By Steve Schmidt
I have been working with and against UDOT on U.S.-189 through Provo Canyon since the mid '80s. I have not been alone in this venture. Most everyone who will read this piece will know of the struggles that conservationists, particularly anglers, have had with this project since its inception. For the most part, we have fought bitterly against UDOT during the entire time. For now, we can't change what has been done, however, we still have opportunities for positive change regarding this project, the canyon, and the Provo River. Today is a good day to start.
Recently UDOT spent $440,000 to mitigate the damaged riparian habitat between the newly constructed road and the river. This re-vegetation project included the planting of over 70,000 trees and shrubs. In addition to the new plants, their barren surroundings were seeded with grasses. Finally, to ensure the success of these plants, a crew has been hired to manually water these new seedlings for an entire year. Water will be taken from the river and funds will be paid to the local water users for water removed from the Provo River.
Needless to say, this has been a significant undertaking by UDOT, even through it was required of them to mitigate these damaged areas. They have exceeded budget and effort to try and recapture this segment of Provo Canyon and the river. Since they have begun the mitigation project here, I wish I could say the same for those anglers who are using and abusing this river.
Of the 70,000 newly planted vegetation, an estimated 25-30% have been carelessly trampled by anglers using the river. This wasn't the only damage that we found upon a recent walk-through with UDOT. There was evidence of destruction to the existing riparian habitat and it wasn't a result of the road construction.
Several areas of willows along the river had been cut by anglers to create access to the river. Some of these paths where just a short distance from long established access areas. Here we have been hammering UDOT over the impact the construction has had on this incredibly valuable resource, yet our own colleagues have shown a great lack of respect and concern for this tremendous resource.
At this point, UDOT personnel involved in the re-vegetation project are frustrated. So are those who have worked years trying to ensure that these valued resources are protected. To see the damage and disregard by fellow anglers is disheartening.
In an effort to try and save the remaining healthy plants, UDOT will construct a temporary fence and post signs throughout the construction area. This temporary fence will create a 3-foot path adjacent to the newly constructed retaining walls. The fence will direct users to and from the river creating controlled access and exit points. These access points have been designated in areas that already are established and well used. Once these sensitive areas are re-established, the fence will be removed.
If these plantings are successful, anglers, the riparian habitat and the river stand to benefit. As users of the river we must do our part to help. Adhere to the access areas that the fence allows. If you're on the river and see anglers abusing the resource, point out the new planting and educate them on the reason for the fencing. Let's not let those with careless attitudes ruin what we have fought so hard to protect.
There aren't many flyfishing waters of this caliber left in the world. Let's ensure that it is preserved for generations to come.