'The Danny DeVito of lakes': Utah Lake's eco-makeover underway thanks to volunteer planting

Addy Valdez, a conservation biologist with Utah Lake Authority, leads volunteer groups to the lakeshore to plant hundreds of native plants on Tuesday.

Addy Valdez, a conservation biologist with Utah Lake Authority, leads volunteer groups to the lakeshore to plant hundreds of native plants on Tuesday. (Emma Everett Johnson)

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VINEYARD — Utah Lake is "the Danny DeVito of lakes," Luke Peterson said. "Sometimes weird but always exciting."

Peterson is the executive director of the Utah Lake Authority, a small government agency that focuses on preserving and enhancing the lake for both animals and people. The lake is an important part of the Utah Valley's ecosystem, but it doesn't always get attention from locals.

The lake authority is hoping to change that. It decided to involve the community in its latest project: planting 10,000 native plants along the lakeshore.

The Utah Lake Authority has already planted 4,500 and added another 700 on Tuesday with the help of Explore Utah Valley, the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, Top Golf, Rep. Burgess Owens' staff and community members.

Addy Valdez, the authority's conservation biologist, led the group of volunteers over narrow, spongy berms to sites on the lakeshore where bulrushes, Rocky Mountain bee plants and sunflowers were waiting to be planted. Navigating the thin strip of solid ground, caught between lake waves and still, green swamp water, was a little like a game of Twister. Some pairs of big rubber galoshes were sacrificed to the mud.

Valdez clutched a hot-pink megaphone while volunteers picked up orange dibbles and started planting neat rows of wetland plants.

"What we're trying to accomplish … is to create a consistent, resilient habitat for wildlife," Valdez said.

Right now, the lake's ecosystem isn't very friendly for native animals. Phragmites, an invasive grass plant, dominated the lake for decades and have only recently been cut back. The Utah Lake Authority is filling in the holes left by phragmites with the native plants.

If the 10,000 native plants can establish themselves well enough to grow back perennially, the lake's ecosystem will be steady enough for native birds, small mammals and fish to thrive, she said.

As the ecosystem stabilizes, water quality will improve — great news for lake recreation. The lake has potential to be a popular place for swimming, boating, paddle boarding and fishing.

The Utah Lake Authority doesn't expect the lake to become the next Lake Powell — the Brad Pitt of lakes, Peterson says — but it can be more for the public than it is now.

"I think it has a lot of potential," said Heather McEwen, lake authority employee. "I didn't really come to the lake until I started working here … I have a newfound appreciation for it."


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Utah waterUtahOutdoorsEnvironmentUtah County
Emma Everett Johnson covers Utah as a general news reporter. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University.


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