Minutes from I-80 and Newpark Town Center, you'll find paradise—where the sounds of Subuarus and the patio chatter at Maxwell's East Coast Eatery give way to the croaking of chorus frogs.
The wetlands give off strong stench and the ground is squishy. It's shared by elk, tiger salamanders and the poster-animals for this Wasatch Back promised land, sandhill cranes—the oldest living bird species known to man. "They found a skull that was 10 million years old in the Platte River Valley," says Nell Larson, director of conservation at Swaner EcoCenter. "When people say they sound prehistoric, they're not far off."
In 1993, locals got together to preserve the wetlands. Working with Summit County, Natural Resources Conservation Services and Utah Open Lands, they saved 1,200 acres and created Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter. In 2010, the property was turned over to Utah State University to expand educational opportunities On May 28, Larson led a media tour deep in the wetlands, where the public isn't allowed without a guide.
First we explored the EcoCenter itself, at the West end of Newpark. From the bamboo floors to the photovoltaic generators converting solar radiation into electricity, the building is LEED platinum certified. After trudging into wetlands, we learned creating a preserve so close to an urban area is no small task. Man's impact is clear in tire tracks from a vehicle driven through the area years ago. A Chevron oil piepline, no longer in use, has made itself part of the scenery—a permanent fixture since removing it would disturb the ecology.
Still, out there, you might see Columbia spotted frogs. In fact, Swaner hopes you'll see more of them. The frog is being reintroduced to the area with egg masses, protected from predators with netted cages.
If you're lucky, you'll see a bat make use of one of the bat boxes sticking out of the ground like bird houses.
Pop a Claritin and put on shoes or boots you can wash off. Other than that, take nothing and only leave footprints.
"It's not a wetland without water," says Larson, but she doesn't take it for granted.
Much of Swaner's water comes from Park City's mountain streams, meaning Swaner is not the only place that wants it. Noxious weeds threaten to knock out native plants, which could disturb the fragile ecosystem. Along with being a place to cherish, it's a place to protect.
Unfortunately, our group of reporters didn't see many native animals on our venture, but the solemnness of the space and getting to know this wild land just outside the city was well worth the muddy shoes.
Click here for info on Swaner's Nature Walks, held every Saturday during the summer.