Wind in your hair; sun on your back; birds, bees and other wildlife—all in abundance when riding along the many paths and trails that comprise the Jordan River Parkway Trail. Right now, it is possible to ride a bicycle from 200 South in downtown Salt Lake City all the way to West Jordan at 7800 South without riding in traffic. One of the goals of the ambitious Jordan River Parkway Master Plan is to have a continuous bike path stretching the length of Salt Lake County. It’s not there yet, but the ride that is available provides ample opportunities for wildlife viewing, exercise and outdoor family fun.
The parkway is divided into 12 segments, each administered by a different mix of city or county government. How there is any consistency with that much bureaucracy is a mystery, but it’s also testament to the tenacity and ambition of the project. The improvements made over the past few years have been monumental. Not only have many of the trail segments been joined, but significant work has also been done to restore damaged wetlands and promote native species.
The entrance to the trail on 200 South is at about 1100 West, under the Interstate 80 overpass. Near a utility building surrounded by a chain-link fence, the path drops down under the freeway. Riding this segment winds you through several blocks of neighborhood and lets out across from Ninth Street Park.
The first plentiful, easily accessible parking is at Jordan Park and the International Peace Garden (1000 S. 900 West). The park has all the amenities one would expect from a large metropolitan park: barbecue pits, tennis courts, playgrounds, baseball diamonds, volleyball, restrooms, a drinking fountain (one of only two functioning on the entire ride—as of this writing—so bring water). The Peace Garden, erected in 1947 after the end of World War II, is made up of garden exhibits from participating countries around the world. Some are downright cheesy—Switzerland’s 20-foot-tall Matterhorn tops the list—but others are more contemplative and, in some ways, it’s like a choose-your-own Zen garden.
At 1700 South along the parkway, Seven Peaks Salt Lake—which bought Raging Waters in February 2011—shares a parking lot with the Exchange Club Boating Dock. It does charge for parking, so riding the family bikes from the park could be a fun and economical alternative to driving.
The most-open wildlife viewing is at the Redwood Nature Area. A paved loop surrounds the area, and red flags scattered across the square mark where native cottonwood seedlings have been planted. I’ve seen pelicans, egret, cranes, deer, grouse, beaver, quail and even a cutthroat trout jumping around the restored areas.
“We’re using the [Redwood Nature Area] for ecological restoration and education,” says Gena Christie, program and outreach coordinator for Tree Utah (TreeUtah.org). “We’re replanting all native species.”
All of the trailheads from 3300 South to 7200 South are open and offer lots of parking. This section is the most well-kept and is very pleasant, but it loses some of the wildness of the reclamation areas. Be forewarned, however: The 3300 underpass is susceptible to flooding, and this year looks to be a bad one.
Just off the paved trail (about 4100 South) is a makeshift memorial to Heather Quast, a young woman who was stabbed to death during a drug deal gone bad on the parkway a year ago. Her boyfriend, Aric Russom, and Quast’s family have put a cross and plastic flowers memorializing where the attack took place. If funds can be raised, Russom hopes to put a more permanent memorial there in the future.
At about 4800 South, a dirt-bike track opens up to the left. Dozens of jumps and banked, hairpin turns tempt young riders to catch air.
The city of Murray maintains a series of overlooks—basically boardwalk platforms that jut out into a pond—at about 5100 South. The wildlife there is plentiful, with ducks and geese clamoring around hoping for a feeding.
A warning to riders: Just north of the viewing platforms, the parkway becomes a boardwalk that zigzags over some wetlands for a short distance. This can be very slippery even when dry, so approach with caution.
When the smell of chlorine fills the air, the journey has almost come to an end. Heated reclaimed water, with warning signs not to drink it, spews from a drainpipe about a mile from 7800 South. At that point, just east and downhill from Gardner Village (1100 W. 7800 South), the path has been flooded since at least January. A old sign that reads “Jordan River Riparian Improvements, scheduled for completion January 2011” gives one hope that someday, the ride will continue—perhaps all the way to the Utah County border.
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