The Swaner EcoCenter, located at Kimball Junction, opened in 2008 with a mission to preserve nature, educate the public and nurture the ecosystem. (Photo
The Swaner EcoCenter, located at Kimball Junction, opened in 2008 with a mission to preserve nature, educate the public and nurture the ecosystem. (Photo by Christopher Reeves/Park Record)
The Swaner EcoCenter, which opened in 2008, is dedicated to preserving nature, educating the public and nurturing the ecosystem.

It does this by providing environmental education programs including exhibits, a climbing wall, nature workshops about birding and wildflowers, and an occasional music recital.

The EcoCenter, which is located at Kimball Junction, is also LEED platinum certified.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is presented by the U.S. Green Building Council for buildings featuring sustainable site development, water conservation, energy efficiency, materials selections and indoor environmental quality.

The building's design and construction embody these elements to create a building that functions as a single, healthy ecosystem.

The runoff from one of the 15 ponds found on the 1,200-acre Swaner Nature Preserve is a scenic and important method for the area’s hydrology. The
The runoff from one of the 15 ponds found on the 1,200-acre Swaner Nature Preserve is a scenic and important method for the area's hydrology. The ponds are important habitats for amphibians, including the tiger salamander and the chorus frog. (Photo by Scott Iwasaki/Park Record)

In addition to the exhibits, the EcoCenter also offers geocaching sessions, owl prowls with Hawkwatch International, guided walks on the Swaner Preserve in the spring, summer and fall, and guided snowshoe tours in the winter for youths and adults on the Swaner Nature Preserve located east of the building.

"The Swaner Nature Preserve is 1,200 acres and runs on both sides of I-80," said Nell Larson, director of the Swaner EcoCenter. "The north side is 350 acres, and that's where a lot of the hiking trails are. The south side features 850 acres, which is mainly wetlands."

Historically, the area all the way to Old Town consisted of wetlands before settlers arrived.

"This was one of the few flat areas where people could raise cattle and grow alfalfa, so they ditched and drained the area," Larson said.


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One of the people was Leland Swaner, whom in 1957, purchased the Spring Creek Angus Ranch, which he operated for the next 35 years.

"In the early 2000s, the Swaner family was inspired to set aside some land in memory of Leland Swaner, when he passed away," Larson said. "He loved this area and they had a large ranch here."

Initially, the family thought that they would make the area an active, recreational park.

"But as they learned how it once was a valuable wetland habitat, they decided to restore it," Larson explained.

Head-start cages made from PVC pipes and netting help with the reintroduction of the Columbia spotted frog to the Swaner Nature Preserve. The cages protect
Head-start cages made from PVC pipes and netting help with the reintroduction of the Columbia spotted frog to the Swaner Nature Preserve. The cages protect the eggs and tadpoles from predators. (Photo by Scott Iwasaki/Park Record)
"When the initial large-scale restoration was done, there were six miles of ditches that were filled in and native plants were planted. That helped bring hydrology and surface water return."

Over the years, the Swaner family worked with Summit County, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Utah Open Lands to acquire the land in 30 different parcels in 10 years.

"Some of the land was donated," Larson said. "Some of it was traded through transfer of density rights and some was purchased outright, with the focus to preserve the area."

There were 820 developments that were initially planned for the area, and there were parcel boundaries set, she said.

"In fact, there is a fire hydrant on the preserve to show how far those plans came to be carried out," Larson said.

As time went on, the vegetation began to change from the edge of the preserve to the center of it.

"More wetland plants were being seen and other ideas about environmental education and restoration came into play," Larson said.

Vegetation includes sedge grass, Baltic rush and water groundsel, which are all native wetland plants.

Unfortunately, there are some noxious weeds that grow on the preserve, one being dyers woad.

"This plant isn't native to the area but it has found its way here through seeds that are dropped or carried," Larson said. "We have been taking many measures to control the plant and are still finding new ways to do so."

The vegetation has attracted an array of wildlife to the area.

"We have a lot of elk that hang out on the south end of the preserve," Larson said. "We also have 15 wetland ponds on the preserve and they are mostly spring-fed pond, but one is several acres wide."

The ponds house an array of amphibians including tiger salamanders, chorus frogs and Columbia spotted frogs.

"A few years ago, we did a Columbia spotted frog reintroduction, and we are continuing that and trying to grow that population," Larson said. "The Division of Wildlife Resources have been working with us for years on this project and took egg masses from the Provo Columbia spotted frog population and brought them to the preserve and put them in what we call head-start cages."

These cages are made of PVC pipes and screens.

"The screens protect the eggs and tadpoles from predators such as tiger salamanders and birds," Larson said.

In addition to amphibians, the Preserve is a habitat for mice, ground squirrels and garter snakes.

"These animals are often overlooked, but are very important," Larson explained. "They are the reason we have raptors and other predator species. They also help aerate the ground."

The Swaner Preserve is also home to more than 100 bird species.

"We have a wide variety of birds, including red-winged blackbirds, swifts and swallows," Larson said. "And those populations continue to increase."

Among the trademark summer avian residents are sandhill cranes.

"We think we have seven sandhill crane pairs who migrate here," Larson said. "These birds are really cool and are beloved in our community."

They are also the oldest living bird species, she said.

"A sandhill crane skull that was 10 million years old was found in the Platte River Valley in Nebraska, where a lot of the cranes go to nest," Larson said. "Their call sounds prehistoric. And when people say that, they are on the right track."

Other bird species include owls near the Wallin Barn on S.R. 224 and a group of shorebirds that stop at the ponds on the preserve.

"Many people think is unusual to have shorebirds in the mountains," Larson said. "But we have them because we are located on a flyway to the Great Salt Lake."

When groups take a tour onto to certain areas of the preserve, they will feel how squishy and soft the ground is, Larson said.

"In the spring when we get the snowmelt, the wetlands acts like a sponge and soaks up a ton of that water and release it gradually throughout the year," she said. "So the wetlands help prevent flooding and play an important role for East Canyon Creek."

Although the restoration is far from done, the public can help and learn more about the Swaner EcoCenter and Nature Preserve by volunteering or participating in one of the education sessions, Larson said.

"There is so much that is here," she said. "We hope people will come and learn more about what we do."

For more information, visit www.swanerecocenter.org.