Reviving Ogden River: Project transforms wasteland into a refuge
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
For many years, most of the people who visited the Ogden River below Washington Boulevard did so for some unsavory reasons.
"It was a place where people dumped their trash for years and years," said Phil Douglass, conservation outreach manager in northern Utah.
But a rehabilitation project initiated by Ogden City is transforming the river from a wasteland to a refuge.
"The city has really put a lot of effort into transforming the river from a liability to an asset," said Douglass.
While the city has led the way on the project, other agencies are working with Ogden officials to revive the waterway.
"Ogden City was the initiator," said Division of Wildlife Resources aquatic biologist Ben Nadolski. "There is no doubt they've done by far the majority of the heavy lifting. There is just so much to it. ... It involves multiple recreation groups, economic, social and biological interests."
As part of their involvement in the rehabilitation project, the Division of Wildlife Resources released nearly 1,500 rainbow trout in that lower section of the river on Nov. 3. The fish averaged about 12 inches in length.
"It's really about providing opportunities for anglers," said Nadolski. "It's a core value of ours that providing recreational opportunities enhances peoples lives. When you give them opportunities to come into contact with the outdoors, with wildlife, at the end of the day, it enhances the quality of their lives. That's why we do it."
Wildlife officials long ago quit stocking the lower section of the river with fish because the habitat was so marginal.
"The rehabilitation really started with the clean-up," said Douglass. "That's taken quite some effort. The city has acquired a number of dilapidated homes along the river and they're in the process of removing those homes. They're just doing a total makeover for the lower Ogden River."
The project managers cleaned up and changed the face of some areas to create new environments that allow fish to thrive.
"They've just done a really neat job," said Douglass.
In addition to cleaning up trash and ridding the area of other contaminants, officials changed the streambed in places so fish had more livable water.
"One component of the project is that (engineers) created new low flow channels," said Nadolski.
That means when the river is at its lower levels, fish still have a place to swim.
"A channel within a channel creates better habitat, but it also extends the opportunity further into the year because of the habitat improvements," Nadolski said.
Another aspect of the rehabilitation is the development of connections between the river and a flood plane.
"What that allows the river to do is establish a riparian zone," Nadolski said. "It's a really important ecological component of a river system. ... It's important to birds."
He said biologists believe that less than 1 percent of all land in the western United States is riparian. However, up to 75 percent of birds use the riparian zone in their lifetime.
"It's really critical habitiat," he said. "That's been a goal throughout the project to establish a riparian corridor and then enhance the riparian habitat."
That offers even more opportunities for residents to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors just minutes from the convenience of the city.
"It's a meaningful experience to come into contact with wildlife," said Nadolski. "Whether people are down there to fish, view birds or just be in nature, they're surrounded by wildlife."
Douglass said officials have heard reports about visitors coming into town for a conference or work and taking a few minutes to enjoy the nearby fishing.
"What the city wants to accomplish is for the area to be seen as an outdoors destination," he said. "Having the Ogden River revitalized certainly fits into that vision."
The Ogden isn't the only river that has suffered because of its proximity to cities. Douglass said many rivers have had to be rehabilitated after years of abuse, and most are examples of how much caring for the waterway can enhance an area.
"The city really wants to see the Ogden River become a crown jewel," he said. "They're well on their way to that."
For those involved in revitalizing the river, the reward comes when they see residents enjoying the new opportunities.
Nadolski said the afternoon after DWR officials released the trout, he saw people fishing on the Ogden River.
"One man had some physical challenges and couldn't walk down to the river," he said. "One of the other people carried him down, set him up ... and he caught four fish. He thought it was the greatest fishing experience he'd ever had. It was a really big deal. That's really why we do what we do. That's why we enjoy our jobs."
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