“Only one percent of Utah is wet,” states the Utah Wetlands Interpretive Network (UWIN) website. “It is an essential one percent that provides habitat for 80 percent of Utah’s wildlife sometime during their life.”
Part of this one percent is located on the UVU campus. Nearly untouched and less than an acre in size, UVU’s wetlands has been an asset to the university from the beginning. It has facilitated several courses each semester and has provided an area for local research and experimentation.
For example, in 2000, Danny Horns, chair of the earth science department, installed several shallow wells around the perimeter of the field, which earth science classes use to study groundwater.
Despite the wetlands benefits, however, UVU has decided to place its $1.2 million track and field directly on top of the area. And, while the athletics department is thrilled about this, long-standing professors are not.
“I do have to say that I’m not pleased with the decision to eliminate the wetlands to build a playing field,” commented Jim Harris, professor of biology. “It often seems that academics play second fiddle to pretty much everything else on campus.”
Harris is not the only one to think that perhaps athletics are wrongfully taking precedence over academics.
“I will always want to see academics take first priority at UVU, and I sometimes bristle at the enthusiasm for sports over academics,” said Bill Dinklage, associate professor of earth science.
This is not the first wetlands-versus-athletics debate to hit locally, either. In 2003, plans to build a baseball stadium for the Angels in southeast Provo were overturned because of potential wetlands issues at the site. The following October, UVU, then UVSC, announced the Angels would play at a new stadium to be built at the school.
Administrators at UVU, however, have come up with a compromise to soothe the opposition for destroying the school’s wetlands.
“When I asked about this particular issue a couple of years ago, a staff person told me that (the wetlands here) would be replaced by a wetlands area constructed across the freeway,” said Kathy French, professor of behavioral science.
Indeed, UVU is purchasing some land along the shore of Utah Lake to re-establish the wetland area. While this is considered a small step forward by some faculty and staff, it will make the wetlands less accessible and more difficult for professors and students to use, removing some of the functions that make the current wetlands valuable.
“It always seems too easy to administrators and politicians to not look deeper than a label ‘wetlands’ and think, ‘No problem, we can build or buy a wetlands somewhere else to replace that one.’ But when you look beneath the label at all the other aspects of a natural place, you are always likely to find irreplaceable qualities,” said Dinklage.
Although previous community members and officials have valued wetlands and academics more than athletics, the benefits of UVU’s new track are persuasive. It will give the track and field program the opportunity to move forward and the university the opportunity to increase its athletics program.
“I understand the importance of sports for a variety of reasons,” said Dinklage, “and it does seem odd that a state institution our size doesn’t have a track.”