Soon after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, retired Westminster College biology professor and urban natural-space champion Ty Harrison was asked what he considered his proudest accomplishments.
Second to his family, he listed conservation projects that he’d worked on in Nebraska and Utah, including the Jordan River Migratory Bird Reserve, the Wasatch Hollow preserve and Hidden Hollow in the Sugar House area of Salt Lake City.
Hidden Hollow, the 3-acre urban natural area and outdoor classroom across 1300 East from Sugar House Park, had been scheduled for development as part of a retail center there until a group of Hawthorne Elementary students in the 1990s cleaned up the neglected area and enlisted the help of Utah Open Lands.
The nonprofit, in turn, turned to Harrison, who performed the initial ecological assessment, helped craft the master plan and over more than 20 years remained deeply immersed in the area’s preservation, according to Lewis Kogan, director of the city’s Natural Lands Division.
“I know he was very attached to this project,” Kogan recently told members of the city council.
Now Utah Open Lands wants to honor Harrison, who succumbed to cancer in 2017, by renaming part of Hidden Hollow Natural Area as “Ty’s Garden.” The nonprofit, which received a donated conservation easement on the area in 2000, has made a formal request to the city for the name change.
The council has scheduled a Jan. 22 public hearing on the matter.
“Ty Harrison was a guiding light in restoring Hidden Hollow. It was his vision and the hard work of the KOPE kids [Kids Organized to Protect the Environment] that inspired the forever protection of Hidden Hollow under Utah Open Lands’ conservation easement," Wendy Fisher, the nonprofit’s executive director, told The Tribune.
“It was truly an honor for me to be able to work with Ty Harrison over the many, many years that we increased the public benefit of that natural area which is really, in my mind, the heart of Sugar House,” Fisher said.
Kogan described Harrison as a “tremendous proponent of natural lands,” especially in Salt Lake City.
“Virtually every natural area where we have engaged — any restoration project around the city — Ty provided valuable information to us.”
In addition to Hidden Hollow, he was a champion of the Fife Wetland Preserve, Dimple Dell Regional Park and the Jordan River corridor, where his family’s 40-acre farm between South Jordan and Sandy was among the largest privately owned open spaces left in the river corridor.
“The preservation of corridors like this is really important,” Harrison told The Tribune in 2006. “People want to see wildlife. It’s the politicians who never listen. They’re all either developers or pro-development.”
In a tribute to Harrison in the Utah Native Plant Society’s Sego Lily newsletter in the fall of 2017, the group’s Tony Frates wrote, “His passion focused on trying to save what few representative ecosystems were left in the ‘Valley of the Jordan,’ from the shores and wetlands around Utah Lake, the length of the Jordan River to the playas of the Great Salt Lake; and of course also to the surrounding foothills and beyond. And at the same time, educating everyone he could about their importance, and the need for their protection and restoration.”
Clarification: The proposal by Utah Open Lands would rename part of Hidden Hollow after Ty Harrison. The original version indicated the whole area would be renamed.