Over 15,000 years ago, the glacially fed Logan River was flowing into Lake Bonneville which covered most of the NW quadrant of the state and completely filled Utah’s Cache Valley.
The river met the ancient Lake Bonneville some distance up Logan Canyon so it was much shorter. Animals that lived along the river included saber-toothed cats, woolly mammoths and giant ground sloths.
About 10,000 years later, after Lake Bonneville had disappeared, the Logan River meandered across the old lake bed and the Shoshone Native American tribe made Cache Valley their home.
Frank Howe, chairman of the Logan River Task Force, adjunct associate professor and university liaison for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said, “When people say ‘let’s return Cache Valley to how it was naturally’ they don’t realize the valley [had been] managed by the Shoshone for thousands of years before the settlers arrived.”
The Shoshone burned the valley frequently to drive the Bison and provide better forage for their horses. This impacted the vegetation across the valley and along the river. Instead of large stands of tall trees, the river was lined with shrubs which responded better to fire, hence the valley’s first name Willow Valley.
During this time the flow and movement of the Logan River was much different, in part because of the beaver families who built their homes and dams up and down the waterway. The dams created ponds whose waters seeped into the valley bottoms raising the water table and saturating the sponge.
Joseph Wheaton, associate professor of the Department of Watershed Sciences in the Quinney College of Natural Resources explained, “the saturated ground increased resilience to drought, flood and fire.”
In the early 1800s trappers arrived in the valley.
Michel Bourdon was one of the earliest trappers to see Cache Valley around 1818. The river was, for a short time, named after him. A few years later, Ephraim Logan arrived in Cache Valley. He and many other trappers attended the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous along the Bourdon River in 1826. Shortly thereafter, Logan died during one of his outings and the area’s trappers decided to rename the river Logan, in his honor.
Trapping for the fur industry severely impacted the beaver population and the Logan River. The dam building beavers were almost trapped to extinction because of the European fashion demand. Luckily, fashion trends changed before beaver were extinct. However, the virtual elimination of beavers fundamentally changed the character of the Logan River to this day.
In the 1850s the first settlers arrived in Cache Valley. Their arrival had a large impact on Logan River. Within a year they began constructing the first canal for irrigation.
Around the turn of the 19th century it became apparent the grazing and timber need of the settlers had been hard on the Logan River and the surrounding landscape. Albert F. Potter surveying the Logan River watershed for President Theodore Roosevelt, reported the canyon had been overgrazed and its timber overcut. The timber, at the time, was used for railroad ties and to build Logan City.
As the valley’s population grew, so did the demand for Logan River water.
Over the next few months, Wild About Utah will continue this series on the Logan River to tell the stories about its ecology, social value and how humans have worked together to make it a community amenity not just a canal.