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SALEM’S PATCH OF BLUE IS NATURAL PARADISE

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The astronomer who gave the name Mare Tranquililatum (the Sea of Tranquility) to one of those deceptive blue patches on our orbiting satellite, the moon, had it right.

Much like Thoreau had his Walden and like G.B. Trudeau's Zonker character had his Walden Puddle, Salem has its own Salem Lake - also known as Salem Pond - a patch of still blue to calm even the most frazzled of nerves.Nestled in the midsection of this sleepy Utah County community, still unsullied by screaming throngs that would typically overrun its acreage of green pastures, is Salem Lake.

The lake was formed in 1856 after a near-disastrous dam failure during that summer. Its impounded waters have become synonymous with the town and have become its most signature feature, aside from the Dream Mine, according to area biographer Ted Hanks.

Before wells were dug, the lake served as the town's primary water source, Hanks relates in his "Summer Spring, An Historical Perspective of Salem, Utah." Since then, the lake has served various purposes, including irrigation storage, skating rink, fishing spot, wetlands for water purification, waterfowl habitat, swimming and diving spot, place to picnic and build memories.

Today, it serves mostly the last three purposes. Members of Salem's Town Council have realized the lakes's commericial as well as community assets and have made improvements in the lake's surroundings (such as adding picnic tables) and surface (the city is now able to drain and refill the pond).

The lake has shallowed from its estimated original 21-foot depth to 7 feet in a little more than a century. That has led the council to request $500,000 in federal grants, Mayor Randy Brailsford said. The money would go towards pond dredging and cleaning, as well as for landscaping that would provide a small beach for swimmers and sunbathers and bike paths.

Brailsford estimates that during the summer months, 100 people per day use the lake's environs - mostly for swimming - and that the improvements would greatly enhance the lake's (and community's) image.

However, Brailsford said the lake environs are still safe for patrons, something that seems to be well-evidenced by the scattered Frisbee throwers, the occasional touch-football games and the splashing of youths diving into the lake's still adequate (and cooling) depths.

As yet, it seems the lake is still undiscovered by a great many county residents, who overpopulate other parks in Utah Valley.

Maybe that's good, since this reporter's favorite lake activity is to spend a few moments of quite comtemplation like Rodin's Thinker sculpture, including listening to mild mutterings from peaceful post-modern pop artists like the Sundays or Shelleyan Orphan or something similarly serendipitous.

Be forewarned, though, that displays au naturel - like the Thinker's pose - are expressly forbidden by community laws and standards, and rightly so. Just enjoy yourselves with your clothes on.

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(Additional information)

Lake activities

- Picnics and family get-togethers

- Swimming and diving

- Playground areas

- Space for Frisbee and touch- football games

- Grassy areas for sunbathing and lake watching

- Feeding ducks and other wildlife

- Ice skating and hockey games (winter)