A 1,000-acre public park and nature preserve along the Utah Lake shoreline between Provo, Orem and Vineyard will soon be a reality.
Once an area in which Ute Indian Chief Colorow Ignacio Ouray Walkara brought his tribe for hunting and fishing, now will allow families to enjoy some of the same recreational experiences.
What is Walkara?
The Walkara Way Project, in the area commonly known at the Powell Slough, is the joint effort of more than 25 government groups, civic groups and private landowners. It is intended to provide an active transportation corridor between Vineyard, Orem and Provo.
“The project will further restoration of habitat for Ospreys, bald eagles and waterfowl species and provide additional public recreation amenities at Utah Lake,” said Eric Ellis, executive director of the Utah Lake Commission.
Doug Robins, assistant director of the Provo Parks and Recreation department, said the park project is a long time in the making and a great addition to outdoor recreation opportunities.
“This is great news,” Robins said. “From the Provo end the trail will cross the boundary on the north side of the Provo Delta Project and will connect with the Provo River trail. It will be terrific.”
Robins added that when trails become highly developed they are an asset to the community.
“We’re sure excited to be a part of it,” Robins said. “We’ll want to make our (Provo’s) connection to the trail.”
The project has plans to include: community fishing opportunities, 2.8 miles of trail that will span the Provo river Delta Restoration Project, bird towers for viewing bald eagles and other birds, picnic facilities, and more.
“The trail through the Walkara Way project will connect regional trail systems and will tie three counties together: Utah County, Salt Lake County and Weber County,” Ellis said. “Once it is connected to the completed Provo River Trail it could one day reach into Wasatch County as well (via the Jordan River trail).”
There are 27 public access points around Utah Lake for camping, boating, hunting, fishing and other water sports. Projects to restore and improve the lake as a public resource are moving forward every year, according to Ellis.
“We think the public will love what this project has to offer,” Ellis said. “In addition to making more land around the lake publicly accessible, it will benefit the habitat and wildlife and provide more opportunities for outdoor recreation and leisure.”
Ellis said the Plough Slough is currently inundated with prickly, weed-like Russian Elm trees, which will be removed. The cottonwood trees will stay and new trees will be planted.
The Holdaway factor
The one person who may know more about the land itself and the project than any other is Jake Holdaway, a fifth generation Holdaway whose family has owned much of the land Chief Walkara claimed.
“This all started when I read a Daily Herald article about problems on the lake shore,” Holdaway said. “I thought I may be the only one to help this problem.”
Holdaway said he is the last farmer in the area and knows where all the water is. The irrigation ditches and canals his grandfathers made are not maintained.
“Utah Lake is not a lake, it is a controlled reservoir,” Holdaway said. “It creates wetlands. These canals were well maintained for 100 years. In 2002 the last of the farms stopped taking water rights and there was no incentive to clean the canals.”
With no care or maintenance, Holdaway said it allowed for overgrowth to happen and the area is now covered with phragmites — long reed-like noxious weeds that get to be 20 feet tall.
As part of the agreements, Holdaway and his family will be allowed to have cattle grazing rights in perpetuity. The cows are most effective in keeping the weeds down. Right now, taxpayers are paying to have the weeds sprayed with weed killer and mowed.
The Walkara area holds very little development potential: It has a diversity of wetland, riparian and lowland habitat crisscrossed with natural streams and ponds, Ellis said.
Holdaway added, “This is going to be a place where residents can come and enjoy the land, save money and be educated on the ecosystem.”
Holdaway is planning on building an education center where school children can come and experience the park, trails and natural wildlife.
Financing the project
The group is asking the legislature for a one-time appropriation of $5.6 million to get a number of projects on the parkland completed.
“This project will provide a critical 2.8-mile section of the trail along one of the prettiest wetlands and historic farming areas on Utah Lake,” Ellis said. “The segment will tie the Vineyard portion of the Lakeshore Trail with the Orem City Community Trail and then to the Orem UTA FrontRunner Station.”
Ellis added, “It will connect with the new pedestrian overpass at Utah Valley University and will provide relief in local commuter vehicular traffic to UVU.”
About $700,000 will provide adequate parking and restroom facilities at both ends of the new trail. Signage for easy route finding as well as informational historical markers will be installed.
To help provide a phragmites cattle control fencing system, $400,000 will be set aside. There will be a non-motorized access point while safely allowing the implementation of cattle grazing as the sustainable vegetation management tool, Ellis said.
About 3.6 miles of an 8-foot wildlife divider fence will be placed between neighborhoods and the Walkara Way Park. There will also be 4.9 miles of 4-foot box and barb wire fencing to divide grazing sections and create a western park fence protecting the lakeshore.
About $50,000 will be used for gates for entrance points, maintenance and pedestrian beach access points, cattle guards and cattle loading area.
A management facility will be built for about $250,000 with the goal of getting students into the outdoors. It will have staging areas for K-12 field trips, as well as storage barns and basic facilities for maintenance and machinery.
A 3- to 5-acre community fishing pond will also be built for $1.4 million. It will be managed by a partnership between the Utah Division of Wildlife Services and Orem. The pond will interface with both the Walkara Way Open Space Regional Park and a future Orem City Multisport Park Complex.
A nonprofit organization headed by the Holdaway family will manage the grazing plan on the park project. The operation will be self-sufficient from a financial standpoint, according to Holdaway. Utah County will manage the care and maintenance of the trail and its facilities using an interlocal agreement between itself and the neighboring municipalities.
“When completed, this will have the longest bike path west of the Mississippi,” Holdaway said. “This is a big project in the center of the county.”
Holdaway said it is about 10 times the size of Sleepy Ridge Golf Course. The course is adjacent to part of the project.
“We’ve been holding this close to the chest. It’s a no-brainer,” Holdaway said. “It has been really well thought out.”
Those interested in learning more about the Walkara Way Project should join the Walkara Way Conservation Project group on Facebook. Otherwise, contact the Utah Lake Commission at http://mputahlakecommission.org.
Updates on the project are expected to be released by the Utah Lake Commission every three to six months.