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Stakeholders Hoping To Tackle Issues Linked To Recreation In Weber River

Summit County

As the Weber River runs from the Uinta Mountains down into the Great Salt Lake it provides plenty of opportunity for Utahns to recreate in it. One of the most popular places to float the river is near where the river leaves Summit County and enters into Morgan county, but the change of jurisdiction and the rise in popularity has brought some challenges.

The area identified as the biggest issue is a stretch of the river from Henefer to Taggart, about a five-and-a-half-mile stretch. Destination Sports, leads tours down the Weber River, the company’s owner Dawna Zukirmi says they’ve seen a steady increase in traffic on the river year over year.

“Over the last several years the garbage situation has gotten out of control. However, there's been some increased effort. Especially this last summer increased volunteer effort and I think the garbage problem has started to go down just a little bit. Not that there's less garbage going into the river, but there's more people volunteering to help get it out of the river.”

Zukirmi says she doesn’t think people are dumping trash intentionally for the most part.

“I think the bigger problem is that people are showing up not prepared to have a successful and safe float. They're showing up on cheap pool toys that are not intended for use on a rugged river where there's rocks and branches and rebar and things like that. Then they pop their tube and lose everything into the river or they tow behind them a floating cooler with a flap open lid. Then it hits a rock and wraps around the rock and causes hazard but also dumps everything out into the river. Quite simply, if people would rig to flip, tie everything they bring with them securely onto their vessel including their shoes—one of the big things that we find is flip flops out on the river—if people would just secure that to their bodies or to their boat they could prevent most of that garbage from going into the river.”

Local officials have also received complaints of rowdiness often fueled by alcohol.

“People enjoy having alcohol when they're outdoors and out on the water. It may not be the best choice to get totally wasted out on the river. I mean definitely a safety concern there, but occasionally there's a DUI checkpoint. Sometimes the local law enforcement comes out and help as they can, but it has been completely unregulated. Being an outdoor open space, open containers are not illegal. People are a little more careless when they're drinking with their garbage and then the bigger safety hazard when they get off the river and try to drive home.”

Zukirmi says that they’re trying to mitigate problems. In addition to periodic clean-ups, last summer the state put restrooms at the Henefer portion of the river and Destination Sports placed some porta-potty’s in the Taggart area. The largest issue, Zukirmi says, is figuring out how to divide jurisdictional responsibilities on the river.

“This stretch of river crosses County lines. There's a variety of property owners including the OT, the railroad, Summit County, Morgan County, and a couple of private property owners. One of the big stumbling blocks has been identifying who all the stakeholders are and getting them all to the table. I feel like the meeting this week with Summit County finally we have all the players at the table. So they can get together and make some choices and create some action moving forward. I think we're going to see some action real soon starting with permanent signage at both locations. So that they can prepare themselves in a better way.”

Zukirmi says that putting up signs is an easy and effective place to start, she has just two rules she’d like to see enforced as the counties consider regulation.

“People should not be allowed to float with flimsy pool toys, and they should be required to rig to flip. If those two things happen, I think that would take care of the majority of the problem. There's lots of other things that need to be debated about. To what extent it should be a controlled or enforced, but I think if we start simple we’ll see a lot of improvement.”

Zukirmi offers some final advice for those planning to enjoy the outdoors this summer.

“Whether it’s on the river or in the mountains, if you can just put a little bit of forethought into how you're going to not dump your garbage. How to prevent garbage, don't leave a trace. In a case like going out on the river, sometimes that requires putting some extra money into the right kind of gear.”

Stakeholders plan to hold a meeting soon, but some have questioned if they’ll be able to do much before this year’s season begins.

KPCW reporter David Boyle covers all things in the Heber Valley as well as sports and breaking news.
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