Bell Canyon.

I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah surrounded by mountains with the presence of all four seasons. During the summer months when I was younger, my family and I would hike for hours up different canyon trails. Bell Canyon has always been my favorite of all places to hike. I found myself hiking Bell Canyon for the waterfalls we can hear, see, and feel. While we could not really see the waterfall (until we got there), we can hear water pounding against the large boulders. The canyon is split by a lower reservoir; this is usually where hikers take a break to enough the view and water before finishing the full trail. I remember sitting on a large rock dipping my feet into the stain water while my brother carved his initials into the stone: JNH—which oddly were my initials as well. We watched the fishermen catch and release the fishes.

This spot was only a resting point for the hike. Our goal was to find the waterfall (Figure 1). While my mother stayed at the lower reservoir still catching her breath, we continued to the first waterfall. Following the static of the waterfall and wet soil, since we couldn’t find concrete trail. When we got there, the fresh sprinkle and breeze jetting from the waterfall to our warm skin gave us a sense of refreshment.

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Figure 1 – Lower Falls

It was not until recently that I saw change. In August 2015, I hiked up Bell Canyon once again with some close friends. Our goal was the same, to find the first waterfall. When we got to the first resting point—the lower reservoir—I could not believe my eyes. The reservoir had sunk! I smelled the odor of dead fish, and saw their skeletal remains. I saw plastic water bottles filled with junk from the dirt and reservoir. I made my way to the rock my brother had curved our initials into to look at the view, except this time there was no water for me to dip my feet into and there was no one to watch fish. What had happen to my beloved trail? However, I wasn’t thinking of the lower reservoir’s water at the time. I wanted to know what happened to the waterfall. We could hear the sound of the waterfall, which meant that it was still there running.

I could not believe it! The Bell Canyon that I am seeing is not the same Bell Canyon that I had seen. To confirm my observation I found a map (Figure 2) of the water level around the area of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range—the larger mountain range that Bell Canyon is apart of.   According to the map by the U.S. Geological Survey, there has been a huge decrease in the water level from 14 feet to 7 feet below ground level in the last 10 years around the area of Bell Canyon. Furthermore, this supports that there are environmental impacts to this watershed; however, there is still a problem of overuse of the area.

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Figure 2 – Map of Water Level near Bell Canyon

According to the Bell Canyon Master Plan, Sandy City acquired Bell Canyon to help preserve the watershed in the area while allowing residents and others to use the canyon for recreation [3]. A watershed is a geographical area of land that catches the water from rain and snow. The water eventually flows downstream and contributed to the drinking water supply [4]; this is what we need to preserve.

However, there is a dichotomy that lingers within the plan initiated by Sandy City. How can we preserve this watershed with the high public use of the area? For starters, hikers can abide to the signage at the trailheads: NO Dogs, NO Swimming, NO Camping, and NO Campfires. Along with abiding to signs, it is important that hikers do not litter and pick up after themselves.

For some, Bell Canyon is just another hiking trail to overcome. However, for others this trail is another home—a place where hikers can go to dip their feet into the water or to go fishing. But a home can be taken away. For example, Mountain San Jacinto that caught fire on July 15, 2013 due to a motor home. The wildfire grew up to 500 acres [5]. While this was not an example of overuse of the land, it is an example of how a fire can cause a lot of damage. The nearby hiking trails for this area were closed down due to the scorched earth. This home was taken away from individual hikers, until it is reopened, likely, in 2017. Bell Canyon in its recent years has been facing problem of its own due to environmental effects and overuse. While there isn’t much we (as hikers) can do to help with the environmental impacts to the area, we can assist with the over usage of the land.

As hikers, we must remember that we at someone else’s home. It can be the home of other hikers, or it can even be the home of animals in the area. Whatever the case, hikers must learn to be respectful to the home they set foot on. Following the rules of the signage posted: NO Dogs, NO Swimming, NO Camping, and NO Campfires (Figure 3).

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Figure 3 – Bell Canyon Trailhead and Sign [6]

Work Cited

  1.  Johnson, Bethany. Bells Canyon Trail to Lower Falls. 2015. Digital Image. com. AllTrails, Inc., July 2015. Web. 20 Feb. 2016. http://alltrails.com/
  2. http://www.usgs.gov
  3. http://sandy.utah.gov/fileadmin/downloads/comm_dev/planning_and_zoning/long_range_planning/area_master_plans/Bell_Canyon.pdf
  4. http://sandy.utah.gov/government/public-utilities/watershed.html
  5. http://www.desertsun.com/story/news/2015/08/10/san-jacinto-fire/31423703/
  6. http://www.trails360.com/hikes/view/lower_bell_canyon_reservoi
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