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Utah Lake Festival hopes to draw attention to natural attraction

Published: Friday, June 4 2010 1:06 a.m. MDT

Keith Morgan blows on a shell while sitting in his ski boat as he waits for a friend to get his water skis on to go water-skiing. Morgan, who has a home in Provo, spends a lot of time on a houseboat on Utah Lake so he can water-ski.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

PROVO — Keith Morgan has found his own version of paradise on a small houseboat on Utah Lake.

"Why would you want to wake up anywhere else?" said the 60-year-old part-time educator and competition water-skier who claims to have skied every month for the last 35 years — most often in Utah Lake.

Morgan has a home in Provo, only a few miles from the houseboat moored in Provo Bay. But he'd rather spend his nights about 1,000 feet from the water-ski slalom course where he practices every day he can. "I have skied all over the world, and this lake is one of the best."

Todd Frye's feelings about the lake are as strong as Morgan's, but wind powers Frye's passion as he navigates the lake on a Catalina 25 sloop.

"Sailing can be a lot work and there can be a lot of adrenaline, but normally it's very relaxing," Frye said. "Anyone who comes out here with me gets a whole new appreciation for Utah Lake."

Hundreds of thousands visit the lake ever year — 335,000 last year at Utah Lake State Park alone. But there's room for more, said park manager Ty Hunter.

"A lot of these people want to keep this place a big secret. They don't mind the black eye," Hunter said. "But a lot of us would like to remove the shiner."

That's the idea behind the Utah Lake Festival Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Utah Lake State Park, at the extreme west end of Provo's Center Street.

The festival is in its sixth year, and is a cooperative effort of the Utah Lake Commission, the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program and several cities that surround the lake.

"We want to promote goodwill for the lake," Hunter said. "We want to provide a lot of good, fun learning opportunities."

The lake, 25 miles long and 13 miles wide, is one of the largest, natural freshwater lakes north of the Mississippi. Nearly 2 million people rely on the lake and its tributaries for drinking water and irrigation — but most never visit it.

When the Mormon pioneers arrived in Utah Valley in the 1840s and 1850s, the lake and its native fish were critical, just as it had been for the American Indians who lived here before.

"This lake kept a lot of people alive," said Hunter.

It was seen as a natural for recreation as well, with more than 20 resorts dotting the shoreline and showboats providing excursions to Bird Island. But over-fishing and the introduction of carp into the ecosystem helped to change the nature of the lake.

The resorts disappeared; the carp proliferated. Biologists now figure that carp make up 90 percent of the biomass in the lake, tearing out the vegetation that used to grow abundantly on the lake bottom and competing for food with native fish.

When one of those native fish, the June sucker, was placed on the endangered species list, concerned residents complained that efforts to preserve the June sucker would be detrimental to recreation and development around the lake.

But Michael Mills, the local coordinator for the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program, said that efforts to preserve the fish may end up restoring Utah Lake as well.

Commercial fishermen are now removing carp from the lake by the boatloads, with the goal of removing 5 million pounds of fish a year.

Frye, who will be competing in the sailboat regatta during Saturday's activities, said visitors to Saturday's activities might get a different look at the lake. Last year, 22 boats competed, and he was hoping to double that number this year.

Frye, who sails on the lake from April 1 to Oct. 31, said the lake's reputation for tall, choppy waves — a result of its natural shallowness — is well-deserved, but by paying attention to the weather and using common sense, danger can be avoided.

"I don't go out if it looks risky," he said.

Utah Lake Festival

When: Saturday, June 5, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Where: Utah Lake State Park, Provo

Cost: Free

Activities: Sailboat regatta, games and activities for kids, boat tours, free fishing, free food

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com

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