2020 and 2021 issues funded in part by grants from the Utah Commission on Service and Volunteerism
and Salt Lake County’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
June 12, 2021

Volunteer “Friends of” groups make huge difference in quality of parks

International Peace Gardens at Jordan Park
International Peace Gardens at Jordan Park|||| International Peace Gardens at Jordan Park|||| ||||
By Melanie Pehrson

Well-kept, attractive urban green space provides many benefits, including environmental impact, mental health, community pride, and social capital. And these imperative public spaces need our help. According to Luke Allen, Salt Lake City Public Lands Community Outreach, Events, and Marketing Manager, we will need to increase our public green space by 90 acres by the year 2040 to keep up with projected population growth. In addition, upkeep and revitalization of already existing green spaces is essential.

With this kind of growth in the forecast, community residents are being asked to step up to the plate, investing in our own public spaces by creating Friends of Groups through the Salt Lake City Public Lands Parks Division. Allen states, “A ‘Friends of’ group is an organized group of community members who dedicate a portion of their time caring for and advocating for a specific park within Salt Lake City.” It means that Salt Lake City recognizes you as the stewardship organization of the park in your neighborhood. As such, SLCPL can provide support through marketing and materials to succeed in your specific goals for the neighborhood park. This need is especially important on Salt Lake City’s West Side. Of the four “active Friends of” groups in SLC, all serve parks east of I-15.

So, what expectations does Salt Lake City Public Lands have for their “Friends of” groups? “We want every group to mold itself to fit the specific needs of the park,” Allen said. Residents whose hearts are invested in their community green spaces can take the reins in conservation, maintenance, community outreach, improvement fundraising, and hosting events and programs in the park depending on a specific park's needs.

As individuals in SLC park communities befriend their neighborhoods, care about their community, and take pride in contributing to its improvement, the desire to serve their community in small ways becomes natural. Judi Short, chair of Friends of Gilgal Gardens, for example found herself enjoying her time volunteering while completing the Utah State University Extension master gardener program. She became familiar with the park and befriended the space. She enjoyed the peace and proximity to her neighborhood. Sarah Woolsey of the Friends of Fairmont Park shares a similar story. In her 20 years of walking and cycling Fairmont park, just two blocks from her home, she and her husband decided to invest time in the rose garden, pruning, mulching, and caring for a small space. From there, “it just kind of snowballed,” she said.

Anchoring the work in partnerships also provides success, says Woolsey. Talk to your Parks, Natural Lands, Urban Forestry, and Trails (PNUT) board representative, the Parks Division, local businesses, the community council, the city council to engage and work together for a common goal. Invite people who live, work, recreate, in and around the park to notice, to see, to act, no matter when and no matter for how long. “Let people take their interest and run with it!”

We can transform our gathering spaces into destinations, places of togetherness and healing. If you or someone you know have a public city park that is close to your heart that you would like to take under your wing, contact Luke Allen at or 801-972-7891.

Published in Summer 2021