Pearl Baker Park Soft Opening

Though not yet complete, Epicenter invited the local community of Green River to celebrate the progress made thus far on the new Pearl Baker Park on the evening of July 20th, 2022. Epicenter’s Executive Director Maria Sykes welcomed the over 60 residents and visitors of all ages in attendance at the park celebration, oriented them to the site, introduced the park team, and gave thanks to those who have made the park possible. Joe Bondi, landscape designer and a critical leader in the park’s development, gave a tour of the park, sharing the overall design concept as well as explaining the various sections of the park. Bondi also laid out the next steps for the park including adding shade structures, installing educational signage, pouring concrete for the outdoor classroom amphitheatre, and completing the irrigation system and planting native species of trees, shrubs, and more.

Dino Den natural play feature

Epicenter provided ice cold drinks, popsicles and ice cream, and fresh Green River melon in order to try and beat the over 100-degree heat despite the event being set in the evening! The heat didn’t stop the over 20 kids in attendance who tried out the tire swing (the most popular feature of the park so far!), the “Dino Den” play featured (pictured above), and, of course, the unused large piles of rocks and dirt (another big hit!). Thank you to all who attended despite the heat: Mayor Ren Hatt, Deputy Mayor Kathy Ryan, City Council Member Ben Lehnhoff, Royd Hatt (Emery County School Board), Molly Marcello of KZMU, and many, many more local and neighboring community members. Epicenter looks forward to seeing wildflower patches in your yard soon! (Epicenter gave all in attendance a native wildflower seed packet to connect their home back to Pearl Baker Park.)

Local kids enjoying the new tire swing at the park

Pearl Baker Park has been made possible through recent and committed support from the American Express Foundation, AmeriCorps, Noel Baker (Pearl’s son), City of Green River, GayeMarie Ekker, the Green River Conservation District, Emery County – The Swell Trails Grant, Danna Engleman, High Desert Excavating, Annalee & Tammy Howland, Park Design Committee (local residents), The Geoff & Hollie Smith family, the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, Adam Steuer, Terra Sophia (Moab), Douglas Tolman, USU Extension, Utah Division of Arts & Museums, Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, Union Pacific Foundation, UServeUtah, Bo Wareham, Rowe Zwahlen, the 2022 Spring Summit attendees, and many more.

Stay tuned to Epicenter’s social media for regular updates on the park including the eminent concrete pour for the outdoor classroom amphitheater!

ORIGINS: While master planning Epicenter’s Canal Commons housing development, the community insisted that this part of the site needed to be restored back into a public park, and Epicenter agreed! After some research, it was confirmed that this site was the original town park, and many of the cottonwoods are over 50 years-old! This exciting news, as well as both the ideal location next to the canal and the unideal lack of public green spaces south of Main Street sealed the deal. Time to build a park! But what to name it? The community overwhelmingly chose to honor Pearl Baker, a much beloved local figure.

The outlaws who once hid in the deep canyons of Robbers Roost were long gone by the time Pearl Baker and her family moved to that rugged region of southeastern Utah in 1908. But the legacy of these bandits lived on in the stories locals told about Butch Cassidy and his posse of thieves, the Wild Bunch. As a child, Baker wrote down everything she could remember from those stories. Eventually she used those notes to inform her first novel, “The Wild Bunch at Robbers Roost,” which inspired one of the most famous Western films of all time, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” As an adult, Baker lived in Green River, where she tutored children, and Hite, where she taught elementary school. In an interview, Baker recalled: “We never did have any playground equipment, and I was kind of sad about that.” The play structure and outdoor classroom at Pearl Baker Park is dedicated to Baker, the author, teacher, and iconic voice of the Wild West, and to the children of Green River, so they may continue to play and learn in her honor. — Emily Arntsen, Epicenter’s current Frontier Fellow

PROCESS: After the naming, Epicenter formed a local community park team to prep the site and to co-design the park. Many people have contributed to the design of the park, including those local community members, professional landscape designers, AmeriCorps members, local teens and kids, and regional contractors. This team agreed the park should have natural features, use local materials and plant species, and be educational for both residents and visitors. They wanted a space that was activated, but not necessarily sports-centric. The result is a series of walking paths, picnic areas, natural playscapes, and an outdoor classroom all to be adorned with native species of plants. Many components are nearly complete, but there is much to still be done!

BIG PICTURE: Originally, it was Epicenter’s intent to build this park after completing the more urgent need, 5-12 new housing units, but the pandemic had other plans. Despite securing the land, competing house designs and the site masterplan, and receiving $1.2mil in committed funds towards the housing units— supply chain chaos, rising inflation, and the global labor shortage have paused the  planned construction of Canal Commons at large. Rather than let the stop the momentum, Epicenter shifted to what could be done during these times: using local labor and materials to rebuild the old town park. After all, locally sourced dirt and rocks can’t be impacted by supply chains or inflation!