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SALT LAKE CITY -- A recent U.S. Department of the Interior report highlighted two Utah conservation projects among the top 101 in the nation for being the state's most worthwhile investments in the environmental effort.
State officials felt the Bear River Migratory Refuge and the Jordan River Parkway are the best investments in the state to "support a healthy, active population; conserve wildlife and working lands; and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the country," according to the report.
Bear River Migratory Refuge
The Bear River Migratory Refuge, located in Brigham City, is the "premier wildlife refuge in the region," according to park ranger Jason St. Sauver. It was created by law in 1928 to protect local migratory bird habitats and sees about 200,000 visitors annually.
The refuge emphasizes environmental education, offering programs designed for youth from preschool to high school age.
Every year, thousands of fourth graders in Box Elder and Cache counties participate in Mountain Wilds to Wetlands Wonders, a program designed to fit into the fourth grade curriculum.
We want to give them a sense of understanding and enjoyment so when they're older, they'll have a feeling that having public land for wildlife is very important.
–Jason St. Sauver
"We provide resources for their classrooms and they go on two field trips," St. Sauver said. "They visit Hardware Ranch [a wildlife management area run by the state] and the refuge and learn about the differences between the two and the importance of both."
They are differences that impact not only animals, but humans, as human activity begins to encroach on wildlife habitats.
"We teach them how to preserve these habitats while erosion and pollution are constantly changing them," St. Sauver said.
"We want to give them a sense of understanding and enjoyment so when they're older, they'll have a feeling that having public land for wildlife is very important."
To aid in its educational endeavors, the refuge added in 2006 a building specifically for environmental education.
"It's really important to educate not just the general population, but the youth," St. Sauver said. "That's the future of conservation, right there. We know we have adults who care, but we need children who care."
Jordan River Parkway
The Jordan River Parkway will eventually connect Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake via an unpaved trail system.
Organizers are hopeful the trail will be complete within 5 to 7 years, according to Laura Hansen, executive director of the Jordan River Commission.
"We've had a lot of momentum recently and folks are excited about it," she said. "We are ambitious and optimistic that it will happen sooner, rather than later."
Hansen said the timeline for the trail's completion is dependent on the amount of funding organizers are able to acquire, but she did not know whether the inclusion of the trail in the report meant more access to funding.
Everyone is working diligently to finish this - it will really be a benefit to the community.
"We're working on getting grants and legislative support," she said. "We're hoping assistance will come because of this, but we're happy to have the recognition and even be listed in the document."
There are four gaps in the trail that need to be completed: two in Bluffdale, southwest of Riverton; one at 90th South; and one from North Temple to 200 South.
The commission expects one Bluffdale gap to be completed within the next five years, and is working with partners to complete the other three.
"The city and UTA are working together to try to close the North Temple gap," Hansen said. "They have to bridge over active freight lines, which will cost almost $4 million.
She said West Jordan city officials are working to obtain funding for the 90th South gap, and the second Bluffdale gap will probably be the last to be completed.
"Everyone is working diligently to finish this - it will really be a benefit to the community."
The trail will provide alternative transportation to commuters who wish to cycle or walk to work, as well as a place to exercise or simply enjoy nature, according to Hansen.
"We see a lot of people on these trails," Hansen said. "They're a great place to take a little break, relax and rejuvenate. It's a way to get away from the hum of the city without really leaving it."