Wasatch Hollow Preserve, a jewel in the neighborhood
By Lawrence Linford | My City Journals
“It’s a little oasis on a creek in the city,” said Lewis Kogan, Trails and Natural Lands program manager for Salt Lake City, describing the Wasatch Hollow Preserve. “It’s a remnant ecosystem that still looks like it did back when the pioneers entered the valley.”
“There is no other space quite like it,” said Kogan.
The Wasatch Hollow Preserve or Open Space is an 11-acre natural area, beginning at roughly 1650 E. 1700 South in Salt Lake City, along about a half-mile of Emigration Creek. The preserve has meadows, towering trees, trails and a pond, with log benches around it, fed by a natural spring called Hodgson’s Spring.
Informative posters, at each entrance and throughout the preserve, add richness and depth – an educational experience – to its ecology, history and mission.
The city’s goals in the preserve are to restore the natural streamside (also called riparian) habitat and flow of the creek. Other aims are to return native species throughout the preserve and establish a small natural area people can enjoy within the city.
The preserve is divided into two sections or loops. Unfortunately, since dogs are significantly disruptive to native wildlife they are not allowed in the north loop, but are allowed on-leash in the south loop.
Three different paths lead down to the creek’s banks. You can stand where possibly, in another age, a weary pioneer stooped to replenish an empty canteen or a Ute hunter lay in wait for parched prey. However, it’s best to stay out of the creek since it’s water-quality impaired with E. coli the primary culprit.
There are three entrances into the preserve along a shared fence with its sister property, the Wasatch Hollow Park at 1631 E. 1700 South. One entrance leads to the north loop, two others head to the south loop. There is a fourth entrance on 1700 East; about a block north of 1700 South, that also enters the south loop. The north loop can be accessed via the south loop by a gate at the bridge spanning the creek.
While the preserve was established in 2009, the city invested over $1 million to complete major restorations in 2015 and 2016. “A lot of the wildlife left during the construction, but they’re coming back now,” said Michael Dodd, chair of the Wasatch Hollow Community Council.
“He tries to divebomb me when I’m gardening!” said Anne Cannon, gleefully describing the hijinks of a new resident in one of her trees, a stately-looking Cooper’s hawk. “People wouldn’t believe the birds that are returning to the hollow,” said Cannon, whose house overlooks the Wasatch Hollow Preserve.
Only 0.4 percent of Utah’s land is streamside habitat, however 75 percent of Utah’s birds require this habitat for food and/or nesting.
Cannon, a former WHCC member, was one of the leading voices helping to establish the Wasatch Hollow Preserve in 2009. In 1925 her family arrived in Wasatch Hollow. Her father built their house on the western ridge and the family has stayed ever since.
Along with birds, other wildlife are enjoying a renaissance. The spring was previously filled in as part of a development. After the fill was removed, the natural spring rejuvenated. Now native reeds grow robustly in the spring water.
“They didn’t plant those, they’re just coming up,” said Cannon referring to the reeds. “It’s so thrilling to see, all this time those seeds have been waiting. There is real restoration happening here. It’s so special to see.”
Mormon arrival and water for prisoners
“They drove their wagons along that ridge,” said Cannon, pointing to the eastern ridge of the preserve, where the 148 member Mormon advance party traveled in 1847. The Emigration Creek watershed is a national historic site because of its critical role supplying water for that first Mormon migration into the valley.
Water from the preserve was still being used well into the 20th century. The Hodgson’s Spring supplied drinking water to the Utah State Penitentiary until the prison closed in 1951.
The prison was in what is now Sugar House Park. “I remember watching them come and open the valve in the spring and then come back later, after they’d used their allotted water, and close the valve,” recalled Cannon.
The Preserve almost didn’t happen
Around 1964, a private owner built a house in the hollow on two acres he purchased and partially filled in. In 2006 that property sold to a developer. From 2006 to 2009 the property was in limbo, as ownership changed three times, with each developer creating their own plan to build between 4 and 11 houses in the hollow.
During those three years local residents, including Cannon, mobilized to turn the hollow into a natural area. Meanwhile, city and county officials also became interested in establishing a preserve in the hollow. The turning point came when the third developer died. His heirs decided against development and sold the critical central two acres to the city.
Local residents, city and county officials, a nonprofit called Utah Open Lands and the LDS church all worked together to establish the preserve.
Respecting, protecting, volunteering and events
There remain ongoing challenges in the preserve. “We do get lots of complaints about dogs being in the northern part of the preserve,” said Kogan.
Studies show dogs have a “substantial detrimental effect on wildlife security even when on a leash,” said Kogan. Even just dog scent left behind, more than human scent, is disruptive to wildlife.
Graffiti, especially on trees, is also a problem. Some graffiti can’t be removed from trees without killing them (to report graffiti call: 801-972-7885). Despite these problems, the preserve still looks like “an oasis on a creek in the city.”
“We’re extremely proud of the Wasatch Hollow Preserve and hope that the Wasatch Hollow neighborhood and the greater Sugar House community are also proud and will work to maintain it,” said Kogan.
“We consider the park and preserve the central jewels of our neighborhood, though they don’t just belong to us, they belong to everyone in the city,” said Dodd.
When visiting the preserve, please follow the posted rules at each entrance, which say to stay on the trails and try to “leave no trace.” The Wasatch Hollow Park adjoining the preserve has restrooms, a sheltered picnic area and a small parking lot.
To volunteer, find out about upcoming events (such as the June 25-28 Summer Day Camp) or to report violations in the preserve call: 801-972-7800.