OGDEN — A ceremonial turning of dirt with gilded shovels didn't seem to be enough for Thursday's crowd.
Onlookers tossed playful shouts of "You still have a mile to go," and "Keep going" at the officials who kicked off the renovation of a section of the Ogden River near Downtown Ogden.
Eventually, just over a mile of the Ogden River will be restored to a more natural and wider channel with swales, riffles, more stable banks and riparian plantings.
The river runs through a narrower channel than it should, but it's on its way to becoming a crown jewel in what is currently a blighted area, officials say.
The homes immediately north of the river channel between Washington Boulevard and Wall Avenue are boarded up and will eventually be knocked down. Some have encroached on the river's banks for decades.
Chunks of concrete, old car bumpers, shopping carts and tires line parts of the channel.
But it will be a new and improved river, said John Patterson, Ogden's chief administrative officer.
"It's a needed change," Patterson said.
In 2009, the state's Water Quality Board awarded the restoration project $1 million in stimulus funds out of $4 million allocated to Utah for "green" projects.
Walt Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said the board was "very impressed" with Ogden's vision for what the river could be.
The stimulus funding provided about 25 percent of the funding needed for the entire project, which will be completed in phases as funding becomes available.
Baker said he expects the river improvements will help residents reconnect with nature, provide a higher quality of life, benefit the local ecosystem and spur economic development.
In most places the river channel is about 50 feet wide. The new channel will be 140 to 200 feet wide.
In fact, the restored river is one of the incentives the city is using to jump-start redevelopment in Ogden.
Jason Carey, a river engineer with RiverRestoration.org, which designed the project, said he applauds the city's willingness to define a property line for the river, forcing development away from the river's banks.
"A lot of times, rivers are constrained by existing development," Carey said. "Working from the river outwards is completely new thinking."
Mike Styler, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said "It's going to be a little piece of wild Utah in the middle of the city."
In spring, Ogden officials expect to announce the beginning of a mixed-use redevelopment project that will include commercial and residential components between Washington and Wall.
The master plan is still being completed, said Alex Auerbach, a spokesman for Renaissance Village, which is part of the project, but the plan is expected to include shopping, hotels, restaurants and retail, including a Walmart.
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