The litter and unlawful behavior on the Weber River between Henefer and Taggarts is getting so bad that Morgan County officials are asking for help, saying a state park designation may help in enforcement efforts. Morgan officials at least want signage along the waterway alerting recreationists to safety and litter concerns.
That stretch of the Weber River that straddles the Morgan-Summit County border is popular with professional river rafters as well as amateur tubers floating the river. Many park in Henefer, where they “put in” on the river, float through to the Croydon Bridge area, and “take out” at Taggarts.
While Morgan County officials want to encourage recreationists to visit their county for economic development reasons, they are also aware of potential negative implications.
“It is well attended and no longer a safe place for families to go on the weekend” due to public intoxication, Councilwoman Tina Cannon said.
“We don’t want to shut down the amount of people coming to enjoy the river,” Councilman Austin Turner said. “We are just trying to deal with the aftermath.” That is unfortunate for some, like professional rafting companies and fishermen who are “dealing with the consequences of copious amounts of garbage.”
Wes Johnson, vice president of operations for the Utah Council of Trout Unlimited, agreed. “We are aware of the trash situation,” said Johnson, who coordinates several clean up projects on that stretch of the Weber River each year. “We are putting a lot of effort into clean up.”
The land along the river there belongs to a smattering of land owners including Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), Utah Bureau of Reclamation, the railroad, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and other private land owners.
“We want to move forward in discussions with all land owners (along the river there) to come up with an understanding, to request people do not consume alcohol on their properties,” Turner said.
At issue is how to regulate a waterway, and further, how to regulate alcohol consumption on private proeperty. It is an issue the Utah State legislature is grappling with as well, while they debate House Bill 216 that specifically considers making the Jordan River a state park from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake. Morgan County Councilmembers also discussed the issue with Gov. Gary Herbert at a Jan. 2 meeting.
“Counties can’t regulate water flow or do enforcement,” Turner said. “It comes from a state position.”
State Park officials can regulate a waterway and enforce laws as well, if that waterway was in a designated state park. For now, the Weber River through Morgan and Summit counties is not a state park.
Since the state is just recently taking over Echo Reservoir as a new state facility this year, Turner said they seem a bit hesitant to take over the Weber River in Morgan and Summit counties unless “it could be a profitable venture” for them. He said Echo “had a similar background of partying and illicit behaviors.” State parks is willing to do enforcement blitzes on the Weber River in Morgan County, but have not agreed to constantly man the area.
Turner said that Taggarts in Morgan County is a good “take out” point because beyond that is “rattlesnake infested private property” and impassable diversion dams. “When they get two miles and three beers into it, they get in trouble and a Wal-Mart floaty isn’t going to cut it,” Turner said. “This is white water, not floating in a pool. You can get in serious trouble quickly.”
In such cases, county swift water rescue teams have been called out for rescue operations. But more often, the professional rafting companies pitch in.
“The rafting companies save more people off that river than anyone else,” Turner said.
In a recent meeting with Summit County officials including law enforcement, Turner alerted Morgan’s neighboring county of the issues. “They were unaware of the vast quantities of people using their facilities” on that ¾ a mile stretch in Summit County, Turner said. However, they were aware of alcoholic consumption and illicit drug use in that area. “If they are expected to have a deputy in that area, they want to be compensated for it.”
The Summit County spot in Henefer owned by the DWR and mean to give river access to fisherman “is being taken over by people floating the river during the summer months,” Turner said.
The number can get up to 5,000 people per hot, sunny, summer day floating the river, not counting professional companies, said Donna Zukirmi, a Morgan resident and owner of Destination Sports. “The main problems are the congestion, safety and illicit behavior,” she said.
Turner asked that a Summit County deputy at least drive by on summer weekends. The more enforcement efforts that can be done, the more tickets that are issued, the more the word may get out that Morgan wants the Weber River to be safe for families.
Already, some people are stepping forward willing to put up money for the signage, specifically where people “put in and take out” of the Weber River. What they want on the signs is encouragement to wear life jackets, correctly package and tether a cooler, use appropriate floatation devices, and pack out the garbage they pack in.
“We need to start with education, signage and enforcing what we can where we can,” Turner said. “We can start moving in a positive direction.”
Some user would like to see more garbage collection recepticals and bathroom facilities as well. Turner suggested that local Eagle Scouts may want to help with the effort as well.
“People would be encouraged to put trash in a can,” said resident Becky Taggart. “If it is there, most people would use it. In that area, Morgan should have accommodations for the people who come to visit.”