Cache Valley became my home 60 years ago. Jenny, baby Dennis and I arrived on the crooked, winding, scary road of the real Sardine Canyon. That was before they realigned the road to split Dry Lake and retire the Sardine road. Fear of that crooked road was erased by a view of the most beautiful valley we had ever seen. Small, neat towns nestled throughout the valley where streams brought water into the valley. Irrigation ditches were shaded by rows of tall popular trees standing like soldiers at parade rest. People welcomed us with a wave and a smile. No wonder there was a town named Paradise.
Farm houses outside villages were rare. Each little town had its own waste dump, elementary school, local government and LDS ward. When children from small towns came together in the county high school, a student’s home could be identified by the way he talked. The entire county had about 33,000 people. Logan, the only city in the county, was home for about half of those people.
Houses in Logan and the surrounding villages were small and well built. Most were on large lots with a vegetable garden, fruit orchard, and maybe a barn, a garage or a workshop. Lawns, if they existed, were small, almost like an extra room on the house. We rented such a house on Canyon Road below the university. The landlord planted a large garden for us. Our baby son played in the cold, clear water in the irrigation ditch that ran though our front yard. We lived as if Utah had no water shortage.
Today the area where our baby chased water scooters is filled with student housing and multi-family apartments. Most gardens and orchards have been replaced by parked cars, off-road vehicles, camping equipment and flower pots. Huge houses, surrounded by vast lawns, fill most areas where orchards flourished when we first came.
Estimates indicate there are now around 127,000 people in Cache County, including some 52,000 in Logan. The census next year will show more growth. People keep a-coming, and most of the land around us is public land. We will have to crowd closer together and grow up, not out.
When we first came to this valley, the mountains surrounding it were dry, barren and slowly recovering from extreme overgrazing by landless herds and over-cutting timber to build towns and provide railroad ties. Distinct villages were marked at night by small islands of electric lights.
Now houses are built most everywhere. Our valley has become one great bowl of humans and their waste.
Much of the land between towns is covered by small housing developments or “ranchettes” with a large house sitting on several acres of lawn. Farms producing agricultural crops decrease as housing developments increase. Because it happened slowly, we did not react as our valley changed from farmland sprinkled with small towns to “Sprawling City” where farmland is rapidly being erased by buildings and roads without uniform requirements for “development.”
Our towns continue to creep up benches toward the vanishing deer fence. Native vegetation is replaced with the newest lawn grass mix and kept green with chemical fertilizer and water spraying from elaborate sprinkler systems. The grass will be mowed with noisy riding lawn mowers spewing pollutants into our valley’s captured air. Grass “waste” will be hauled to the dump in a truck that adds its exhaust fumes to our air.
“Sprawling City,” is a non-city with houses scattered about in a bowl surrounded by mountains mostly owned by we the people of the United States. Our bowl has no natural drainage, and our air becomes polluted, not just from our cars and working machines, but from unexplainable actions such as heating enormous houses by burning fossil fuels, using limited water to irrigate large lawns and polluting the air with belching exhaust from engines of riding lawn mowers, off-road vehicles and gasoline-fueled toys.
Sixty years ago I was hired by USU because my graduate degrees and scientific publications suggested I knew a bit about grasses, soil and native land health. I was delighted to join a university with world class programs in land, water, and landscape management. Giants like Wynne Thorne, Dean Peterson, Laurie Stoddart and Art Smith were world leaders in land use professions.
The university I served is a Land Grant University created to develop useful information and distribute it to the people. Managers of publicly owned land used some of that information and plant communities surrounding our valley improved. Science for maintaining healthy land and clean air is more difficult to apply on privately owned land. Land use within our valley is guided by local laws or perhaps no laws at all about vegetation.
I still know a thing or two about grass. I am concerned about the vast areas of “designer” lawn that have replaced our farmlands and native vegetation. This lawn grass is not grazed or allowed to decompose and become part of the soil that produced it. Lawns in our valley are like the pretty little girl in the little red shoes who takes our money and drinks our booze. The difference is we would put her in jail and continue to pay dearly for chemically enhanced lawns.