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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
The Jordan River Parkway is pictured on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. A coalition of city and county leaders announced Monday they're taking the next steps to form the Jordan River Park, with boundaries from state Route 201 to about 4500 South along the river, will prioritize preserving the Jordan River Parkway's natural habitat while creating more recreation opportunities and better access for Salt Lake County families.

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Calling the Jordan River a "regional treasure," a coalition of city and county leaders announced Monday they're taking the next steps to form the Jordan River Park.

The new park — with boundaries from state Route 201 to about 4500 South along the river — will prioritize preserving the Jordan River Parkway's natural habitat while creating more recreation opportunities and better access for Salt Lake County families, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said.

"The Jordan River is the Salt Lake Valley's unique piece of nature that cuts right through the center of our bustling metropolis," McAdams said. "With a fully connected parkway, nature lovers and families from across the Salt Lake Valley can access this from almost anywhere in the county."

Qiling Wang, Deseret News
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams announces plans for a new Jordan River Park during the press conference at James Madison Park in South Salt Lake on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018.

But local leaders want even more for the park, McAdams said, alongside fellow mayors from South Salt Lake, West Valley City, Taylorsville and Murray.

So, Salt Lake County's parks and recreation staff is beginning a master planning process to create the park with new programs and protections for the Jordan River, McAdams said.

"By carefully planning these existing assets with a full inventory of opportunity, we will create a regional park that ties these existing pieces together and takes a big picture approach to how we plan for and use this park," McAdams said.

One of the new parks' first new assets is already in the works.

Local leaders also announced Tracy Aviary is planning to create a second campus within the new regional park at James Madison Park, 1100 W. 3300 South in South Salt Lake.

Tim Brown, president and CEO of Tracy Aviary, said he is "super psyched" about the prospect of expanding the aviary's reach, noting the "Jordan River Nature Center" has been in the works for more than five years.

"We're very excited about this," Brown said, adding the new campus will "complement" the aviary's Liberty Park location, and is envisioned to be a new place where families can learn about conservation and nature, with "active recreation" such as "rope courses, climbing walls, bike rentals and canoe rentals."

Qiling Wang, Deseret News
Fernando Lopez walks his two dogs, Milo and Hershey, along the Jordan River Parkway Trail in West Valley City on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. A coalition of city and county leaders announced Monday they're taking the next steps to form the Jordan River Park, with boundaries from state Route 201 to about 4500 South along the river, will prioritize preserving the Jordan River Parkway's natural habitat while creating more recreation opportunities and better access for Salt Lake County families.

Starting next spring, Brown said Tracy Aviary already plans to start new programs and nature walks along the Jordan River.

In coming years, he said Tracy Aviary will start working on the "bigger vision" — a several-acre nature center with a nature center, a public plaza, view towers, a barn with beehives, chickens and goats, as well as more avian exhibits, gardens, wildflower meadows and more, according to conceptual drawings.

Brown said it will be a "multimillion-dollar" campus that will need the help of community partners and philanthropic donors to make it a reality.

"I imagine that project will take a year to fully develop the concept and start raising the money," Brown said.

South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood and West Valley Mayor Ron Bigelow both expressed their excitement in the regional park project at Tuesday's announcement.

"The Jordan River's had an interesting history," Bigelow said, noting that the river hasn't always had a good reputation, and years ago "it seemed like it was gradually declining." But since the formation of the Jordan River Commission and investment in state money, Bigelow said the river has become "something our whole state can be proud of."

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"This beautiful stretch of water will just get better throughout the years," Bigelow said.

As part of its master planning process, Salt Lake County officials plan to launch an "ideas competition," McAdams said, to collect ideas from the public to incorporate into the Jordan River Park master plan. More information about the competition will come in 2019.

More information about the Jordan River Park planning process can be found on Salt Lake County's website, at recreation.slco.org.