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HEADWATERS: The Bear River

Many Utahns don't realize that the Bear, Weber and Provo Rivers all begin high in the Uinta Mountains. This is the first of three brief articles on her rivers.

The Bear River runs a fascinating route. From its wild, quiet headwaters in the Stillwater, Hayden and East Fork drainages of the High Uintas, it flows in a grand arc from Utah, into Wyoming and Idaho and back into Utah. From melting trickles of snow feeding Middle Basin abutting the western crest of the Wilderness, it slows and spreads between fortified banks in Evanston, and turns westward into Idaho.

Bear_River_Map.gif (35596 bytes)About half way into its journey to the Great Salt Lake, the Bear River flows past Bear Lake, where one can see the shoreline of ancient Lake Bonneville a few dozen feet above the bright blue lake of today. Once a tributary of that ancient lake, the contemporary river has encountered structures and canals at Bear Lake for 90 years. Six hydroelectric plants barricade the river in Idaho before it slogs behind manure-leeching dairy farms in Cache Valley and stalls behind Cutler Reservoir. Threats to dam the river for burgeoning, thirsty Salt Lake City lurk ever-near.

Entering the Great Salt Lake, 500 miles from its headwaters in the High Uintas, the Bear River is the pulse of life for an incredible gathering of birds eared grebes, marbled godwits,tundra swans, plovers.... While there is no sharper contrast between its wild, alpine birth and the turgid flow that far from distinguishes it, HUPC has proposed as Wild and Scenic about 50 miles of the origins of the Bear River in the High Uintas. After 150 years of dams, dikes and diversions, such protection seems a quiet gesture of hope.

Margaret Pettis


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