Little did I know that the bridge on 17th South at Raging Waters was the tunnel that would lead me into another world.
Six canoes lined the grassy banks of the Jordan River. You know, the river on the west side of town that no one seems to talk about. Or if they do, it's usually with their noses plugged and raised in the air.The river's reputation as a slimy, smelly nuisance has been a hard one to shake. But, as we discovered, it is a reputation that no longer has merit.
It was a typically gorgeous late summer Saturday morning.
The purpose for our jaunt down the river was to gain insight about the riverside developments on the west side of the valley. But it was also for fun. No one there was looking at this as an assignment or an obligation. We were going to have an enjoyable morning floating on a river.
Salt Lake City Councilman Wayne Horrocks, Rep. Joanne Milner, D-Salt Lake, and officials from state Parks and Recreation, the State Fair and Neighborhood Housing Services all came along for the two-hour ride.
From the looks of the river, it wasn't going to be too adventurous a ride. The water in the river wasn't really running, it was moving at a pace more like a slow jog or a quick walk. I knew rapids were out of the picture, but a relaxing trip enjoying the beauty (yes, beauty) of the Jordan River sounded just as fun, and less strenuous.
"I just know we're going to see the creature from the black lagoon," quipped Milner. Although she has lived her entire life near the Jordan River, she too seemed excited and anxious for the trip to begin.
State parks-type people made sure we were all equipped with life jackets, and our adventure began. I would travel with Mark Lundgren of Neighborhood Housing Services and his daughter, Tara. I replaced my notebook with a paddle, and with the canoes in the water, we were ready to ride (or would that be glide?) down the river.
A flock of startled birds took flight and quickly scattered as we floated underneath 17th South. We were intruding on their homes - an apartment complex of bird nests that decorated the underpass.
Floating around the outskirts of the 17th South Park, it became apparent that I was seeing a whole new perspective of the Jordan River. I could still see the nearby homes and the exercise equipment of the park, but somehow from river-level, everything looked foreign.
It wasn't too long before I saw the first of about 100 ducks. I'd never seen ducks in the river before - of course I'd seldom seen the river itself. I had seen an occasional bridge and once in a while I'd get a quick glimpse of the water as I drove past select locations on the west side, but who'd have thought so many ducks would actually live on that river?
Not that the river isn't clean. It is. I wouldn't drink the mud-colored water, but it's not the sewage canal that many people say it used to be. Officials put the river on a status clean enough for just about anything except for drinking and swimming.
Jordan River State Park Superintendent Bard Ferrin said the color of the river will always be the same because the Jordan has a silt bottom rather than a rocky one like most Utah rivers. He also told us there is a good white bass population in some parts of the river, but we didn't see any.
As our journey continued, the world of the Jordan took on an even more foreign appearance. Physically, we were still in the middle of Salt Lake City, but we were really in another world altogether. Our own private world. Hardly anyone knew we were there, or could even see us.
"It's hard to believe we're only 15 blocks away from Temple Square," Lundgren said to me as we looked around at the surrounding foliage. "People don't realize we've got a great natural resource five minutes away, right under our noses."
I was one of those people. I say was because I now know what's there. Growing up in Bountiful, I knew there was a Jordan River nearby somewhere - hadn't they named a temple after it? I really didn't know where it went or what it was like, though. No one ever talked about it. It seemed like the only time I would hear about it was after someone drowned in it.
Large trees and shrubbery lined the banks throughout most of the trip. Olive branches arched across the river at several locations providing a shaded, serene environment. The "quacks" from ducks, the splash of the oars and the hum of the river were entrancing. If it weren't for the whir of passing cars nearby, it would be easy to think you were floating somewhere in a remote African or Alaskan mountain stream. The cars remained hidden from view in most places, but the occasional automobile whine served as a reminder that civilization was just a few steps away.
Doves, geese and other animals dotted the banks and the river. Dogs barked from nearby homes, angry that we were intruding into their backyards, even though most were fenced off from the river. Many neighbors seem to take advantage of their backyard river. We saw fishing planks, tackle boxes and canoe launching pads throughout our journey.
Near the Utah Power & Light plant just south of North Temple, the green surroundings took a temporary setback. Clothing and debris along the shore indicated a transient or two may have taken up residence along the river's edge. After a quick run over the grueling 6-inch waterfall, we were headed for green again.
Three young boys near the State Fairgrounds pulled faces but didn't reply to our apologies for running over their fishing lines. By this time we had become fairly decent navigators, but if the state required operating licenses for canoes, we probably would have had to take the driving test a couple of times.
"Any luck?" we queried. They nodded yes, but they were obviously not about to give details to intruding strangers.
We stopped to admire the recent improvements to the State Fairgrounds - sorry, Jackie Nokes, I mean the State Fair Park. Next year, concerts will be performed on the river banks, we were told. We then navigated through another herd, school, or group of ducks (whichever is correct) and continued on our way.
We marveled at more parks and school grounds, floated past an empty life jacket, and finally docked to the stares of joggers and picnickers at Cottonwood Park - one of Salt Lake's best-kept secrets. Wedged between the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health buildings, you wouldn't expect to see such a nice blend of nature and government.
We were told the prettiest part of the Jordan lies farther north, but it was lunchtime, and our stomachs persuaded us to take the three steps to the shore that returned us to civilization.