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As the Great Salt Lake recedes, shipwrecks emerge

Posted at 9:42 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 23:42:45-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The Great Salt Lake has dozens of shipwrecks, some dating back to the 1850s.

Many of the vessels were tied to industry on and around the lake. Livestock was moved from Antelope Island to Salt Lake City by way of boats. In the early 1900s, a railroad trestle stretching over several miles of water was erected, and numerous ships were utilized in its construction and maintenance.

The terminal lake covered as many up to 1,700 square miles as recently as the 1980s. But the water level has dropped by nearly 13 feet by since then, exposing hundreds of miles of the shallow lake’s shoreline in the process.

READ: Great Salt Lake is steadily shrinking, report says

In 2020, historians and curiosity seekers were excited to learn the remnants of a century-old ship could be seen the lake’s south shore.

But Great Salt Lake State Park Manager and Harbormaster Dave Shearer knows of several other sites which are a little harder to get access.

“You can come out here by boat and see them, but to come out on the railroad causeway it is trespassing.” Shearer said as he escorted FOX 13 News to a location where three rusty boats are now exposed near the railroad causeway.

“When I first came up here and found them, we didn’t even know about the third one that’s upside down because it was completely underwater,” Shearer said. “Back in the 1980s, they purposely sunk them to keep them from floating up on top of the railroad track.”

READ: 100-year-old shipwreck found on Great Salt Lake after windstorm

They’re no threat to the railroad tracks now, as the receding water has left them high and dry.

Near Antelope Island, another, much older boat can be seen. Shearer and others believe it’s most likely Brigham Young’s boat, ‘The Timely Gull,’ which broke free from a dock in the 1850s during a storm.

Carl Aldrich manages the Fielding Garr Ranch on Antelope Island and keeps close eyes on the wreckage which is rather difficult to get to, and is now little more than a set of wooden ribs jutting up from deep mud and sand.

Aldrich has researched ‘The Timely Gull.'

“It was a paddlewheel on front, and it was going to be powered by a horse on a treadmill so it would be rolling the boat, and that would power the thing that moved the boat. Then they decided to do a steam engine, but it was too expensive to ship it over here so then they just settled with a sail boat,” Aldrich said.

Other wreckage in the lake includes an enormous construction crane, left behind after being used to help move gravel from Antelope Island to the lake’s east shore for a freeway construction project.

“We’ve had quite a few planes crash in the Great Salt Lake. To my knowledge, there’s still two F-16s here, there’s parts of an A-4, parts of a couple helicopters,” Shearer said. “The lake itself is only about 25 feet deep of water, but it’s 10 to 14,000 feet of sediment so it’s a big hole down there.”

Many shipwrecks are still submerged. A few of them have known locations, like the W.E. Marsh which sank near the south shore in the 1950s.

Shearer says other are still waiting to be discovered.

“The ‘Promontory,’ that would be the granddaddy of all the boats out here. It was a very large paddle boat back in 1902. It’s about 125 feet long. We know it should be up in Ogden Bay up behind Fremont Island, we just have not been able to find it," he said.