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(Tom Wharton | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake County Fish and Game Association, the oldest conservation group in Utah, brought its historic metal sign to Murray from its property on Scott Avenue.
S.L. County club helps others enjoy wild places

By Tom Wharton

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Apr 18 2012 07:43 am • Last Updated Apr 18 2012 04:31 pm

Murray • As a kid growing up near what is now St. Mark’s hospital, I often rode my bike to the Scott Avenue fish hatchery. Gigantic trout lived in the pond there and, if we were lucky, a hatchery worker would allow us to feed the fish.

The hatchery included a building and a metal archway sign that read "Salt Lake Fish and Game Association." We kids never paid much attention to either, and it would be years before I learned that this group, founded in 1921, is the oldest conservation organization in Utah and has played an integral role in wildlife management.

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For example, the association helped establish an elk herd in Utah by transplanting elk from Wyoming to Mount Nebo. It worked with what was then the Fish and Game Department to provide more access to Farmington Bay and the west side of Utah Lake.

In 1953, the group started Utah’s first hunter safety program. It provided books for teachers in the Project Wild Program, donated a place for the rehabilitation of injured raptors, and helped fisheries biologists with the poisoning and rehabilitation of Strawberry Reservoir.

These days, the group has about 100 active members. Its well-used clubhouse, moved from Scott Avenue to 1177 W. Bullion St. in Murray in 1983, sits on five acres adjacent to the Jordan River. A small pond offers living quarters for Canada geese, quail and ducks.

Dan Potts, an opinionated and energetic man who loves all things outdoors, is the group’s current president. He is well aware of the challenges facing what he describes as a mom-and-pop social club made up of friends and families.

These days, it seems, only a few people are willing to volunteer to help teach youth about the outdoors at a sportsman’s expo, service wildlife guzzlers that provide water for critters in the west desert, or help with wildlife-oriented projects. It’s easier to recruit members for specialty groups such as fly fishing organizations or big game trophy clubs.

"We are trying to reinvent ourselves," said Potts, sitting in the clubhouse surrounded by awards the organization has won over the years. Mounted antlers and a big bison head hang on the wall. "We are stuck in the good old days with a hook and bullet kind of mentality. But the times have changed. We’ve had to evolve. For example, birdwatching is now one of the fastest growing outdoor activities."

So Potts put together the publication The Fauna of the Jordan River Corridor, which lists fish, amphibians, reptiles, common birds and mammals that can be seen in the middle of valley. He made it available on the group’s website, http://slcfga.org.

The association improved its quarterly newsletter. And it put together a calendar featuring members’ photographs with the best times to fish, hunt or view wildlife each day.

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The group invested wisely over the years, creating an endowment to support itself and its clubhouse. The clubhouse sits on property that is surprisingly rural considering it is next to I-215 and in the middle of a booming city. It would like to use the pond for a community fishery and give the public more access to the river.

The group isn’t averse to controversy, either. It has been involved in a legal battle with Salt Lake City, which wants to build a soccer complex along the Jordan River in what Potts considers a natural area that should be left alone. And it disagreed with the way the city handled the Chevron Oil Spill on Red Butte Creek.

At its heart, the Salt Lake Fish and Game Association is a social and service club that cares deeply about the outdoors and quietly helps improve the quality of life in Utah.

wharton@sltrib.com Twitter: @tribtomwharton

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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