SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Councilman James Rogers recalls paddling down the Jordan River about 30 years ago in his childhood effort to get a canoeing merit badge.
"It was scary," he said.
Three decades later, Rogers found himself standing in front of the river eager to get back into the water by canoe. City leaders on Friday welcomed three new nonmotorized boat ramps along the river that Mayor Erin Mendenhall said will make access to the river "easier than ever" for kayaking, canoeing and the use of any other nonmotorized watercraft.
The three new boat ramps are located by the Gadsby Trailhead, 1223 W. North Temple; Fisher Mansion, 1206 W. 200 South; and Riverview Trailhead, 1835 N. Redwood Road. The new ramps mean people can take a watercraft from the Fisher Mansion or Gadsby Trailhead down to the Riverhead Trail, which takes about an hour or two. For another hour or two, they can also float down to the Porter's Landing boat takeout in North Salt Lake.
Better access to the river for recreational activity was something that Mendenhall said is in growing demand.
"As the population of the Salt Lake Valley continues to grow, it will be especially important for our city and our community to prioritize our parks, trails and other natural resources," she said.
She, Rogers and other project leaders celebrated the occasion with a short boat ride downstream. They hope it's just the beginning of a major overhaul in cleaning up the river and making it a more accessible and desired recreational haven.
Soren Simonsen, executive director of the Jordan River Commission, said the Jordan River is a body of water that has a reputation for things that would make people both sad and mad. It's a spot where those experiencing homelessness have come to seek refuge. It's also a spot where litter, debris and waste is either carried into the river by poor development or dumped carelessly.
But there are other characteristics to it that get overlooked. When taking his daughter out to the river a few years ago, Simonsen said they came across pelicans and great blue heron.
"You'll also see things that'll make you glad. When you drop down these 10 or 15 feet into the river, it'll be amazing how this city just disappears for many stretches of the Jordan River. ... You'll see wildlife that you didn't know existed in Salt Lake City," he said.
That's why more attention has been put on it in recent years. And the new boat ramps celebrated Friday are just the beginning of changes being made along the Jordan River. For instance, Simonsen said there are about a dozen new boating ramps and portages in Utah and Salt Lake counties coming in the near future.
Mendenhall added that the demolition of the old Raging Waters waterpark began last week ahead of a plan to turn a swath of land into a new regional park between 1700 South and the river.
The Fisher Mansion boat ramp is also located less than 100 feet from the Fisher Carriage House, which is the site of a planned recreation hub for Jordan River recreation. Between those two spots is the Three Creeks Confluence project that is expected to be completed as early as next month.
"It will make not only the Salt Lake Valley, but clear into Saratoga Springs in Utah County much more accessible than it is today," Simonsen said. "We hope people will come back often and explore this new way to experience the Jordan River."
Salt Lake officials said the funding for the new ramps came from a Outdoor Recreation Grant issued by the Governor's Office of Economic Development, as well as from the Salt Lake City's Capital Improvement Program and other grants.