5 Spot | Bonnie K. Baxter, director of the Great Salt Lake Institute
Salt Lake Weekly
November 13, 2008
By Jerre Wroble
Bonnie K. Baxter is director of the Great Salt Lake Institute and associate professor of biology at Westminster College. On Tuesday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 p.m., she will head up a discussion of Great Salt Lake issues with the Wasatch Front Forum in the Gore auditorium at the Vieve Gore School of Business (1840 S. 1300 East, 832-2682).
How can a stinky lake overrun with brine flies be considered a state treasure?
The smell of this lake that occasionally drifts into the valley is a gentle reminder of a living, breathing ecosystem. This lake is not a dead sea, but very much alive. And this life has escaped detection. The microbial world that generates the hydrogen sulfide gas (the stink) may also have secrets for us to harvest: Renewable energy, solar protection, oil cleanup, etc.
Name a few of the Great Salt Lake's best-kept secrets.
The north arm of the lake (pink water, blue skies, amazing bird watching and the Spiral Jetty sculpture)
Are we in danger losing the Great Salt Lake?
No, a terminal lake, by its nature, shrinks and swells. It has no outlet to the ocean, so elevation changes are routine. It may be receding, but only in response to low precipitation years. Those who lived in the valley in the ’80s remember a much different lake, one they were afraid would flood their houses!
Do global-warming trends suggest the lake will dry out no matter what we do locally?
I am unaware of any studies showing a relationship between global warming and GSL lake level. One would predict in general that if we experienced years of drought, then the lake will go away eventually. It is a large body of water, however, and I have not seen any such projections.
Who recreates at the Great Salt Lake anymore? Are the numbers going up or down?
As a part of the Governor’s GSL Council, I have heard from numerous individuals and groups who consider themselves stakeholders for GSL: artists, duck hunters, sailors, hikers, bikers, birdwatchers, to name a few. Gone are the days of lounging at a resort on the “beach,” but modern-day tourists remain captivated by this unique place in a very different way—almost a spiritual way.
Many lakes offer thriving resorts, boating and activities. What happened to the Salt Lake’s marina life?
Much lake recreation is built around fishing, which GSL does not offer. Also, boating with engines requires a bit of maintenance beyond the average to keep the salt from ruining the motor. Sailboats are prevalent, and for this reason, boating on this lake is a quiet peaceful activity. No ski-doos or waterski boats raging by.
In your opinion, is the Antelope Island causeway a boon or a bust for the Great Salt Lake.
There are very few public access points to GSL, a tourist attraction that many visitors to Utah want to see. I don’t have the figures to analyze for the income generated versus expense of building the causeway. What I can tell you is that the visitors to Antelope Island come away with a stellar view of GSL. For birdwatchers and bikers, for example, this causeway provides access to some amazing habitat. The bison and other wild animals, the unusual geology and the shoreline access create a lovely place for tourists and locals to experience the lake.
Why was the Great Salt Lake Institute formed and what does it do?
Here is a brochure that explains what we do.