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Whatever happened to ... Monkey Hollow?

First Published      Last Updated Sep 19 2016 11:08 am


Protected bit of open space retains spark of adventure, nostalgia in urban setting.

Editor's note • In this regular series, The Tribune explores the once-favorite places of Utahns, from restaurants to recreation to retail.

Doug Cahoon laughed as he remembered his parents' frustration when he came home one night with a chipped tooth, not telling them where he'd been.

"We wouldn't tell them anything. We'd get on our bikes and ride out to [Monkey Hollow] and spend the day there, and they didn't know," said Cahoon. "I'm not sure they would've been happy with us swimming in it, but it was a place that young teens could go and just hang out for the day and be in the water."




It was on one of those days in the late 1960s that Cahoon and some of his friends biked past Hygeia Ice and on to Monkey Hollow. There the boys found two pairs of old bear trap binding skis, so Cahoon strapped a pair onto his feet. He stepped onto the concrete slide, readying himself for the drop into the pool. Before he could execute his jump, though, his foot slid out from under him, and he crashed into the slide, chipping his front tooth.

Several decades later, Cahoon brought his wife to the same spot. Situated past Whole Foods and between large apartment buildings, the spot is now a quiet, protected open space in Sugar House called Hidden Hollow.

The Hollow has a long history in the community. In 1910, the city set aside 300 acres spanning Highland Drive to Parley's Canyon to become the original Sugar House Park, which was intended to protect the area's natural beauty, according to Lynne Olson, a volunteer at Hawthorne Elementary School and co-author of a short history of the area. The city expanded the park by adding a swimming pool, a craft house and tennis courts in 1929, and Sprague Library was built. The park was reduced little by little as the city sold off pieces of land for commercial developments. When Sugar House Park's pool was filled in during the 1930s, the local children chose to swim at Monkey Hollow instead, sometimes even setting up a rope swing.

"We didn't have air conditioning, so you could either play in the hose or go somewhere where you could get in the water. The best memory was being able to go up there and get in the water and have it cover me," said Cahoon.

But when the state moved the Utah State Prison from Sugar House to Draper in 1951, it sold the land to the city and county and the land was turned into what is now Sugar House Park, across the street from the old and much smaller park. Monkey Hollow was forgotten over the decades and fell into disrepair, becoming a sort of community dump, until a group of Hawthorne Elementary students stumbled upon the site while on a field trip in 1990.

"The students climbed over the broken concrete and asphalt. They got down to the creek bed and it was quiet and mysterious and beautiful. We heard bird song and the song of the water. We fell in love with the place," said Olson, who accompanied the students on their field trip. "There were things that needed to be addressed, but the meadow there and all the areas that had not been touched for years were fields of sunflowers and other wildflowers."

The students, part of the school's Extended Learning Program and Kids Organized to Protect the Environment, decided to name the spot Hidden Hollow, and started researching the area. They discovered that Hidden Hollow was slated for development, with commercial developers making plans for a large mall or parking garage.

The students, under the direction of teacher Sheri Sohm, took action, reaching out to the city and different agencies to learn how to save the Hollow. The students became local activists and "never took advantage of their age to try to shortcut anything in the community process," according to Olson.

State Sen. Gene Davis was assigned to work on the Sugar House Master Plan in the 1980s. He fondly remembers growing up in Sugar House in the 1950s and playing in the Hollow, which the neighborhood kids called "The Gulley." Davis explained the master plan called for a bit of open space, and the neighborhood widely opposed the community development. The KOPE students' extensive efforts, Davis said, gave the community "a strong advocate to not develop that waterway."

Hidden Hollow was first rezoned as residential, which provided a sort of placeholder to prevent commercial development. It was then re-designated as open space, and Utah Open Space placed a conservation easement on the three acres in 2000.

The Hollow is not well-manicured like neighboring Sugar House Park, explained Olson. Instead, it is a shady and overgrown refuge for migrating Central American songbirds and employees on their lunch breaks. It is also an important educational stop.

"Each plant community is represented there, so a field trip there is like traveling the whole length of Parley's Creek through the Salt Lake Valley," said Olson.

Davis said that even with all the changes Hidden Hollow has experienced over the decades, the creek bed's ambiance holds fast. He said Hidden Hollow provides a nice escape for locals, especially those living in the newer apartment buildings nearby. Stepping into Hidden Hollow, he said, feels like stepping into the canyon, and he believes Hidden Hollow will continue to be a place of adventure for local children, just like it was in his youth.

"Imaginations create adventure," said Davis. "We just walked through there enjoying growing up, having an adventure, living in a pretend world and going back in time. I'll betcha kids are doing that same thing today."

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