Finding Solutions for the “Hen-Tag” Reach of the Weber River
Our owner/operator Dawna Zukirmi was invited to present at Confluence 2019, the Weber River Symposium hosted by Weber River Partnership on the topic of “Finding Solutions for the Henefer to Taggart reach of the Weber River”.
Please read and share this information freely.
I’ve been asked to speak about the Henefer-to-Taggart reach of the Weber River, the unique challenges that are faced there, and working towards finding solutions and overcoming these challenges.
Here’s what’s happening:
Over the past several years, the “Hen-Tag” has become very popular, and has developed a bit of a reputation, especially with the local Wasatch Front tubing scene. It has also become an enigma for local law enforcement and emergency services agencies, as well as property owners in the Henefer to Taggart reach and further downstream into Morgan County, who are dealing with trespassing issues and garbage.
A recreation survey a few years ago indicated that the Weber River was the second most popular river recreation area in Utah. Thousands of people each hot and sunny summer day are getting on the class II whitewater section of the Weber River at the Division of Wildlife Resources angler access site that is located off the Interstate-84 Henefer exit #112 in Summit County. This location is now identified on Google Maps as the “Weber River Float Parking Lot”. From there, folks are typically floating about 5 miles downstream to Taggart in Morgan County.
Many people show up like they’re ready to float on the lazy river at Lagoon, but are also prepared for some serious binge partying while out on the water. They are using flotation devices that have a manufacturers recommended use for swimming pools or lakes, and are not recommended for, nor are robust enough to handle the rugged rocks, branches, and occasional rebar found along this reach of the Weber River.
Many of these tubers bring single-use drink containers and do not Rig to Flip. So when they jump onto their flimsy pool toy that has the words “RIVER RUNNER” printed in huge letters on the side, with a floating cooler towing behind at the end of a rope, they hit the first rock in the rock garden, pop their tube, wrap their rope and cooler around a boulder…causing an entrapment hazard… and lose all their belongings into the river. They are too busy trying to save themselves to worry about pulling their garbage out of the river. As you drive by on the freeway, you can often see those unprepared and unfortunate souls walking barefoot up to the freeway to hitch a ride to the put-in or take-out.
Additionally, this reach is very popular with kayakers, rafters and stand up paddleboarders, including out of state visitors and tourists, local schools, churches and youth groups, families, outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers who generally have a reputation of good river etiquette and tend to be champions and good stewards of the river.
For the past several years, rafting, kayaking and tubing traffic from Henefer to Taggart, and the associated vehicular traffic at the two main access sites has boomed, with a noticeable increase of use each summer. Most of the summer weekends and holidays, the river access site at Taggart becomes very crowded. Two-way traffic flow is often impeded with a major bottleneck at what is commonly used as the take out site. The roadway edges are damaged and crumbling, creating a narrow passage, with inefficient, unmarked parking space.
Just for the visual, I will describe a few notable incidents that have caused an extended halt in traffic flow that I have experienced first hand.
-One hot sunny day, a tailgate barbecue party took up half of the width of the roadway. Seriously, they had the BBQ grill set up IN the middle of what would be a lane, if the road was marked with lanes.
-Another day, an inebriated man urinated on my vehicle tire while the engine was running and I was at the driver’s seat waiting to move forward in the lane of traffic. He thought the car was parked and was surprised to see it start moving forward.
-And on another fine sunshiny day, a group of people were draining and rolling up their inflatables in the middle of the road way. When I politely asked them to move to the side of the road so I could drive through the 1-lane passageway, they flipped me the bird and dropped the FU bomb.
-You will regularly see private boaters loading vessels and passengers into vehicles.
-Commercial outfitter vans embarking passengers while river guides stack rafts, kayaks and tubes on the trailers in tow.
-Large chartered buses loading school groups, church groups, and out of state visitors are also becoming more common.
With this increase in use of the area, especially by those not prepared for or knowledgeable about white water river recreation, there has also been an increase in sanitation issues, including human waste at the access sites. There has been an increase in garbage in the river, on land at the access sites and rest areas along the river, and caught in eddys, irrigation diversions and headgates downstream.
Raw data samples from various volunteer garbage clean up efforts have shown that the most common type of garbage found in this reach of the river is single-use drink containers, mostly consisting of alcoholic drink cans. The second most common type of trash found is flip-flops and other types of slip-on sandals. Followed by popped pool toys, and then random items like sunglasses, fishing tackle, food packaging, lost paddles, the occasional cell phone, and garbage from the freeway.
The main source of the garbage problem is that many people getting on the river are not prepared for a successful and safe float. They simply don’t understand all of the variables of what they’re getting themselves into. It’s all fun and games…until all of a sudden, it’s not.
Some of the other issues associated with this reach are because of its span across county lines. Most of the sales tax revenue that is generated from the commercial outfitters goes to Summit County. Yet most of the law enforcement and emergency services incidents happen in Morgan County, and so that creates a drain on Morgan County resources.
This span over county lines also makes it difficult to align the two sites with a cohesive plan for organization and improvement. It would be hard to enforce rules about garbage at the take out at Taggart, if people continue to be allowed to get on the river with garbage at the launch site. The fear is that folks would just dump their trash in the river before reaching the take out site, to avoid getting caught being in violation of the rules.
These are actions that have already been taken that begin to address these issues:
Life Jackets Required signs have been posted by Utah State Parks along this reach.
At the Henefer river access parking lot, DNR painted parking stripes to help organize the chaos of days where the lot is full or overflowing, and they installed portable restrooms and garbage cans.
Individual volunteer efforts have been made to put up temporary home-made information signs at Henefer and Taggart. They have organized garbage clean-up efforts all the way from Echo to Morgan City, and supplied port-o-potties at the Taggart river access site.
(Notice the popped pool toy piled neatly beside the port-o-potty, like they expect United Site Services to haul it away when they come to service the restrooms.)
These are the main issues that still need to be addressed:
- Many believe that the only way to fix the garbage problem is to prevent the garbage from getting on the river at the launch site.
- A few simple rules or guidelines should be established, along with permanently installed information signs explaining these rules to the users.
- Restrooms should continue to be available at both access sites.
- Garbage cans or “Pack it In, Pack it Out” signs are needed at both access sites.
- The roadway, parking, and loading areas at Taggart access site needs to be improved so that 2-way traffic flow can be maintained.
- Improvements and the establishment of rules and enforcement at both the launch site in Henefer and the take out site at Taggart need to be cohesive.
A proposed possible solution…
Is to create a county or state park and charge a launch fee or boat tag fee of all boaters and floaters. The establishment of a park could be the means to create and enforce the rules, and charge a fee. Funds generated by the use fee could then be used to further improve and maintain the area.
The rules could be as simple as:
1. Rig to flip.
- That means that every thing a person brings with them on the river, including their shoes, is securely attached to their boat or their body and will not be lost into the river if and when their boat capsizes.
- No floating coolers. (I know rule # 1 covers this, but some things need to be said twice.)
- Only use flotation vessels that are rated by the manufacturer for use on whitewater rivers.
Wes Johnson suggested that the next step should be to develop a “Resource Management Plan” to bring together the thoughts and solutions of local, county and state agencies, and the recreational users, including the anglers and commercial boaters. This plan should include the defined responsibilities of the recreationists, county, state, and law enforcement agencies. It would have to be signed off by Morgan and Summit Counties, Morgan and Summit County Sheriff departments, the Utah Divisions of Wildlife Resources, Utah State Parks, the commercial rafting outfitters and the angler organization, Trout Unlimited.
It is notable that the garbage situation seemed to improve a little this last summer based on increased individual volunteer efforts to do garbage pick-ups and install temporary information signs for outreach education efforts to the public.
Recreational use of the Henefer to Taggart reach of the Weber River is an economically valuable resource for both Summit County and Morgan County. But the full potential and value has been largely unrecognized and untapped, especially by Morgan County, due to these issues. And Summit County barely realizes there are any issues, because the water — and all the garbage it carries in its current — only flows in one direction, and that’s downstream.
If we can figure out a way to improve the area and its reputation, it will become a commonly recognized bright spot for Morgan County and Summit County, and will attract great quality visitors from the Wasatch Front and beyond.
As much as we’d like to keep this gem a secret, and keep it to ourselves, the cat is already out of the bag. People know now what a great recreational resource we have at the “Hen-Tag” reach of the “Mighty Weeb”. If we do nothing to organize the chaos, then garbage, trespassing, and law enforcement issues will get worse. But instead, with some planning and agreement among stakeholders, we have a great opportunity to conserve and improve this resource to ensure it is available to future generations.