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Bugs and brine: feelings probed about Great Salt Lake

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OGDEN — Bugs and brine, salt and smells. Lake views and lots and lots of birds.

The Great Salt Lake — the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere — means many things to many people, especially those who live closest to it in Davis and Weber counties.

Those complex feelings form a complicated sociological relationship with the lake among Utahns in the northern part of the state — dynamics that were tapped in a years-long study by an Ogden sociology professor from Weber State University.

Carla Trentelman will present her findings for her dissertation, "Big Smelly Salty Lake That I Call Home," in three public meetings scheduled over the next several weeks.

Drawn from interviews with more than 400 residents in western Weber and Davis counties plus state resource managers and county officials, the research explores the importance — or lack of importance — people place on the lake as they go about their daily lives.

“I was looking specifically at issues of sense of place and place attachment with Great Salt Lake, but also received information about a good number of issues,” she said.

The research unveiled a surprising number of revelations in some areas and reinforced beliefs about some negative feelings some hold toward the lake.

"People have fairly complex relationships with the lake," she said. "It is not either you like the lake or you do not. It's not that simple. Even the folks who like the lake a lot are also really aware of the some the negatives — such as the bugs or smell and they will complain about it."

Trentelman's research found that the closer people lived to the lake the more attached they are to it, with their feelings enhanced by such factors as gaining access via the Antelope Island causeway, living on family property near the lake passed down from generation to generation and/or membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

What was clear from the outset, Trentelman said, is that living next to the Great Salt Lake is an experience that is no way comparable to say, residents who own lakefront property on a body of fresh water.

"There are a lot of reasons for that," she said. "Because of the ever changing water elevations you cannot live that close to the Great Salt Lake. The distance element makes things different; it is not like having a dock at the end of your backyard."

Trentelman found vastly different views — sometimes in the same neighborhood — meeting fierce defenders of the lake and those who don't think about the lake at all.

Her research team also sought input from various conservation and wildlife groups, and among the duck hunters, Trentelman said she found staunchly protective feelings toward the Great Salt Lake and its role as a migratory fly-way for millions of birds.

"Duck hunters are all about the lake, are out there all the time and are very strongly involved in conservation measures; and not just ponying up with dollars but out there working on conservation projects."

She also found one common theme among research subjects: everyone — fond of the lake or not — delighted in being able to point to a map for a stranger, show them the lake, and say they lived there.

"That was an important thing to a lot of people; that was really cool to them."

Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, which helped fund some of Trentelman's research, said the findings should provide a good avenue to kick start conversations about what the lake means to people.

"I hope they use this as an invitation of discovery, because the lake, in so many ways, does so many things," she said. "It is part of our character and part of our social behavior, although sometimes it is unconscious in us. It has a lot of stories to tell."

Three meetings are being held to touch on Trentelman's research about the Great Salt Lake and people's attitudes toward the lake. The meetings are also an opportunity for people to learn more about a comprehensive management plan being developed for the Great Salt Lake.

Meeting times and locations are:

Weber County: Sept. 22, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Ogden Nature Center, 966 W. 12th St., Ogden

Davis County: Sept. 27, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Syracuse Community Center, 1912 W. 1900 South, Syracuse.

Salt Lake County: Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Special Events Room in the Health, Wellness & Athletic Center, Westminster College, 1840 S. 1300 East, Salt Lake City.

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