, said Foundation President John Bohling.

"The dream is to create a 130-mile parkway from the Jordanelle Dam to Provo to Utah Lake and up the (river) to North Salt Lake," said William B. Smart, former foundation president.

"There will be some difficult places, but I think it can happen."

But lack of funding has brought most hopes for development to a halt - at least temporarily.

Mabey has been involved in Jordan River developments for 25 years. He said he has seen very little progress in the last six years. He blames the lack of action on decreased funding and a "wait and see" apathetic attitude by Gov. Norm Bangerter and other state officials.

"The state is not looking ahead and saying, `We've got something we can't afford not to develop,' " he said. "Once the state begins working with us, the private sector will take the initiative" and development will continue.

But when that will happen is anyone's guess. The foundation has been able to do little in recent years, said Bohling. He said they had more success when Matheson was willing to take a "high-profile position" in signing fund-raising letters and other forms of participation.

Bohling said that after Bangerter was elected, he met with the governor and asked what he would like the committee to do. "Bangerter basically said, `Well, why don't you just sort of sit?'

"I think I speak for others in saying we haven't gotten much support from Gov. Bangerter," said Bohling. But he said he does not fault the governor for the decrease in funding.

"I don't think the state financial crisis is determined by who is governor," he said. Bohling does believe, however, that the state must help fund parkway projects if development is to be successful.

"When we are effective at raising funds is when we do it together with the state. It has to be both," he said.

But many others are quick to point their fingers at Bangerter and blame him for the slowdown in river developments. Under Matheson's administration, a separate budget item was set up to fund Jordan River developments every year. But later, funding for the river was shuffled under parks and recreation in the state budget.

"Now we're just a park competing with all the other parks in the state for money," Bohling said.

Bangerter said he should not get the blame for the cutbacks and said he is willing to help Jordan River development any way he can.

"I'm in support of the concept. I'm in support of the project, but I can't support it with money I don't have," he said.

"When you put together a budget as tight as our budgets are, everything doesn't get budgeted," he said. "I can't promise you that I will fund it next year."

He said the foundation should aggressively seek out private donations and said he hopes they call on him to help in other ways.

Should Ted Wilson win the gubernatorial race in November, will the story change? Wilson admits it's not likely.

"I don't have it at the top of my agenda for spending," he said. "Though I love it and support it, I don't think the state has a lot of revenue at this point. Until the economy gets better . . . I think we're limited in the kind of things we can do."

Wilson said he believes the government has a role in developing the river, but in the short run, neighborhoods and private businesses can do more to improve the river.

"I think the river can count on me to at least be a verbal advocate," he said.

Even with less funding, the foundation has played an important role in developing parks and garnering support over the years. But many of their goals have had to be put on hold.

"I would hope that we could continue what we've started," said foundation member Phyllis Southwick. Although she now lives in Bountiful, Southwick grew up along the Jordan River and has a continued interest in seeing it developed to its potential. She has been a member of the foundation since its inception.

Southwick said some members of the foundation have lost interest in the project and should be replaced with people who are more enthusiastic.

"It's kind of dead, but there are a few of us that keep us alive," she said. "I think the members have that feeling because there is no money flowing in to do what we want to do. We have not been able to expand."

Bohling said only half of the board members attend the meetings, which are now held quarterly instead of monthly. "It's hard to have meaningful assignments for board members," he said. "You kind of lose your sense of purpose."

"It's frustrating because we had some dreams for getting this going and to have something very nice for people to come to the west side of town," said Southwick.

More than being just a nice place, many people believe the Jordan River should become a focal point of Salt Lake City. Besides Temple Square, Utah's capital should be known for the river that flows through it, they say.

"The river is like the spine of the city. The river can be a showplace for the rest of Salt Lake City," said Mark Lundgren of Salt Lake Neighborhood Housing Services. Lundgren's organization is part of a national non-profit group that helps residents improve and revamp their homes and neighborhoods. The organization is concentrating on the city's west side, west of I-15 and east of Redwood Road between North Temple and 17th South.

The key to this neighborhood's redevelopment is the Jordan River, he said. Recent public meetings with government officials and volunteers indicate the interest in development is still there.

"Our current main goal is to get the whole district from North Temple to 17th South (along the river) hikeable and bikeable," he said. Educational and historical signs, trails and organized events to draw people to the river are some of the short-term plans.

"We're hoping to keep the issue in the forefront of politicians and residents," Lundgren said.

Fred Fife III, president of the Neighborhood Housing Service board of directors, said that if river developments continue, they will help "turn the neighborhood around.

"The area's been in a state of decline now for 10 years. These ideas would get it on an advancing scale instead of a declining scale," he said.

Fife said residents have believed in the potential of the Jordan River for years. And experts share that belief. Jeff Shoemaker, executive director of the Platte River Greenway Foundation in Denver, has visited rivers all over the country and believes the Jordan has some of the greatest potential he's seen.

"I have never felt more strongly about a project's completion rate than I do with yours," he said. Although it's the same size as the Jordan, Denver's Platte River was in much worse shape when his organization revitalized it and the surrounding area, he said.

"Our river, when we started, makes your river look like a Garden of Eden. It's like comparing your Rolls Royce to my Edsel," he said.

Shoemaker said the Platte used to be a dividing line in Denver, but said it has now become a gathering point. He said that in the past property farthest from the river had the highest land value, but that trend is now reversing. Once a "flowing garbage dump," he said the river is now used by thousands of people every day to bike, jog, raft, picnic and fish.

He said most of the property along the Jordan River has been acquired by the state or city, so one of the most difficult parts of the task has already been accomplished.

"The hardest part is getting a group of people together with the mindset of construction. The mechanisms are already in place that can do something," he said.

Simple goals, such as the hiking and biking trail, need to be accomplished first, he said.

That goal is the No. 1 priority for the Salt Lake Regional Trails Council and for Neighborhood Housing Services. Bard Ferrin, superintendent of the Jordan River State Park, said a continuous trail will be built very soon.

He said property adjoining the river has been acquired from 21st South to Cudahy Lane, and the city, county or interested parties also own most of the adjoining land from 21st South to 48th South. Such a trail will allow joggers and bikers continuous access. Plans are to eventually have the trail begin at Deer Creek Reservoir in Provo Canyon and continue into Davis County.

Ferrin said the trail between Second and 21st South should be completed within a year. Parts of the trail that are already finished are being used much more than officials thought they would, he said, pointing to Cottonwood Park (Third North and 15th West), set between the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health buildings.

"Industries are certainly more conscious of providing recreational facilities today for their employees and I would hope industries near the river will want to develop the land like the state did near the health and agriculture buildings," he said.

"Putting a parkway along the Jordan River is a big step in becoming the type of metropolis we want to be," said Ferrin. Advocates believe such developments will also make businesses more inclined to locate in Salt Lake City.

An attractive community with developed parks, recreational facilities and cultural activities for residents is what businesses look for when deciding where to expand, Horrocks said. "We are a jewel just waiting to be discovered."

Matheson said he believes the state should be doing more to continue work along the Jordan River - even with limited funds. It's a mistake, he said, to just sit and do nothing but blame the economy.

"You can't put everything on hold, even a little. You've got to invest in your own future," he said, suggesting the state show a "good faith commitment" of a small resource.

"Maybe the state should prime the pumps," he said. "There's nothing that breeds success like a little success."

State Rep. Joanne Milner, D-Salt Lake, said she plans to introduce legislation to provide state funds to match donations from local agencies and private citizens for river developments. She said she is optimistic the Legislature will approve it.

"We've been neglected. We're not going to be any more," she said.

Many people believe the situation will not change until the economy turns around. But others believe things can still be done now.

Southwick said she would like to see a committee formed consisting of citizen groups to represent every mile of the proposed parkway. "When you involve people, they take care of things," she said. She said the Utah State Prison could do its part in developing the river near its facilities. She also believes local churches should get involved.

"I would like to see the environmental community focus a little bit more on the urban parks and nature parks and get involved in reclaiming the Jordan River," said Wilson. He said the river is often forgotten because it is so close.

Mabey said he would like to see leases granted to businesses along the Jordan banks on the condition that they keep up the green space near the river.

Advocates believe that eventually, Salt Lake City will realize what Emma Child Sollis has always known. She has lived all of her life near the Jordan River and believes it has been the choicest part of the Salt Lake Valley since the pioneers first came here. Doctors, she said, told people to settle out here because the air was cleaner.

"My great-grandfather was an immigrant from Denmark. He had the choice of all of the valley and he chose to live here," Sollis said.

Although she has seen enthusiasm about the river come and go over the years, she, too, believes it will become the centerpiece of Salt Lake City.

"When wouldn't a river be a blessing to a city?"