Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., center, walks with developer Gadi Leshem, left, and Rupert Hitzig while taking a tour of the Ogden River Restoration project on Friday. Kennedy will speak in Park City on Sunday.

OGDEN — A restoration of the Ogden River is the best renovation Ogden city can make, a world-renowned environmentalist said Friday.

"The best improvement you can make is to restore your waterfront," Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said Friday afternoon as the keynote speaker at the River Restoration Celebration Day luncheon in the American Can Building.

The nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the vice chairman of Riverkeeper, he said previous river restorations have greatly enhanced such major cities as Baltimore, Boston, New York and San Antonio.

He said the Hudson River went from being so polluted in 1966 that fish caught from it were not edible, to the richest river in the North Atlantic today. The Riverkeeper group was also born out of that restoration effort.

"It's an investment in (environmental) infrastructure," Kennedy said. "The river is the infrastructure of the community of Ogden."

He said Ogden is located where it is because of the waterway, though people in the past have simply used it as a waste converter.

"Pollution makes a few people rich and everyone else poor."

Kennedy told the approximately 500 people attending the event that he was impressed with the revival spirit of Ogden.

"The thing that I see in the community is the commitment to community."

Kennedy and two busloads of community leaders and residents took several walks along the Ogden River — despite Friday's snowstorm — before the luncheon. Debris, piles of concrete, trash, restriction and a lack of native vegetation were readily visible problems with the waterway.

The river restoration work will be part of the Ogden Renaissance Village, a riverfront project of stores, restaurants, offices and residential units. The development is still in the early conceptual stage.

"This is an exciting day for Ogden," Mayor Matthew Godfrey said.

Jeff Salt, head of the local Great Salt Lakekeeper group, which also seeks to improve and protect rivers in the lake's drainages, said the Ogden River is as bad as anything in the entire watershed.

"Without a healthy river, there's no vibrant community," he said.

Kennedy said he plans to return to Ogden in three years to check on the progress of river improvements.

He said he didn't have enough current information to comment on the health of two other key northern Utah waterways, the Bear and Jordan rivers.

Friday's event was hosted by the Ogden Community Foundation, a nonprofit group.

Kennedy, 53, was named one of Time magazine's "Heroes for the Planet" for his success helping Riverkeeper lead the fight to restore the Hudson River.

• Regarding Mitt Romney's speech on religion Thursday, Kennedy said, "I don't think I'm going to comment on it. I came here to talk about rivers."

• Kennedy will also present a lecture at a fund-raiser for the Great Salt Lakekeeper group Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at Park City's Eccles Center, 1750 Kearns Blvd. Tickets are $18 and $30. Call 435-655-3114.

For more information on Riverkeeper, go to