Kay's Creek

Celebrating Restoration Success

The Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited continue to celebrate the successful Kay’s Creek Restoration Project. From 2004 through 2006, the groups worked together to restore a key 1-mile stretch of Kay’s Creek in Davis County—the major source of water for more than 10,000 acres of wetlands and critical migratory bird habitat at the Great Salt Lake.

The project reversed years of erosion and habitat loss from human impacts, but each spring, the real benefits become visible: the newly improved habitat now attracts thousands of northern pintails, American avocets, sandhill cranes, mallards, and white-faced ibis, among other native species.

“This restoration project is a major success for collaborative conservation and for the bird species that depend on the unique habitats of the Great Salt Lake,” said Dave Livermore, the Conservancy’s Utah State Director. “Nearly 60 percent of the historic wetlands in the river basins in and around the Great Salt Lake have already been lost, so this type of restoration is crucial.” 

“We expected some immediate increase in bird use as a result of the restoration efforts, but the outcome has been better than we could have hoped,” echoed Chris Brown, Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve Manager. “Where I used to just see birds occasionally flying overhead, this spring I recorded thousands of them feeding and nesting on the newly expanded wetland habitat and ponds. It’s really exciting.”

Biologists from both organizations observed a dramatic jump in seasonal numbers and species of birds using the area, and most importantly, an encouraging increase in the numbers of birds nesting at the restored section of Kay’s Creek.

“The reason this project succeeded is because of a unique collaboration between conservation biology and engineering,” said Jeff McCreary, Intermountain Regional Biologist with Ducks Unlimited. “We created a science-based plan to recreate the type of native habitat that Kay’s Creek would have offered these birds before decades of human impacts.”

The original restoration plan, developed jointly by the Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited, was to rejuvenate the final mile of Kay’s Creek as it flows into the Conservancy’s 4,000-acre Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve in Layton, Utah. The restoration project was specifically designed to elevate the water table and restore the original floodplain along the creek.

Referring to historic information, biologists and engineers worked with construction crews to increase the sinuosity of Kay’s Creek and re-establish a natural meander corridor, as well as install a concrete diversion structure to allow for seasonal water diversion and sediment settlement. Crews then accentuated natural depressions in adjacent meadows where water can now pool and provide habitat for a variety of waterfowl and migratory bird species.

 “Kay’s Creek used to provide a wealth of habitat for birds and other wildlife, but it has been channelized for agricultural uses and restricted so that it no longer operates as a healthy natural ecosystem,” explained McCreary. “We are just beginning to see the benefits of restoring this area—I predict that bird use will skyrocket over the next few years as the native revegetation takes hold and the system begins to fully function.”

In the future, the Kay’s Creek restoration project should benefit shorebirds such as black-necked stilts, American avocets, and Wilson’s phalaropes, as well as waterfowl such as mallards, cinnamon teal, and Canada geese. The restored creek will also attract beavers, a valuable component of a healthy riparian system. 

“The value of these types of projects is huge,” said Livermore. “The Great Salt Lake is a globally important resource for millions of birds each year, and we are thrilled to partner with Ducks Unlimited and to bring together so many community supporters who care about making sure this natural jewel survives…for the benefit of the birds and Utah’s next generations.”

Both The Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited plan to share the tactics and lessons learned on the successful Kay’s Creek restoration project with local governments and agencies interested in doing similar restoration projects around the state and even nationwide.   

A wide variety of community, state and national support made this project a reality. The initial $345,000 restoration effort was funded by contributions and grants from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, as well as generous individual donors to The Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimted.

Kay’s Creek is located near Layton City, along the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake, in Davis County, one of the fastest growing counties in the state. The creek is a 10-mile stream that, in its final mile, flows through The Nature Conservancy’s 4,000-acre Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve. Its waters support thousands more acres of valuable and highly productive wetlands on and adjacent to the Preserve. Upstream, however, the creek’s traditional riparian habitat has disappeared due to the effects of development.

Over the last two decades, communities in this area have grown 65 percent and are now considered part of the greater Salt Lake City metropolitan area. The impact of this rapid population growth is accentuated by the region’s geography. Developable land is sandwiched between the Wasatch Mountains on the east and the Great Salt Lake on the west. As development has progressed from east to west, upland buffer zones and seasonally wet areas bordering the Lake have been drained and built upon, eliminating and altering habitat once used by thousands of birds. In undeveloped areas, water diversion, farming, and grazing have altered the natural systems of wetlands and marshes.