Restoring Part of the Salt Lake Ecosystem & Exploring the Legacy Nature Preserve in Utah

Last week I attended River Rally at Snowbird, Utah, near Salt Lake City. A group of us rode in a shuttle van down into the valley to explore the 2, 225-acre Legacy Nature Preserve, which is normally off-limits to the public. The Legacy Highway was a controversial project. In order to mitigate for the wetland loss, the Utah DOT worked with the SWCA Environmental Consultants to create the Legacy Nature Preserve. The mission of the nature preserve is “to provide in perpetuity quality wildlife habitats for mitigating impacts to wetlands and wildlife associated with the Legacy Parkway.” The preserve is located within the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.

Our group—full of avid birders—arrived at the parking lot for the preserve’s observation deck, where everyone shed layers. It was 95° and sunny, a forty-degree difference from the Wasatch Mountains National Forest, where River Rally attendees stayed at the Snowbird Ski Resort. I was the only one dressed appropriately for the climate—a tee shirt and cropped pants. Everyone else had worn winter clothes and full rain gear. Just the day before, there had been torrential downpours on the preserve and the day after our field trip, it snowed—a major blizzard—for three days. We got lucky.

We saw 60 species of birds in three hours, wandering over the nature preserve with our guide, Eric McCulley, an environmental consultant and manager for the site. A big part of Eric’s job is managing the water in the various types of wetlands within the preserve, including playas, creeks and ponds. For a link to the Legacy Nature Preserve’s Water Management Plan, go to: He’s also in charge of monitoring the birds, water quality and vegetation restoration work. The local duck groups monitor the duck populations and assist with managing the duck habitat. Through binoculars and digital cameras, our group spied snowy egrets, Great blue herons, red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds, meadowlarks, several hawks, two eagles sitting on their nest, white-faced ibis, several types of swallows and sparrows, a robin, blue-winged teal, Canada goose, marsh wrens, black-neck stilt, Wilson’s Phalarope, shrike, terns and gulls. An American avocet displayed his wings for us to capture him on film.

As part of the vegetation management plan, goats graze strategically on parts of the preserve. We also noticed evidence and scat from other wildlife—deer, foxes, vole holes, etc.  I cautiously asked our guide, “It’s too cold for snakes in Utah, right?” Eric replied, “No, there are snakes but you won’t see any.” Guess who accidentally stepped beside a rattlesnake on the trail shortly after this exchange? You guessed right. Yours truly. I am the reluctant Snake Whisperer.  For more information on the Legacy Nature Preserve, visit:,T:,2084

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