In 2011, extensive flooding in Cache Valley caused widespread damage to both buildings and land along the Logan River. Preserving the Social and Ecological Values of a Utah River
This led to the formation of the Logan River Task Force; this group of Utah State University scientists and other experts in riparian and river restoration worked with Logan City and Bio-West, Inc. (a local consulting firm) to develop a long-term restoration plan that prevented flooding while balancing both social and ecological values of the river.
Frank Howe, chairman of the Task Force said, “We developed the Logan River Conservation Action Plan to help ensure people’s property is protected, BUT we also envisioned the river becoming an amenity for our community – a place where people could enjoying activities [in, on, and around] the river such as canoeing, hiking, and fishing, or just sitting – enjoying the sights and sounds of the river.”
The Task Force’s first objective was to answer the question, “Why do people value the river?”
With the help of Logan’s citizens, the Task Force developed 22 Indicators of the river’s values. These indicators were essential for creating the Conservation Action Plan and directing restoration activities. People are anxious to avoid flood damage, but they’re also interested in the fish and wildlife the river supports as well as the recreational opportunities it offers.
Logan City Mayor Holly Daines said, “The Logan River Task Force has been really helpful to the city in working on river restoration! Quality of life is such an important part of our community. By expanding trails, and restoring the river wherever possible, we’re [creating] great places where we can enjoy [a] little slice of nature.”
The Task Force’s first restoration effort was a demonstration project at Denzil Stewart Nature Park. Its purpose was to show residents who live along the river how they could enhance their property while providing benefits to the river and their neighbors. “A lot of people have built walls so the river doesn’t flood onto their property”, says Howe. “But this leads to channelization which creates a problem for the [whole] river system. It forces the entire flow of the river into a very confined space. That increases the erosive power of the river which then eats away at personal property and public infrastructure.”
The Stewart Park Project demonstrated that, instead of building walls, if the owner allows occasion flooding onto lower “terraced” areas which are planted with native vegetation, it allows the river to grow a little wider and this, along with the friction from the vegetation, slows the flow and dissipates the energy of the flood through the entire [river] system.
The flagship project of the Task Force was Rendevous Park where the river was rerouted to avoid flood damage to a major highway and railroad. Pools were created in the river to catch sediments that previously plugged the river, causing flooding. Howe explains, “The pools allow sediments to drop out in a very predictable place which can be cleaned out every 5-10 years as sediments build up. These pools also provide excellent fish habitat as well as places for people to float or wade in the river. We removed several acres of non-native vegetation and planted native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers which created habitat for birds and other wildlife. We also added trails that allow people to access the river without disturbing the plantings. In all, we were able to improve 19 of the 22 social and ecological Indicators!”
This approach of balancing social and ecological values in river restoration used by the Logan River Task Force can be applied to rivers throughout Utah.
I’ve fancied a certain type of wandering lately—to grab my pack and boots and walk the lines of Utah’s political border—a trail made not of dirt and stone, but of imaginary lines of latitude and longitude. But, as of yet, I haven’t found the time or resources to do so beyond my own imagination and the 3 or 4 minutes I have with you now. Come join me in a stroll around Utah, at least the way I’ve imagined it.
Walking north out of Logan, I’ll wander through the grid-patterned neighborhoods that pepper the flanks of the Bear River Range, the still-snowy peaks that serve as sentinels over my daily commute and the adventure on which I embark now. They serve another, greater purpose, too, though. Without the Bear Rivers, the Rocky Mountains would be otherwise dissected. The snowy peaks I adore and which now pass in slow motion over my right shoulder form the only range of mountains that connect the northern and southern Rockies. Though they only measure about 70 miles in length, they provide a critical ecological thoroughfare from the south end of Cache Valley, Utah, north to Soda Springs, Idaho.
I won’t follow them that far, though. I’ll turn left (west) at the Idaho border toward the Great Basin.
I’m technically already there. We all are if we live along the Wasatch Front. And there are just a few minor ranges—the Clarkston Range, Blue Spring Hills, and the northern fingerling ridges of the Promontory Mountains—to wander across before reaching the Great Basin proper.
My favorite hidden gem of this often-overlooked portion of Utah are the Raft River Mountains. Like the mighty Uintas to the east, the Raft Rivers run East-to-West. So, despite being a stone’s throw from the Great Salt Lake, the tributaries running off their northern flanks drain not into the Great Basin and the Great Salt Lake, but north onto the Snake River Plain toward the Columbia River and, eventually, the Pacific Ocean.
The Tri Corners Landmark is a simple granite pillar sticking 3 or 4 feet out of the sand amongst wind-whipped sage brush. It’s easy to miss, but marks some interesting irregularities. Utah’s political border is not, in fact, made up of straight lines. According to cartographer Dave Cook, surveyors who created the state’s initial boundaries hastily covered ground with their crude survey instruments. They were paid by the mile, so they were more interested in finishing quickly than correcting any errors they made along the way.
The border wiggles at least four times by my calculations—one of which comprises two right angles—as it wanders across ridgelines and through the dusty draws of the basin and range mountains toward the Mojave Desert of southwest Utah.
I won’t be there for long, though. The border only runs for roughly 50 miles along the two legs of the right triangle that constitutes Utah’s allotment of the Mojave Desert before it climbs up onto the Colorado plateau. Ed Abbey famously compared the wrinkled topography of Utah, particularly his beloved canyon country of the Colorado Plateau, to the two largest of our states. “Alaska is our biggest, buggiest, boggiest state,” Abbey wrote. “Texas remains our largest unfrozen state. But mountainous Utah, if ironed out flat, would take up more space on a map than either.” Ropes, technical climbing and canyoneering gear, and a fair amount of fortitude would be required here.
The eastern border we share with Colorado is a varied expanse of high desert plateaus, rugged cliffs, out-of-place riparian zones, and a few spectacular snow-capped mountain ranges leading through some of the most beautiful and gloriously desolate places on the planet. The Book Cliffs, Dinosaur National Monument, and the La Sal Mountains come to mind.
A short walk distance-wise would require heaps of route finding across the Green River’s Flaming Gorge and along the northern toes of the Uinta Mountains. Here is perhaps the greatest of Utah’s geologic juxtapositions. Low basins adjacent the Intermountain West’s highest peaks.
I’ll take my first right turn at the western edge of the Uinta foothills. Here I might skip the formalities of a longitudinal walk—stick my thumb out instead, and make a bee-line for Bear Lake, Logan Canyon, and home: the walks I’ve already known for some time.
Perhaps you’re inspired now to know parts of this walk better yourself.
I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Audio: Includes audio from
Text: Josh Boling, 2020, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University
Imagine a place devoid of randomly constant dings and dongs, a place with no artificial lighting or insistent clicking of keys or ticking of screens. Maybe even a place where one no longer has to think about the persistently pressing matters of politics for even just a brief moment.
Solitude, awe, beauty…breeze, trees, birds…life.
Certainly, the place that comes to mind might exist here in Utah. Anyone who has driven more than five hours in any direction can tell you the state doesn’t always look the same. Utah has landscapes ranging from mountains reaching more than 13,000 feet to desert plains dropping down to nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, and everything in between (McNamee, Arrington 2019). The colors of the landscape begin in the north with the deep greens of the forest and end in the south with the rich hues of red and orange. It is this unique and endlessly variable landscape that some argue makes it the perfect place to find happiness.
Hold on. Happiness is not a simple thing to achieve or understand. Sources are both internal and external. But for this story we are focusing on the happiness which comes from being in a mentally beneficial environment. Utah’s incredibly diverse landscape lends itself to be adaptably beneficial to a population of various preferences. It quite literally can suit just about anyone’s partialities. Whether someone likes mild winters in the desert or harsh, bitter, white winters, (which most people on this plant have only heard about in stories) Utah has it all. If someone prefers quiet towns or large and bustling urban centers, thinner air to thicker air; Utah can accommodate. But what do these accommodations have to do with happiness?
There is an ever-growing expanse of research regarding the mental health benefits of nature. Much of this research came about after the establishment of wilderness therapy programs which began to take root in Utah during the latter part of the 1980s. Griffin Woods, a student at Utah State University, experienced one of these wilderness programs. One of the important things he said about experiencing nature was, “People should definitely be pushed more to go outside, get off the phone and be in nature as opposed to being glued to a phone.” (Griffin. Personal communication. October 2019)
This happiness can spread to family members. Many children who participate in an outdoor education program will afterwards ask their parents to take them out into nature so they could “show and tell” them what they have seen and heard.
Simply being in place of wilderness can reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall esteem (Arnold, 1994; Bahaeloo-Horeh & Assari, 2008). With this knowledge, Utah becomes an arsenal armed against the harmful habits that deteriorate our daily lives. It enables us to actively increase our attitudes and improve our internal state of mind.
So, this, this is what makes Utah so incredible. This state’s unique ability to make its residents and visitors happier. All you have to do is get outside. We end with this quote from Edward Abbey, “Wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.” So please, feed your spirit, enrich your soul, and enlighten your mind. You exist in arguably one of the most perfect places in the world to do this. Now go be Wild About Utah.
This is Matthew Wickenhiser and I’m Wild About Utah.