One memorable afternoon in the early 1950s, Jim Walker went paddle boating on Decker Lake with his father and some friends.
"It seemed to my 10-year-old mind as if we had gone to the edge of civilization," he said, recalling the endless drive from town and the uninhabited expanses all around.The lake was clean and fairly deep - maybe 6 feet - he recalls, basing the estimate on a first-hand report from his father, who accidently fell into the water.
Walker, deputy director of Salt Lake County's Department of Human Services, remembers that idyllic little lake just about every time he passes it while driving along I-215, but what he actually sees is a big trashy mud puddle.
Which is what thousands of commuters, residents and employees of nearby businesses see each day, and which is why West Valley City wants to turn back the clock on Decker Lake.
"Our goal is to clean it up, to restore its natural beauty and develop it as a recreation area," said Kathy Bugg Riley, West Valley City business development specialist. "It could be a tremendous asset to our community instead of a liability."
She and other West Valley officials have revived the old idea of a Decker Lake park and are promoting it with new vigor. They believe that after years of stagnant policies and gloomy failures, the political and administrative climate of the project may finally be favorable.
For the current planning to proceed, the state would have to transfer some of the adjacent land to West Valley City; Salt Lake County would have to spend as much as $1 million to dredge the lake; and West Valley City would have to find the money to develop and maintain the park. Progress is being made on all three fronts, according to local officials.
One of the most significant developments, according to Riley, is a proposal pending before the Legislature to transfer shoreline land that the state owns to West Valley City "at no cost." Also, county officials say they will seek funding to dredge the lake, which is so full of sediments that it is only inches deep in some places.
"We will have to bite the bullet," said Lonnie Johnson, the county's new public works director. "Last year's budget had $250,000 for Decker Lake, but the funding was cut. It is something we would like to see go forward, and we will cooperate with West Valley."
The renewed impetus for action appears to be a combination of growing embarrassment over what has become one of the valley's biggest eyesores along with economic considerations.
Located on the east side of I-215 near 2700 South, the 32-acre natural lake is tucked amid a thriving industrial park, established and growing residential communities and a state youth-corrections facility. Water enters the lake from irrigation, storm and stream runoff sources and flows out eastward to the Jordan River.
The county purchased the lake in 1968 for flood-control purposes, and the state acquired the land around it for freeway development and the corrections complex. A previous attempt to develop it as a park ended in failure, costing taxpayers about $500,000. A rotting boat dock, a dilapidated pavilion and the scorched ruins of restrooms are all that remain of those improvements.
Despite the mess it's in, Decker Lake attracts cranes, herons, ducks and other migrating waterfowl. West Valley City hopes to enhance its status as a bird refuge while developing it as a recreation area, said Riley.
Plans call for xeriscape landscaping - to maintain the natural appeal of the lake - jogging and walking trails, picnic facilities, parking areas and possibly a ball field. Riley said the total cost could reach about $3 million, with federal grants possibly easing the local burden. "West Valley can't do it alone," she said.
Robert Bennett, president of the Franklin International Institute, whose worldwide headquarters neighbor Decker Lake, said the proposed development would improve the community's image and stimulate economic growth.
"This is a prime area for light industrial development," Bennett said, predicting that I-215 will emerge as the Salt Lake Valley's central corridor. "We are already seeing a shift from I-15 to I-215."
Last month, county and West Valley crews did remove hundreds of truckloads of "spoil piles" that had been left around the lake from a partial dredging project last year, which "delighted" Bennett. However, he and other local business officials have yet to see the promised beautification that influenced their decisions to locate there in the first place.
Their frustration has led them to the governor's office. "Governor Bangerter indicated to us that the state would be receptive to doing what is necessary to allow West Valley to move forward," Bennett said.
Not many other parks in the Salt Lake Valley could offer residents as much as Decker Lake, he said.
Johnson said the lake is accomplishing its flood-control purposes, which is its primary function, but he agrees that it has a much broader potential as a recreation area. It will be on the county's agenda in coming months, he said.
Riley, whose office walls are covered with photographs of the best and worst that Decker Lake has to offer - a crane standing in its relatively unpolluted water; garbage on the shore - said momentum toward development of the park is building. "I'm optimistic," she said.