I’ve never much liked Russian olives. Now, however, I have even more reasons to wish them gone from the wetlands, meadows and riverbanks they’ve invaded. In fact, I might even go so far as to make the following statement: I hate Russian olives.
This time it’s personal.
On Friday August 12th, it wasn’t the rushing river, or my lack of kayaking skills (I’ve been several times, thank you very much) that pitched me right into the Jordan River; it was a big, thorny, Russian olive. I have the scratches to prove it.
It didn’t help that the river, which normally flows at 90 cubic feet per second, was flowing at 1,000 cfs. Nor did it help that Bob Thompson, a watershed scientist with Salt Lake County who was leading the trip for Salt Lake County’s 5th Annual Watershed Symposium, was trying to get us all to maneuver to the side of the river immediately after put-in, before I’d really learned to manage the faster flow.
And it definitely didn’t help that in my attempts to get to the side of the river, I ended up being accosted by that Russian olive while sideways.
It all boils down to the fact that this particular Russian olive, like all of its kind, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Jordan River is the perfect place for an invasion, really. It is perhaps Utah’s most forgotten, ignored and abused river. In fact, a colleague of mine who works on the Bear River often uses the Jordan River as an example of what she hopes to avoid on the Bear.
What was once a winding river and healthy floodplain is now a straightened, dredged, and unnatural place: rushing from the man-made floodgates at Utah Lake, picking up sewage, silt and industrial effluent along its 50-mile course, and depositing it all in Great Salt Lake.
It is, according to some, a lost cause.
But Adriann Boogaard, a regular guy who has lived and worked near the Jordan River for his entire life, would disagree. He may very well be the river’s most passionate advocate, volunteering countless hours on its behalf, and spending even more hours in, on, and alongside it.
Along with Bob Thompson, he’s working to restore the river, recreate the floodplains, and, most important, remove invasive trees like those damn Russian olives. Even more important, they’re working to educate people about the river, and, through guided field trips like this, show them what they’re missing.
And others are catching the Jordan River bug. Although it’s still listed as an impaired waterway, cities, counties and non-profit groups are rallying to reinvent the river as both a natural and community resource.
In 2008, Envision Utah published a report called Blueprint Jordan River, which seeks to guide development of the river for people, including “creating a contiguous lake-to-lake waterway for kayaking and canoeing, designating seven regional ‘river centers’ for housing and retail development, improving river access through regional trails and public transit, and creating education centers along the river.”
While the blueprint was enthusiastically received at the time, some groups believe it doesn’t do enough for the river’s natural functions.
Its voluntary nature allows for cities and counties to interpret it in different ways as they seek to develop along the river’s banks, which has led to developments and proposals for new sewage treatment plants, a commuter rail stop, motocross and off-road vehicle tracks, a soccer complex and other projects that groups like the Jordan River Restoration Network believe are killing the river.
The issues are complex. I could spend another summer exploring and blogging about this river, the interplay of nature and development in this very urban corridor, and the people who have very different ideas about what will save the Jordan.
One thing is for sure: The Jordan River could use that kind of exposure. The more people find and experience the Jordan, the better its chances for survival and recovery.
I learned a lot from Adriann and Bob while I was in my kayak. Each corner of the river from our put-in to our take-out (a trip that was slotted to take 3.5 hours but instead took only two) held some story of work crews, volunteers and agencies stepping back river banks, creating emergent benches, and planting native trees.
They talked about thickets of willows and stands of cottonwoods with the pride parents might have for their children.
For them, the river is a haven. It offers quiet and solitude to anyone willing to go looking along its banks or in its waters. If you look, what you find may at times be far from perfect, but if Adriann and Bob have their way, the future of this river will only get better.
To Visit: The Jordan River flows from Utah Lake to Great Salt Lake, and can be accessed at numerous points throughout the Salt Lake Valley by way of the Jordan River Parkway Trail. Kayaking and canoeing is fairly easy, but there are some tricky obstructions that beginners should not attempt. Please do your research before floating the Jordan, and always check water levels as they can change abruptly in accordance with the floodgates. For guided trips, check out the Wasatch Mountain Club, which does guided Jordan River floats every Wednesday evening.
Heidi Nedreberg works for the Nature Conservancy in Utah and blogs for Summer of Salt, from which this piece is republished with permission.