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Fishing, kayaking and paddleboarding: Here’s how to safely use the Jordan River

You can kayak and fish the river — but swimming isn’t recommended.

| Tribune File Photo Kevin Rogers of Rose Park kayaks the Jordan River Saturday February 12, 2011. Rogers is the leader of Rose Park Revival, a group trying to change perceptions of Rose Park. He worked with the city to help restore a boat ramp off of Cornell Street.

With new projects to be completed this summer on the Jordan River, here’s what beginners — and returners — to the area need to be aware of when recreating on the waterway.

About half of Utah’s population lives within 15 minutes of the Jordan River, which connects Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake, and offers activities from fishing to paddleboarding. The Jordan River Commission, a group dedicated to protecting and responsibly developing the river corridor, has created a map of hazards, portages and other resources for Utahns to decide where to use the river.

Check the conditions before you paddle

Aimee Horman, education outreach manager for the Jordan River Commission, said conditions on the river change daily, so Utahns should check the Jordan River Commission’s water trail map and the Division of Water Quality for any new issues along the waterway.

“When you go out to paddle you always need to check the water level and check any hazards that could be new on the river,” Horman said. “The Jordan River is generally really slow moving current-wise, but there can be hazards — downed trees or things that aren’t typically there that will ruin your day if you don’t check your route before you go.”

As the state moves further into the drought, the excessive heat is sending water into the river from mountain snowmelt, so Horman said the river isn’t low yet — but she anticipates some portions of the river will be too shallow to paddle as the river levels decrease.

The river is also susceptible to harmful algal blooms. Utahns should check the Division of Water Quality’s map for the algal blooms along the route they plan to use before going to the river, Horman said.

“I would avoid paddling in a section that has an active bloom, just because you don’t know if you could accidentally fall in, or just the interaction with the water as it comes off your paddle,” Horman said. “You just want to be extra careful.”

The river is not recommended for swimming, as there can also be elevated E.Coli levels in the water.

Although people should avoid contact with the water in the river, fish from the river should be safe to eat according to the Division of Wildlife Resources, as long as people properly wash and gut them before consumption.

Where you can kayak, and where you need to jump out

Salt Lake County is constructing new portages to mitigate hazards in Sandy and Murray. Horman said Murray’s Brighton Northpoint dam near 4600 S is a very serious hazard and that kayakers and paddleboarders should never attempt to go over it. The dam is listed as a mandatory portage but paddlers will need to be careful because there are no signs warning about it.

The county has acquired the water rights to take that hazard out, and is constructing a step down feature similar to one at Winchester Park on 6400 S. There will be a portage built in case paddleboarders or kayakers don’t want to use the step down rocks in their boats. The area will be totally safe and navigable, Horman said, but may be a bit difficult for beginners.

The county is also constructing a new portage for the dam near 2100 South.

“That’s a mandatory portage, and at this time, it’s a really long one,” Horman said. “According to our map, you want to get out at Redwood Trailhead Park on the old canoe docks there, and make that the end of your paddle and go get back in on 1700 South. At this time, you’d have to carry your boat about half a mile. And then you have to really find a place where you can get back into the river after the river turns into the surplus canal.”

A utility line crossing near 7800 South is also getting a new portage built. Where the line crosses the river, there are some boulders placed along the line, which creates an unnatural step in the river and difficulty to find the path.

“I know people who run it,” Horman said. “It is a matter of going and putting your eyes on it and deciding if you want to do that or not.”

The stretch near the Jordan River Narrows by 1300 W can be challenging for beginners. Horman said there’s just not enough water in the area, so finding the river channel “can be a real challenge,” and it’s not a recommended place for recreation.

General river advice for boaters

The portion of the Jordan River near Utah Lake is very different from its urban sections — with the waterway 100 feet wide in places and 25 feet deep.

“It’s a big and wide river before a lot of the water gets channeled out for agricultural and other industrial water rights purposes,” Horman said.

Some areas increase the flow of the river, like Bingham Creek, the seven canyon creeks and near the Legacy Nature Preserve, but the waterway won’t be as wide as it is in Utah County.

“There are so many places, especially right now, where you bottom out — it’s so shallow, it’s 18 inches deep,” Horman said. “But then as it goes around the curb, and you kind of get that fast lane of water that takes out some of that sediment, you can just very quickly go to 10 feet deep.”

Horman’s favorite spots that she recommends for beginner boaters to the river are getting in at Winchester Park in Murray and getting out at Little Cottonwood Creek confluence.

“(Murray is) a really beautiful stretch,” Horman said. “It doesn’t have a lot of overhanging snags that you can get tangled up in, and it’s a place where you can forget you’re even in the city. It’s so beautiful. Most of the time you can’t hear cars or see anything like that.”

Another great stretch is in Utah County, where Horman suggests putting in at Willow Park.

“(Willow Park) is where the river is nice and wide, and the views of Lone Peak and Mount Timpanogos are incredible,” said Horman. “So if I was a beginner, or had a big group, the river’s really wide and scenic, and that’s a really fun section.”

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