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The Light of Day 

The daylighted confluence of Red Butte, Emigration and Parleys creeks can be enjoyed at a new Jordan River park.

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JORDAN ALLRED
  • Jordan Allred

Hidden away underground for decades, the Jordan River’s confluence with the Red Butte, Emigration and Parleys canyon creeks is finally ready for its closeup after a multimillion dollar makeover and yearslong daylighting campaign.

Known as the Three Creeks Confluence, the area at 900 West and 1300 South in Glendale has been converted from a neglected dead-end street into a robust river park—complete with twin pedestrian bridges, picnic areas, a small stage and plaza—which will formally open to the public on Wednesday, July 7, followed by a community celebration on Friday, July 9. “The Jordan River is such an integral part of the west-side community identity—both environmental and recreational,” project manager Tyler Murdock said. “This enhances that, but I also want to continue to explore and expand upon this project.”

click to enlarge BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood

That expansion could take several forms. Salt Lake City already owned some and then acquired more of the river-adjacent land around Three Creeks—most notably the aging home directly north of the new park— which Murdock suggested could provide space for nature trails or even river-friendly commercial and nonprofit entities.

But in a more holistic sense, city planners and river boosters see Three Creeks as a new foothold in the ongoing effort to enhance and connect the city’s public greenspaces. “There’s a lot of park space here in Glendale, but I don’t think it functions very well as a system,” Murdock said. “Right now, you have all of these isolated one-acre parks.” Three Creeks’ proximity to Jordan Park, the International Peace Gardens and the 9 Line corridor bolsters an urban recreational zone that increasingly rivals the east side’s Liberty Park area. And its design serves as a proof of concept for both the redevelopment of industrialized riverfront and the unearthing of buried waterways.

Daylighting Is a Challenge

click to enlarge BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood

“They always say the hardest part is getting started,” said Brian Tonetti, executive director of the Seven Canyons Trust. “We’ve done it. We’ve gotten started, and we’re really excited to present this demonstration project to the community and see how they react.”

Tonetti said his organization is working on a “greenways vision plan” with the various municipalities that are home to Salt Lake County’s canyon tributaries, with the aim of identifying areas like Three Creeks where buried waterways can be repurposed as a community asset. The summer months will see the Seven Canyons Trust soliciting feedback from the public, Tonetti said, both online and through pop-up workshops. “You basically roll out a map and have the community start to pinpoint these sites,” Tonetti said.

But both Tonetti and Murdock emphasized that daylighting creeks is a long-term project. Even in ideal settings like Three Creeks—or an expected partial daylighting of City Creek along the under-construction Folsom Trail—where water routes coincide with existing parks projects, it requires significant property acquisition and planning to pull off.

JORDAN ALLRED
  • Jordan Allred

“Daylighting, in general, is just a very challenging endeavor,” Murdock said. “You think about [Three Creeks] specifically—we’ve had to vacate a right-of-way and acquire two properties to make 200 feet of daylighting possible. That only gets more and more complicated the farther east you go.” More short-term is how Three Creeks adds to the investment along the Jordan River Parkway, a roughly 40-mile-long greenway and trail system running from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake. The last decade saw the completion of a paved parkway trail, and more recent efforts have seen the installation of wayfinding signs and boat ramps—SLC installed three along its river segment in the last year—to boost the appeal of the river to kayakers and anglers.

Paddling the Emerald Ribbon

“We’re seeing a lot more paddling along the river,” said Soren Simonsen, executive director of the Jordan River Commission. “There’s some new infrastructure that’s been built.”

Simonsen said the commission is nearly done with an update to its guiding document, the Blueprint Jordan River, which reflects the next era of goals for the parkway. He said he’s enthusiastic about the increasing buy-in from the city and county governments along the river, as well as the opportunities presented by major redevelopment projects like the closing of the Utah State Prison in Draper and the repurposing of the Rocky Mountain Power campus on North Temple, which sits on roughly 100 acres of riverfront property in the valley’s urban core.

If done right, Simonsen said, the Salt Lake City section of the Jordan between the Fisher Mansion on 200 South and the Utah Fairpark could be reborn as a river-centric recreational and economic hub in the vein of the San Antonio Riverwalk. But doing so, he cautions, would require an overarching vision by city leaders.

“It’s an area where development comes right up to the river’s edge,” Simonsen said. “There’s just some really incredible opportunities there that I hope are not squandered in a piecemeal fashion.”

Murdock, the Three Creeks project manager, said that overarching vision could be starting to take form. The city is developing master plans for what it’s calling the “emerald ribbon” along the parkway, he said, and he hopes the new river park in Glendale will help to get residents thinking about the Jordan River, which in many places is kept out of sight and out of mind.

“The more accessible we can make recreation along the Jordan River,” Murdock said, “the more we raise awareness about the opportunities here, and also the challenges we still have.”

BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood

Correction: A previous version of this story had Tyler Murdock's last name spelled incorrectly.

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Benjamin Wood

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