The Ogden River spans 35 miles and is a cultural identifier for this outdoorsy northern Utah town.
From the way it carves out Ogden Canyon and winds behind Lorin Farr Park — which provides part of the backdrop for the iconic 1993 movie “The Sandlot” — the Ogden River has alternately been celebrated and neglected.
Eric McCulley, project coordinator with the Utah Reclamation and Conservation Commission, recently told members of the Legislative Water Development Commission how important this river is, not only as a water resource for agriculture, but as a recreational asset enjoyed by thousands.
Years ago, Ogden City invested in the parkway trail, which winds around the river for nearly 10 miles.
But downstream, the river remained a source of pollution and in need of great help, spurring Ogden into action with multiple partners joining in to do something about it.
The city bought up dilapidated buildings and went about the business of fixing this important asset.
“And what that did was it provided this riparian corridor that provided access for floodwaters. It improved river access, and it enhanced the river, but it also made the community much stronger because of areas that were unsafe or unsightly or dangerous,” McCulley said.
McCulley has been involved with riparian corridor restoration for some time, and spoke in support of a proposal by Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion, D-Cottonwood Heights, who wants to ramp up protections across the state.
Following the playbook used in Ogden and in Helper, her measure would require cities and counties to incorporate riparian corridor considerations in their general plans within five years. The Helper City River Revitalization Project was launched with an aim to improve a stretch of the Price River, with the conservation of more than 60 acres, as well as wetlands and the removal of fish barriers. Since its inception, the river has seen an uptick in recreational users as well as benefits for the economy and environment.
Her hope is to change what may function as a dumping ground into an important piece of nature for people to enjoy. Similar attention has been paid to the Jordan River, but it still struggles to overcome pollution issues.
Bennion said an Envision Utah poll found that 75% of Utah residents value the vitality of a healthy river in an urbanized setting, so it is a good investment for not only wildlife and aquatic species but to boost a community’s identity.
The Ogden River, she added, is a good example of what success looks like when it comes to restoration.
Nearly 13 years ago, the Ogden River Restoration Project was kick-started with a million dollars in federal stimulus funding.
In late December 2010, more than 2,400 tons of concrete and scrap had been removed from a 1.1 mile stretch of the river, in addition to 3,800 cubic yards of litter and more than 2,000 tires.
McCulley said it was a mess, including the astounding figure of nine cars that were removed from the river.
In their place, groups worked to place rocks to create a more natural channel flow, improve wildlife habitat, serve as a flood break and allow people to get closer to the river to enjoy its beauty.
“So if you can give the river the room it needs, that’s helpful. It also took these buildings out of the flood area so they no longer had to have flood insurance and so the risk was reduced on the communities,” he said. “It created a really great amenity down there and it’s actually resulted in over $60 million of economic investment in the areas along the Ogden River where nobody was really interested before when it was a bunch of rundown houses and things like that.”
Bennion said Tuesday she is hopeful her proposal will galvanize action and greater protection for important river systems.