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‘It’s getting bad’: residents worried about Jordan River Trail erosion

Deteriorating concrete and erosionon
Abby Hansen
Deteriorating concrete and erosion seen along Jordan River Parkway in Lehi.

Even before the spring runoff hits, significant erosion is already happening along portions of the Jordan River Trail Parkway in Utah County.

One area in particular is in Lehi by Thanksgiving Point. It’s where resident Abby Hansen has been running for the past 15 years.

"The dirt is just falling away from underneath the concrete and pieces of concrete are falling off."

"This is a really normal, natural part of hydrologic systems,” said Jordan River Commission executive director Søren Simonsen. “You know, you think about the canyons along the Wasatch Mountains and the Oquirrh Mountains that were carved by erosion over, you know, thousands or millions of years. And so this is a very natural part of a river system."

The Jordan River spans 51 miles across Salt Lake and Utah Counties. It connects Utah Lake to Great Salt Lake and is fed by several tributary streams. Weather events such as rain, wind and flooding from extreme weather can affect erosion.

"There is concern because in some parts of the Jordan River Parkway, the trail is located very near the bank. And obviously when banks do what they do, which is erode, when you get bends in a lot of water like we have this year and it starts to undercut, it can obviously create a real safety concern,” Simonsen said.

Hansen said traffic safety barrels used to alert trail users where the concrete structure is unstable have fallen into the river.

"I'm worried that a small child could fall off because it's a pretty steep drop off. And I also worry, as I'm seeing it collapsing and it kind of becoming concave underneath the trail. Like I'm probably okay, me and my dog running by. But like, what if a group of cyclists go by together or something and it just gives way under the weight?"

 Dried up mud and vegetation revealing erosion
Abby Hansen
Dried up mud and vegetation reveals erosion along Jordan River in Lehi near Thanksgiving point

Utah's record-breaking snowpack is already causing concerns for spring flooding, which is why Simonsen said the worst may be yet to come.

"You know, there are going to be two primary risks that we see because of all of the water that we're expecting in the Jordan River. And that will include erosion, which could undercut trails and create kind of dangerous situations and also flooding. There are some low sections of the Jordan River Trail that flood even in not very high water years. And because of the amount of water expected this year, I think we're going to see a lot of areas where those low lying trails are just going to be inundated."

Other recent erosion issues have led to several restoration projects by the commission, including a large area in West Jordan that has just gone through a major bank stabilization project, Simonsen said.

The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands administers federal and locally funded grants for bank stabilization projects and other needed measures to prevent further erosion.

In Lehi, Simonsen said it may come down to relocating the trail away from the bank, but ultimately those decisions would have to be made by Utah County.

"I think that the short-term program will be to try and stabilize that bank. There's probably a lot of groundwater with the recent rain and snow that have just created really ideal conditions for a steep bank in that area to just kind of slough off when it becomes really heavy with saturated with water."

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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