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Amy Donaldson, Deseret News
The wetlands on the Jordan River Parkway in Murray offer unique opportunities for escape and education.

MURRAY — It’s difficult for me to remember exactly when I discovered the Jordan River Parkway.

What’s easier to remember is that about two years ago I started to grow bored with the trail and frustrated with my fellow dog owners (who refuse to follow leash laws), and I abandoned the urban trail for running routes that offered more extreme challenges, more isolation and more spectacular views.

After at least a decade of running regularly on the parkway, I decided I’d outgrown the trail. It seemed to me to be a glorified sidewalk, and eventually became as appealing as spending my long run on a treadmill staring at various versions of cable news.

I think it’s important that I admit, at this point, that I feel incredibly ungrateful after the parkway offered me a welcome home that I didn’t expect — or deserve.

I returned to the parkway out of necessity.

My schedule tends to get the best of me at critical points in my training. That means I cut short or skip runs that I need if I want to enjoy races of any significant distance.

The generous snowfall that allowed me a wonderful winter of snowshoeing has made trail running in the mountains this spring among the most challenging I’ve experienced in my short trail running career. One trail run can include knee-deep snow, hard-packed but uneven snow (or snice, as I like to call it), large sections of slick ice (which covered in dirt look deceivingly runnable), and mud.

I feel the instability and constantly changing terrain in my middle-aged back and my surprisingly durable aching ankles. It was another soggy Monday morning when I decided I was desperate enough for a real, stretch-my-legs, lung-busting run that I would return to the parkway. I almost opted just to run through my neighborhood because, as I’d been telling myself, there wasn’t much difference.

In the end, I loaded up my running partner, Wolf, and we headed over to the parkway.

Right away we ran into two people with off-leash dogs, and I felt my blood pressure shoot up. But just a half-mile into a six-mile run, I realized I’d forgotten how beautiful the trail section really was.

As I ran, I saw the parents bicycling with their children, moms pushing strollers and couples holding hands walking and talking not as interlopers, but as fortunate benefactors of visionary city and county planners.

I started to think about how the paved trail that runs adjacent to the dirt sections allowed them to find respite from likely equally stressful lives just minutes from their homes.

It was when I hit the wetlands section near 4700 South that my attitude really began to shift, however. Wolf and I were alone except for the chorus of frogs, crickets, geese and ducks that filled the air with a chorus I would never hear in my neighborhood.

I almost felt like I should stop, give my full attention and then applaud. It was spectacular.

As I ran I noticed a long list of improvements. My favorite old tree had fallen over and there was fencing warning those of us on the dirt trail that it was blocked briefly.

As I hit the halfway mark and started to run back to my car, I started to feel an immense gratitude for the urban trail, as well as similar networks around the valley, like City Creek and Dimple Dell. Returning to the parkway reminded me of how I developed a deep love for trial running.

Marathon training left me with shin splints, and my friends at Wasatch Running advised me to run on a variety of surfaces, including grass and dirt. The parkway offered all of the above, and became the reason I left the relative security of the paved section of the trail for what I saw as more intimidating dirt sections.

I laugh now at how worried I was that I would get lost or run into people or animals that might want to harm me. Frankly, the worst thing I’ve encountered on any section of trail is people who don't seem to understand that the rules we're asked to follow ensure everyone can enjoy shared space.

I realized that I might never have dared venture into the mountains if I hadn’t first learned how to run through the dirt paths adjacent to the Jordan River. It’s where I gained confidence — and enough endurance — to even consider tackling something in Millcreek, Rose Canyon, Corner Canyon or City Creek.

The Jordan River Parkway allowed me a place to let my troubles melt with the miles, and it taught me about our ability to conserve while recreating. It convinced me that everyone can find a way to enjoy the unique beauty this valley offers if we are considerate and careful.

I enjoyed this run so much, I’ve been back almost every day since. Each time, I've enjoyed a different but equally uplifting experience. Is it just that absence allowed me to appreciate that which I'd taken for granted? Probably. But it doesn't mean that beauty isn't something unique to each day and each user.

Last week I heard the symphony again, and this time I decided to make a short video. As Wolf and I turned to run the last few miles before the sun slipped behind the Oquirrh Mountains, I was filled with the same joy I have on my favorite mountain trails.

I felt immense gratitude for the government officials who’d made it a priority to offer residents a bit of wild in the middle of our very well-manicured, well-planned, over-organized lives. I cannot help but think it improves the quality of countless lives to have trails that are accessible to any of us.

After posting my video on Instagram, I learned there is a group responsible for planning this 45-mile jewel that runs through the state’s most populous county — the Jordan River Commission. Representatives from the 18 jurisdictions along the river and interested groups join with individual city officials in planning and maintaining the parkway.

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I should have known something this wonderful didn’t happen accidentally. People realized about a decade ago that if they didn’t join together in a focused effort, this impressive trail system would have been easy to abandon.

I did it.

But when I did I didn’t realize the small, seemingly mundane ways the parkway offers reprieve and recreation to those who either can’t or don’t want the kind of challenges mountain trails offer. The parkway is something different than Millcreek or Rose Canyon.

And in the miles I’ve logged there the last two weeks I’ve realized how incredibly lucky I am to live in a place that offers such a variety of ways to see and experience nature’s gifts.