Ecological Change at Bell Canyon Trail


Growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah I was surrounded by high mountains and saw the change of all four seasons. During the sunny 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 up Bell Canyon for the waterfalls we can hear, see, and feel. While on the hike we cannot really see the hidden waterfall (until we get there), we could hear the water pounding against the large boulders. Following the natural sounds of the waterfall, we stumble upon the falls itself (Figure A). I’ve always love standing right underneath the waterfall feeling the breeze of the jets on my skin.

Figure A – Lower Falls, Bell Canyon [1]
The canyon is split by a lower reservoir (Figure B); this is usually where hikers take a break to enjoy the view and water before finishing the full trail. Here, my mother would pass around spliced apples and water to the family. I remember sitting on a large rock dipping my feet into the satin water with my brother. We watched the fishermen thigh-deep in the water moving around and casting his rod into the water. After a few attempts, he catches a fish and then releases it back into the water. My brother asked, “Why are they putting the fish back into the water?” I did not know what to say and replied, “I do not know”. The lower reservoir—this spot was only a resting point for the hike. My goal was to find the waterfall. 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 the trail of wet soil, since we could not find a 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.

Figure B – Fishermen at Lower Reservoir [2]
It was not until recently that I saw changed to Bell Canyon. During a hot day in August 2015, I hiked up Bell Canyon once again with some close friends. Our goal was the same, to find the waterfall—the breeze of the water would give us a relief from the rays of the hot sun that day. When we finally got to the resting point—the lower reservoir—I could not believe my eyes. The reservoir had sunk (Figure C); it was not the same view that I shared with my brother in the past! In Figure C above, you can see the remnants of where the water dried up compared to Figure B. We see a lack of color from the reservoir, almost as if the watershed is sick and dying. I smelled the odor of dead fish, and saw their skeletal remains. At that time if someone told me that there were no fish in the reservoir, I would believe him. I saw old plastic water bottles close to the water filled with dirt and junk from the reservoir; undoubtedly from individuals who decide to litter, and choose not to respect the land they set foot on. I made my way to the rock where my brother had asked me the question about the fishermen releasing the fish back into the water. However (looking at the view) I had my own questions: “What happened to my beloved Bell Canyon?”

Figure C – Lower Bell Canyon Reservoir [3]
I could not believe it! The Bell Canyon that I was looking at was not the same Bell Canyon that I had seen with my brother in the past; Bell Canyon had changed. To confirm my observation, I found a graph (Figure 1) of the water level around the area of the Wasatch Front Mountain Range—this is the larger mountain range that the Bell Canyon Trail is apart of. According to the graph (Figure 1) by the U. S. Geological Survey, which serves the Nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth, there has been a huge decrease in the water level from fourteen (14) feet to seven (7) feet below ground level in the last ten (10) years around the area of the Bell Canyon watershed and the Wasatch Front Mountain. Furthermore, this data support that there are environmental impacts happening to the area and affecting the Bell Canyon watershed. These environmental impacts stun the Sandy City’s efforts in trying to preserve the watershed. A watershed is a geographical area of land that catches the water from rain and snow. The water eventually flows along downstream and contributes to the areas drinking water supply [5]; this is what we need to preserve.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 10.10.09 PM
Figure 1 – U. S. Geological Survey (USGC) of Water Depth Level around the area of the Wasatch Mountain Range [4]
According to the Bell Canyon Master Plan, created by the Sandy City Planning Commission, many other agencies and individuals, Sandy City acquired the land of Bell Canyon to help preserve it’s watershed in the area while allowing residents and visitors to use the canyon for recreational use [6]. Preservation of the Bell Canyon watershed is necessary in order to keep our drinking water clean. The main focus of this project is to help conserve and promote Bell Canyon for residents and others who wish to visit. However, there is a dichotomy that lingers within the plan initiated by the Sandy City. Recreational use of the canyon still allows for negative impacts to the watershed. These negative impacts can be, but not limited to: fires, overuse of unauthorized trails, littering (into the watershed), swimming in the watershed, disrespect to the area, etc.

Despite the fact, recreational use of the canyon still allows for negative impacts to the watershed of the area. How can we (as hikers) help in preserving this watershed? One way to preserve the watershed is to shut down the whole Bell Canyon trail to protect our drinking water, and allowing the area to regrow. On January 11, 2016, Dry Creek Trail in Hayward, California was closed to equestrians, due to heavy rains and the need to slow down the destruction of the trail [7]. This example shows the closure of a trail in order to protect the area. While this is not an example of overuse of the area, it is an example of the negative environmental impacts that can occur. Another example of the negative impacts that can occur to an area, Mountain San Jacinto in California caught fire on July 15, 2013 due to a motor home. The wildfire grew up to 500 acres. The nearly hiking trails that were affected were closed down due to the scorched earth [8]. Again while this is not an example of overuse of the land, it is an example of negative impacts to the land. The fire was a negative impact to the area causing it to close its trails for public use.

While there is not much we (as hikers) can do to help with the negative environmental impacts to the area, we can assist with the over usage of land. This question still stands: how can we help in preserving Bell Canyon’s watershed? Just as how the fisherman released the fish back into the water, we must show respect to the land. For starters, we (as hikers) can abide to the signs at trailheads: NO Dogs, NO Swimming, NO Camping, and NO Campfires. Along with abiding to trailhead signs, it is important to not litter and clean up after yourself. I wanted to quote Dr. Seuss from The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not [9].” We should not only show respect for the land but also care for it—or else it’s not getting better. I do not want to see Bell Canyon continue to change. The more negative effects that happen to Bell Canyon, the higher the risk the trail (like the other examples) will close down. Along with Sandy City, we can minimize negative impacts by being good hikers while allowing visitors for maximum enjoyment [6].


Work Cited

  1. Johnson, Bethany. Bells Canyon Trail to Lower Falls. Digital Image. AllTrails, Inc., July 2015. Web. 20 February 2016.

Bethany Johnson not only has pictures taken at Bell Canyon Trail in Sandy, Utah. The trails that she has taken pictures of, but not limited to: Lake Mary Trail, Lake Catherine (Big Cottonwood), The Living Room Trail (with Red Butte Extension) and Lake Blanche Trail all in Salt Lake City, Utah; Bells Canyon Trail and White Pine Lake Trail (Wasatch Range) in Sandy, Utah; and Stewart Falls Trail in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Bethany Johnson’s review of Bells Canyon Trail: “This is a great hike. Start early, bring a sandwich and some water and take your time. I really recommend a hiking pole. It gets extremely steep and the path eventually is just small boulders. The lower falls are a must see. The upper falls are serene, and since they’re hard to get to you may get them all to yourself for a while. Start early. Take your time.”

  1. Bell Canyon and Lower Bell Canyon Reservoir. n.d. Digital Image. Sandy City: Parks and Recreation. Sandy City Corporation, n.d. Web. 20 February 2015.
  1. Lower Bells Canyon Reservoir.d. Digital Image. n.d. Web. 20 February 2016.
  1. S. Geological Survey (USGC) of Water Depth Level near Wasatch Mountain Range. n.d. Online Map. United States: U.S. Geological Suvey. Web. 1 February 2016.
  1. Watershed. n.d. Website. Sandy City: Parks and Recreation. Sandy City Corporation, n.d. Web. 20 February 2016.
  1. Community Development Department. “Bell Canyon: Master Plan.” n.d. Online Pamphlet. Sandy City: Parks and Recreation. Sandy City Corporation, n.d. Web. 20 February 2016.
  1. Garin/Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks. East Bay Regional Park District, n.d. Web. 1 March 2016.
  1. Murphy, Rosalie; Kelman, Brett; and Goolsby, Denise. Highway 74 open as Anza Fire containment grows to 50%. The Desert Sun, 11 August 2015. Web. 20 February 2016.
  1. The Lorax. Directed by Chris Renaud. United States: Illumination Entertainment, 2012.

 The quote taken from the movie can be found on YouTube here:

– LoellasMagicalWorld. The Lorax!! Filmed: August 2012. YouTube video, 01:56. Posted: August 2012.




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