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Op-ed: Refuge on Red Butte Creek getting help it needs

Published July 25, 2014 4:00 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Almost 80 years ago (1935), Yalecrest resident Minnie W. Miller, president of the Miller and Viele realty/livestock firm and owner of the famed Thousand Springs Farm in Idaho, donated two acres which, along with city property and property acquired from the Herrick Construction Co., established the Miller Bird Refuge and Nature Park in memory of her late husband, Lee Charles Miller, an influential leader in Utah and Idaho livestock and farm mortgage lender industry.

The Miller Bird Refuge and Nature Park, 1706 E. 900 South in Salt Lake City, is a steeply-sloped four-acre riparian woodland surrounding Red Butte Creek and is a contributing resource in the Yalecrest Historic District. Walking under a shady tree canopy along the babbling Red Butte Creek while listening to a cacophony of birds always soothes the soul in this urban oasis. The park is an important wildlife corridor and waypoint for migrating neo-tropical birds including the hairy woodpecker, warblers and black-headed grosbeak. Its waters are also an important habitat for Bonneville cutthroat trout and the June sucker.

After many years of inconsistent water supply, eroding stream banks, loss of native tree, shrub and grass species and birds, trail degradation, and the further disturbance resulting from the 2010 Chevron Oil spill, the health and safety of the creek and park have been substantially compromised.

Yalecrest residents are pleased that this unique urban oasis will be restored into a healthy riparian habitat that benefits wildlife, birds, aquatic life and the public. City restoration of the park began July 16 with a grant the city received from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, which received funds from Chevron Oil Co. The final approved project plan is a successful collaboration between residents, Yalecrest Neighborhood Community Council and the city Division of Parks and Public Lands aimed at maintaining a trail loop around the park while restoring the streambed, ensuring water flow at a reduced velocity, stabilizing the stream bank against erosion and establishing more native tree, shrub and plants that will increase habitat for wildlife, birds and aquatic life.

Restoration will require park closure until November 2014 for streambed reconstruction and removal of three non-native invasive tree species: Tree of Heaven, Siberian Elm and Black Locust. Non-native tree removal will occur in two phases to optimize streambed restoration while minimizing canopy tree loss. In phase I, 194 non-native trees with a diameter greater than 5 inches at breast height will be removed from the streambed and 23 from other areas where they compete with native tree species. Large caliper native tree species will replace them. Non-native tree removal in phase II (145) will occur 5 to 8 years later (2019) to allow the planted native trees to establish. Native shrubs, forbs and grasses fundamental for wildlife habitat, soil stability and water quality will also be planted, with permanent irrigation installed to insure establishment of the new vegetation.

While this phased approach is not the most cost-effective, it is a compromise approved by the Yalecrest Neighborhood Community Council and the city's Park and Public Lands Division that ensures state-of-the-art riparian restoration with improved steam stability, water quality and floodplain capacity, while simultaneously preserving historic structures and its ecological heritage. Together with increased signage, park restoration will add to the educational and passive recreational use for residents in the both the local and greater City community. But most important, it will restore this unique urban park to its original benevolent intent as a bird refuge and nature park.

Lynn Kennard Pershing, Ph.D., is chair of the Yalecrest Neighborhood Council.






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