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South Salt Lake Journal

Tracy Aviary Jordan River Nature Center set to expand

Jun 06, 2024 08:53AM ● By Bailey Chism

Residents help plant flowers for Tracy Aviary’s expansion. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Hernandez)

While migrating birds make their way north from their winter homes, Tracy Aviary’s Jordan River Nature Center (also called The Nature Center at Pia Okwai) is in the midst of an estimated $18-million expansion. 

Their goal is to better connect the Salt Lake Valley’s more diverse and international west side with nature, wildlife and the river. 

It’s not just birds migrating to the center and river. Staff have reported seeing beavers and deer near the center. 

“During the last couple of years I have seen all kinds of kwi’naa or huittsuu (birds) such as puyu (duck), kinii (hawk) and saipakantsukkih (red-winged blackbird),” said Daniel Hernandez, director of culture. “This location is next to the parkway and within short walking distance from the center I have seen evidence of ha’nii or a’nii (beaver) and even seen a few teheya (deer).” The center’s staff strives to use Indigenous peoples’ names of the animals. 

The Tracy Aviary created the center in 2020 to connect west side residents with its programming that was then based at its Liberty Park campus in Salt Lake City. Since then, the center has hosted a number of community events from nature walks to Earth Day celebrations. And it has now opened a host of new amenities on the 12-acre property, even as construction and planning for more additions continue. 

The most prominent addition is a three-story observation tower in the center of the property. From the top deck, visitors can see from the canyons of the Wasatch Mountains to the Jordan River. The top of the tower will help scientists track migrating birds and bugs with the addition of a Motus Tower, part of a global network of radio telemetry devices that track animals as they fly by on their seasonal journeys. 

The first floor holds a bird blind that isn’t just a space to watch birds flying outside. The center also uses the space to hold writing workshops in partnership with the Community Writing Center and hosted a read-a-thon. 

“The Nature Center at Pia Okwai has already facilitated, hosted, and begun to co-create community based programming and events that we want to continue,” Hernandez said. “The great thing is that there is this growing space that is used for gatherings and education in an increasingly more and more colorful place demonstrated by the range of plants and flowers that are growing there and the diversity of birds who visit.” 

New construction will include a pavilion and amphitheater. A new conservation garden loop will be constructed behind a berm to separate it from the loud traffic on 3300 South. The short pathway will boast drought-resistant plants that residents can seed themselves. 

“Local and regional residents have been helping with painting or attending programs and events already and there’s heaps of opportunities to visit the campus, attend an event or program, participate or volunteer on planting or other projects as well,” Hernandez said. “I’d encourage folks to follow our social media and check out our webpage to learn more.”

Planting efforts are ongoing. For now, there aren’t many plants as they take time to put roots down. Over the next couple of years, visitors will be able to see the property become more lush with vibrant plants as they grow. 

The center is building specific areas for children to play in nature, as well. The wetland habitat under construction will have a pond and stream. They also hired Lost Eden Gallery to paint a mural on one of its perimeter walls. 

There’s still much more to come to the property. Aviary officials are also designing a learning lab and visitor center. λ