Environmental Politics, Think
New bridges in Sugarhouse, Utah moves up in bicycle-friendliness ratings, hidden water, and not so hidden water (as much as jeep owners would like it to be).
—by Amy Brunvand
Sugar House Draw opens
June 6 marks the grand opening of the Sugar House Draw, a new pedestrian/ bicycle tunnel that joins Sugar House Park with the Sugar House business district. The tunnel is part of a new east/west segment of Parley’s Trail that passes through Hidden Hollow, a natural area of Parley’s Creek that was very nearly paved over to become a parking lot for a shopping mall.
In 1990, a group of students from Hawthorne Elementary School discovered Hidden Hollow and started an effort to save it from development. Pretty soon students from other schools joined the effort. CATALYST documented the project from the beginning. Our editor wrote, “Hidden Hollow my not be your idea of nature. But I think children love it because they recognize that in a world in which everything is sanitary, controlled, plasticized, predictable and efficient…there is no soul… No adventure.” Then-Sugar House Chamber of Commerce President Lester G. Reese called the students’ efforts “a well-meaning but unwise environmental project” that he believed would jeopardize the revival of the Sugar House business district.
The kids envisioned an outdoor ecology classroom, but ironically preserving Hidden Hollow has also turned out to be essential to maintaining the vitality of the Sugar House business district. A 2013 city planning document notes that expanding transportation without destroying the unique character of the neighborhood means “making better use of transit, managing parking supply more carefully, and increasing walkability and bikeability.”
The developers and business types who opposed Hidden Hollow preservation thought that they would be acting in the best interests of business by adding a few extra parking spaces, but in the long run those grade school kids who instinctively recognized the enormous value of a small unloved stretch of Parley’s Creek, had a far more enlivening vision for the future of the city.
Ribbon Cutting, The Draw at Sugar House Park, 10:30 am: janejacobswalk.org/salt-lake-city-utah-the-draw-at-sugarhouse-grand-opening/
Sugarhouse Streetscape Amenities Plan (April, 2013) slcdocs.com/Planning/Planning Commission/2013/00799.pdf
Daylighting hidden water in SLC
In many urban areas (the Wasatch Front included) rivers and streams are neglected and forgotten, buried in pipes beneath the pavement. However, a report from American Rivers says that restoring hidden urban waters to the surface provides benefits such as reducing polluted runoff, controlling flooding and improving urban livability.
Declaring that water should be celebrated rather than taken for granted, a group of Urban Ecology students from the University of Utah recently started a non-profit “Seven Canyon Trust” with the mission “to uncover the water that once flowed freely from City, Red Butte, Parley’s, Emigration, Mill, Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood Creeks: restoring health, beauty, connection, and kinship between the seven creeks, their communities, and the natural environment.” In May University of Utah students also launched Friends of Red Butte Creek, with the agenda of “better incorporating Red Butte Creek into campus life, student education, and global research on urban streams.”
Seven Canyons Trust: sevencanyonstrust.org; Friends of Red Butte Creek: redbuttecreek.utah.edu; americanrivers.org/newsroom/resources/daylighting-streams-breathing-life-into-urban-streams-and-communities/
Have you noticed that it’s getting easier to get places by bike? The League of American Bicyclists has rated Utah as the 8th most bicycle friendly state in 2014. This is Utah’s highest ranking to date. In 2013, Utah was ranked #14, and earned a dismal #31 in 2011, which goes to show how quickly things are improving. Phil Sarnoff, executive director of Bike Utah, credits the dramatic improvements to collaboration fostered by a Statewide Active Transportation Coordinating Committee that was formed in 2013.
Bicycle Friendly Ranking: bikeleague.org/content/ ranking. Bike Utah: bikeutah.org
Climate change in the Southwest
The National Climate Change Assessment program has released a new report describing climate change scenarios for the Southwest. Water is a major concern, and the report predicts, “Severe and sustained drought will stress water sources, already over-utilized in many areas, forcing increasing competition among farmers, energy producers, urban dwellers, and plant and animal life for the region’s most precious resource.” In a hotter, drier climate there won’t be enough water to cool “thermal power plants,” (which means coal or nuclear), which makes a transition to renewable energy essential.
NCA Southwest Report: globalchange.gov/explore/southwest
Oil shale vs. beardtongue
White River Beardtongue sounds like the name of a dragon from Lord of the Rings, but it’s actually a rare snapdragon that grows only on oil-shale outcrops in Utah and Colorado and it’s threatened by impending large scale strip-mining in the Uinta Basin. The State of Utah is trying to keep two species, Graham’s and White River beardtongue, off of the federal endangered species list by writing their own conservation plan, but the Center for Biological Diversity slams the Utah plan because it “does not provide strong enough protections to ensure the plants’ recovery and would remain in place for 15 years — enough time that the species could be pushed to the brink of extinction.”
Public comments on the Draft Conservation Agreement, due July 7, 2014: fws.gov/mountain-prairie/pressrel/2014/05052014_grahams_and_ white_river_beardtongue.php
Salt Creek is (still) not a road
In April the 10th Circuit Court found that a creek in Canyonlands National Park is still not a road. Salt Creek is a freshwater stream that flows through the Needles district and the area has the highest recorded density of archaeological sites in the park.
The Park Service closed the area to motor vehicles in 1998 due to environmental damage. Ever since then, San Juan County has initiated a series of lawsuits claiming that Salt Creek is a “highway” according to the 1866 Mining Act and trying to force Canyonlands National Park to let jeeps drive in the creek.
Conservation groups working to keep jeeps out of Salt Creek are Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association and The Wilderness Society.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office says that despite 16 years of failing to prove that Salt Creek is a road, the State intends to keep on spending taxpayer money trying to grab state control over 1,200 other routes that cross federal public lands.
Book Cliffs Highway?
Former Grand County Councilman Bill Hedden says that recurring plans to build a highway through Utah’s Book Cliffs is “proof that no truly terrible idea ever goes away.” The Bureau of Land Management’s Vernal Field Office is proposing to slice a new paved highway through Sego Canyon from Vernal to Crescent Junction, disecting up one of the largest roadless areas remaining in the U.S. outside of Alaska. The purpose of building the highway would be to facilitate fossil fuel development and block Book Cliffs wilderness designation.