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The City Journals

WVC native, former mayor, helps spruce up beloved Jordan River

Dec 03, 2018 04:10PM ● By Travis Barton

Rep. Mike Winder stands on the Pioneer Crossing Bridge he helped bring to fruition. The bridge crossed the Jordan River, which will see additional funding after Winder sponsored a bill during the legislation this past year. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

For Amy Smith, the Jordan River is twofold. An outdoor oasis away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. But also a hallway for suspicious activity. 

“It’s such a special trail. It just,” she said, pausing a second before continuing, “has its smudge marks.”

Smith rides her bike along the trail with her boyfriend regularly. She occasionally runs the trail with a friend or two. She hopes to float the river at some point. She’s just nervous about the river’s future. 

“I’ve seen drug deals happen along here and with the new shelter coming in, you kinda can’t help but wonder if it’ll get worse,” she said. 

The shelter she’s referring to is the incoming Homeless Resource Center being built in South Salt Lake at 1144 W. 3300 South, adjacent to the Jordan River. 

Cleaning up the Jordan River and mitigating the resource center’s impact on the river is just what Rep. Mike Winder hoped to do when he sponsored HB 216 that passed earlier this year. 

Winder said he was concerned when the center’s location was announced in 2017, so he “looked for an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons.” 

Out of that lemon came the Jordan River Recreation Area, a zone created by the legislature. It goes from state road 201(informally known as the 21st South freeway) to about 4500 South, two miles north and south from the resource center and about 250 yards on both sides of the river. Legislation passed in HB 216 means that $1 million is allocated to the area with an ongoing $500,000 each year. 

Winder was excited to see the state step up to help.

“For years as a community we’ve turned our backs to the Jordan river, and it's almost been more of a liability than an asset,” Winder said. “And in recent years there's been a lot of positive work by the cities along the river, the Jordan River Commission and Salt Lake County to try to turn that around.”

Funding comes from the state’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, with those officials acting on what the Jordan River Commission recommends. 

Winder said half the money goes to recreational improvements within the zone such as trails, bike rentals, boat rentals and picnic pavilions. 

“The more positive activities you attract to an area, that scares out the negative elements,” he said. “Whether it’s illegal camping, drug use, prostitution, vandalism. The negative aspects.”  

The rest of the money would go towards public safety for the entire river corridor. This includes removing invasive species such as Russian olives and phragmites (common invasive reeds). “Frankly those are a lot of the areas where people hide out to do some illegal things,” Winder said. 

Additionally, money would be available for partnering with off-duty police officers and local police to beef up law enforcement in the area. There is also money to work on a river ranger program with University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College students to help patrol the river. 

Winder said some money will go towards helping Tracy Aviary start an education center near 3300 South and 1100 West near James Madison Park, along with a bike rental program. 

“We really want to encourage activity on the river,” Winder said.

Hearing those plans excites Smith, a lover of the outdoors. “Protecting this area should be a priority,” she said. “Nature being a few steps away from my front door is what makes Utah unique.” 

One outdoor activity would be floating or kayaking the river. Earlier this year ChamberWest hosted an event where prominent members of the community — including elected officials such as Winder, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and West Valley City Mayor Ron Bigelow —kayaked the new Jordan River Recreation Area between SR-201 and 4500 South.   

“It was actually a really special opportunity for me to see firsthand the potential of what could be,” Winder recalled. “Yes, we saw a shopping cart in the river and saw some trash, but we also saw some beautiful areas…It was really exciting and I think that you have something that close to home, we need to look for ways to open that up to more families to come enjoy.”

Salt Lake County officials recently announced plans to create a new park along the Jordan River between 201 and 4500 South. The County will partner with South Salt Lake, West Valley City and Tracy Aviary. 

Extra special to Winder is the river area adjacent to the Utah Cultural Celebration Center. In 2013, while mayor of West Valley City, Winder helped oversee the construction of Pioneer Crossing Bridge — a swaying suspension bridge that connects the cultural center to the Jordan River Parkway. A historical marker plaque can be found next to the bridge, built by Winder’s son as part of an eagle project. 

It all adds up to a singular location for Winder, a West Valley City native. And extra motivation to ensure the river’s majesty is maintained. 

“As the Salt Lake valley fills up with people, it’s more important than ever to have recreational opportunities and outdoor opportunities close to home,” Winder said. “And when you come along the Jordan River Parkway, it’s a strip of wilderness in the midst of an urban valley. It’s really special that way.”