The last few years have been exciting, enlightening, and unprecedented for Salt Lake City Public Lands.
For many years, Salt Lake City Public Lands consisted of three city divisions or programs within the City’s Public Services Department: Parks, Trails & Natural Lands, and Urban Forestry. (Click here and see page A-2 to better understand the City’s Organizational Chart)
These divisions historically operated as maintenance organizations to keep our open spaces green and landscaped. While maintenance remains a primary focus, recent events and trends in the City have highlighted the need for these divisions to evolve beyond maintenance and incorporate short and long-term planning with a community-centric approach.
Some examples of such events and trends are as follows:
- A Public Lands needs assessment was completed in 2019. One of the conclusions of this assessment was that “94 acres of new park land will be required to meet future park needs at the same levels of service the public currently enjoys and expects today.”
- In 2020, the Golf Division and Special Event Permitting Program joined Public Lands, adding 33 full-time employees to the organization. Over the last 5 years, 44 additional full-time employees were added to the other divisions without adding management level staff.
- Multiple Public Lands master planning process have recently been completed, or will be completed in the near future. These include the Salt Lake City Cemetery Master Plan, the Foothill Trails System Plan, and the “Reimagine Nature: SLC Public Lands Master Plan.” Planning processes for Glendale Waterpark, Allen Park, and Pioneer Park are underway, and planning processes for Liberty Park and the Jordan River Trail Corridor have been proposed. These processes require a great deal of staff commitment, time and effort. Each project involves differing levels of public engagement and they also come with a variety of questions, phone calls and emails from the public, SLC Council, administration, and other departments.
To help Public Lands adapt to these exciting changes and trends, Mayor Mendenhall proposed that Public Lands split from the Public Services Department become a department of its own as part of the FY2022 City Budget. This budget was approved by City Council, and as of July 1, 2021, Salt Lake City has a new Public Lands Department.
Why was it Necessary to Create a New Department?
The departure from Public Services elevates Public Lands in a way that makes Public Lands more essential to the overall function of SLC Government. As the City faces climate, health, growth, and social challenges, Public Lands will be an equal voice at the table with City leaders and community partners to rethink how our open green spaces can be used as resources to revitalize our communities and not just to entertain residents.
The benefit of a Department structure is the foundational positions that make it possible for Public Lands to achieve goals to make informed decisions around planning, expanding, and restoring the public green space system and to meet the expectations of the community. The move to a Department will lead to the addition of administrative level staff, helping Public Lands become better positioned to keep up with the changes and challenges facing our City.
The best thing Salt Lake City Residents can do to support the new Public Lands Department is to regularly engage with our staff and project planning processes. Follow us on social media (see links at the bottom of the page), sign up for our monthly newsletter, volunteer at a stewardship event, and attend our monthly PNUT Advisory Board meetings. If you do these things, it’ll be easy to know how you can help us care for our city’s Public Lands now and in the future.