Utah Lake making a comeback

Published: Saturday, March 3 2012 12:59 p.m. MST

Aerial views of Utah Lake in Utah County on Friday, Mar. 2, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Top List: A historical glimpse of Utah Lake

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A century ago Utah Lake was a destination spot dotted with leisure resorts, a jewel surrounded by mountains. But a series of unsavory events decade after decade turned the lake into something to stay away from.

Even intrepid lake users would perpetuate an unlikely moniker: "Ski the scum — Utah Lake."

"There are people that have lived here for a long time that have forgotten it's there, or never really knew," said Reed Price, who grew up in Orem, within sight of the lake, and who now leads a consortium of Utah County municipalities called the Utah Lake Commission.

It's like the lake, in plain sight, became invisible to a population teeming with water sports enthusiasts. Residents wanting an attractive vista turned their backs on the lake and gazed at the mountains instead. Residential development pressed toward mountain benches, instead of any lakeside lifestyle.

But now, after decades of pushing people away, Utah Lake just might be staging a comeback:

• Work is under way to rid the lake of 40 million pounds of troublesome carp.

• Unwanted plant life is being cleared away, making way for new shoreline access.

• The steel mill by the lake and its smokestacks are gone, with Geneva now a memory.

• Perhaps most importantly, efforts under way are designed to turn the lake from its murky brown water to blue again, necessary to overcome the lake's negative reputation.

With a community like Saratoga Springs pushing for a lakefront lifestyle, it just may be that Utah Lake’s time has finally arrived.

THE EARLY DAYS

Utah Lake was important to the Mormon settlers in the late 1840s because its fish were an important source of food. Commercial fishing operations on the lake were well-established long before the end of the 19th century.

Overfishing, in fact, prompted the U.S. Fish Commission to start ferrying barrels of live carp by train to Utah and other depleted fisheries in the 1880s. "A lot of the immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asia knew the common carp as a good food fish. They were big and feed a lot of people," said Mike Mills, fish biologist with the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. "The government was stocking them all over the country."

Recreational interests in the lake began to surge about the same time. Utah Lake ranks third in size only behind Lake Tahoe in California and Flathead Lake in Montana for natural freshwater lakes in the Western U.S. Its diverse shoreline and expanse of open water created plenty of space for boaters, fishing and lakeside attractions.

The Saratoga resort opened on the north end of the lake in 1884. The Garden City Resort opened near the mouth of the Provo River in 1889. The Geneva Resort opened in 1903 at the site where the Lindon Boat Harbor is today. A history compiled by the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program says a competitive business arena saw 20 resorts come and go — some of them renamed continuations of earlier enterprises.

"The lake was a gathering place for the community," Price said. "But then something happened so it lost the magic that it once had."

CARP HEAVEN

The same devastating drought that led to the Dust Bowl in the 1930s dramatically shrank the size of the lake, which only has an average depth of 9 to 10 feet when it is full. Less water meant a boost in salinity, which was hard on wildlife. Carp proved to be among the most resilient fish in the lake; more popular fish like trout did not.

"People have described it as a kind of carp heaven," Mills said. "They do extremely well there."

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