Summit and Morgan counties scrutinize effects of Weber River recreation
Crowds of people can be seen floating down the Weber River on any given summer day in eastern Summit County – but some worry the river’s popularity during the summer months is threatening the health of the river and creating challenges for local law enforcement.
The river, which flows from the Uinta Mountains and empties into the Great Salt Lake, draws floaters, paddle boarders, kayakers, anglers and others. It is recognized as one of the state’s Blue Ribbon trout fisheries and a Class II whitewater river for rafting and kayaking.
Elected officials from Summit and Morgan counties recently met representatives from recreation outfitters and Utah State Parks in Summit County to address the matter.
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said Morgan County officials first approached Summit about starting the discussion. A Morgan County official did not respond to a request for comment.
One of the challenges officials face is that the river crosses multiple jurisdictions and private properties. But, the main area of concern is a stretch that crosses county lines. Recreationists often enter the waterway at a spot near Henefer.
Summit County Councilor Kim Carson said she has met in the past with Morgan County and law enforcement officials to talk about some of the ongoing issues, such as garbage, overflow parking and alcohol use.
Heavy alcohol use was identified as one of the most critical issues, with officials drawing parallels between it and their other concerns. Some questioned whether it could be banned altogether.
“The problems are getting worse,” Carson said. “A lot of times people get off the river inebriated and they drive home. But, we are not at a point of discussing something like that.”
People using the river often bring coolers containing alcoholic beverages and congregate in well-known spots along the waterway. Some outfitters already prohibit people from bringing alcohol on their trips.
“The outfitters that are in Summit County bring families and promote this as a family activity so some of the drinking and garbage and human waste is a concern. That is not the message we want to send,” Carson said. “We want them to have a nice, positive experience. … Our biggest concern is not just the inebriation, but the garbage that comes with it.”
Carson said officials are trying to come up with ways to reduce the clutter that lines the river’s banks and have considered prohibiting certain riding tubes.
“People are not bringing the appropriate equipment and they are floating on something that is not rated for a class 2 river,” she said. “You have those tubes that are popping and sinking to the bottom of the river.”
Jayson Thiros, who lives in Park City, said he started floating the river more than 10 years ago. He said he’s been on the river when people are “drinking and having fun and it’s a good time.” But, he has also seen people heckling families and saying inappropriate things to them.
“I see both sides of the issue as it has definitely gotten busier out there,” he said. “I can see the point about banning certain tubes and trying to keep the river cleaner because some people don’t care. There are just many different sides to this.”
Officials discussed creating a working group to identify solutions to some of the immediate issues such as trash and parking. Cars and crowds often impede traffic along narrow, two-way streets.
“I think it is just key that we get the stakeholders together to determine responsibility for each group,” Carson said. “We really want to emphasize safety and cleanliness this year and then we can work on a resource management plan for the long term. We want to be partners and help find solutions.”
Carson even mentioned the possibility of creating a state park, highlighting the entry spot’s proximity to Echo and East Canyon state parks. If a state park was created, parking fees and other regulations would likely follow.
“There are a lot of ideas floating around, but those come with costs,” she said. “We just want to explore how we can create a place where everyone can go enjoy the river while limiting the safety issues and impact on the river itself.”
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