PROVO — Cattle will soon graze again along the eastern shore of Utah Lake, but the area won’t just be for farming. If all goes as planned, they'll help clear up space for 1,000 acres aimed to increase recreational activity at the lakeshore and put an end to a lengthy land dispute.
The Walkara Way Project is a plan to open up lakeshore space between marinas in Provo and Vineyard for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities, according to those who oversee the project. A 2.8-mile bike path would also help link Orem and Vineyard pathways together and make it easier to reach the lake. In addition, cattle will be used to clear up invasive reeds that have made it difficult for people to access the lake in the area.
The ambitious project is the result of “several decades of fighting” between landowners and government agencies in the area over who owns the land, Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove, explained in a Utah Infrasture and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee hearing last week. There are two dozen government and entities that support the plan, along with private landowners.
“It’s a project that allows us to close the book on a contentious chapter in the state, and it also provides access to a natural resource that has been underutilized and abused for decades and decades, and hopefully provides a better means to use that for a high portion of our population,” he said.
A closer look at the project
The 1,000-acre park would be opened up for activities like waterfowl hunting, fishing, birdwatching and camping between Provo, Orem and Vineyard.
Bremmer spoke about the project because local government officials are seeking $5.8 million in state funding to complete other aspects related to it. According to a handout presented during the meeting last Thursday, that includes:
- A 2.8-mile bike trail to connect the Vineyard portion of the Lakeshore Trail with the Orem City Community Trail along with connections at the Orem FrontRunner station and a future Vineyard FrontRunner station.
- Two new public access points at Utah Lake.
- A 3.5-acre fishing pond near the lake.
Here’s a breakdown of the budget request:
- $3 million for the shoreline trail and connections to Frontrunner stations.
- $1.4 million for a community fishing pond that would be managed between the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Orem City.
- $700,000 for creating trailheads, parking and restrooms.
- $400,000 for cattle fencing systems.
- $250,000 for a park management facility.
- $50,000 for movement management systems, such as entrance point gates and pedestrian beach access points.
About $3.7 million of the request would come from transportation funds and about $2.1 million from general funds, Bremmer said during the meeting. Once complete, local and private owners would take over any future maintenance costs.
While no official decision has been made, Utah Lake Commission executive director Eric Ellis told KSL.com on Wednesday that he believes the project will receive a little more than $4 million, which would cover the cost of the trail and trailheads, and possibly other portions of the project.
“It hasn’t been approved yet, but it’s got a lot of traction and has been well-supported as it's going through its appropriations meetings in the subcommittee,” he said. “We’re quite optimistic about it.”
If the state money is secured, that would likely come in at the start of Utah’s fiscal year, July 1. Ellis said it would likely take a year to complete the construction of the trailheads and trail after that.
Meanwhile, cattle will be used to clear noxious weeds and pesky phragmites — which are an invasive species — in about 280 acres of shoreline space between Orem and Vineyard, according to Walkara Way Conservation Project founder Jake Holdaway. He explained the project during an episode of the Utah Lake: Facts, Fiction, Fun podcast released on Jan. 30.
Holdaway, whose family has lived there for several generations, is among the private landowners tied to the project. He said phragmites and other reeds began dominating the lakeshore when the dairy farmers stopped grazing in the 1980s and 1990s. That, in turn, has made it difficult for people reaching the lake from the eastern shoreline.
“And it just kind of destroyed the open pasture and the open streams that used to be there,” he said on the show. “Part of this project is: How do we get rid of that? How do we open it up to the public? How do we maintain that project, as well?”
When asked how quickly it would take cattle to consume the phragmites, Brammer said it would depend on how many cows are on the land.
“They’re pretty efficient, but it’s obviously a factor of how many you have in there,” he said.
The project isn't tied to growing algal bloom problems in the lake; in fact, a separate appropriation request is seeking funding related to that. Walkara Way isn't expected to have much impact in relation to algal blooms, Brammer added.
How the project came together
The project has its name for a reason. Chief Colorow Ignacio Ouray Walkara (1808-1855) lived along the shoreline with tribes native to the area. The park will honor his legacy.
More recently, it was home to farming families who grazed cattle near the lake until about the 1980s and 1990s, Holdaway said. That’s when land battles arose between local owners — like the Holdaway family — and the government, Brammer explained. After about two or three decades of litigation, the Walkara Way Project was a solution both sides could agree on.
“Rather than fight about which portions are whose, they’re putting this 1,000-acre (space) into a conservation park of sorts,” Brammer said.
Planning for what the park would look like began more than a year ago, Ellis said. They’ve moved on from planning and now moved on to funding before the project can be completed.
Given the land’s history over time, Holdaway said he’s happy there’s something in place to preserve it for many people to enjoy for years to come.
“We do want to respect the heritage and history that happened there and be able to keep that and preserve it for future generations,” he said.