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Supporting Public Lands in an Uncertain Age: The Wasatch Front Urban Ranger Program

Nate Furman, Jeff Rose, Nick Rushford, Matt Brownlee


Open space and parks in urban and urban-proximate areas provide vital social, economic, and health benefits to people and communities. Specific benefits include offering opportunities for people to connect with nature, improving air quality, supporting wildlife habitat, and improving community identity and attachment. Management and maintenance of these areas can be expensive and challenging, particularly when multiple agencies oversee different components of the same resource. In the Salt Lake Valley in Utah, the Jordan River Parkway (JRP) and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail (BST) provide recreation opportunities to local citizens. Multiple agencies and private land owners are charged with managing elements of each entity, resulting in inconsistent application of management plans including patrols and maintenance. Subsequently, there are aspects of these outdoor recreation spaces that need increased support, maintenance, and overall stewardship. In 2015, the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism at the University of Utah and the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) created the Wasatch Front Urban Ranger Program (WFURP), a trail ambassador program featuring student volunteers from the University of Utah. Each Urban Ranger has three primary duties: public engagement, performing light maintenance, and collecting data on various aspects of trail use. During daily patrols, Rangers inform the public of land management issues and direct them to appropriate resources. They perform trail maintenance, including removing litter, cleaning dog waste, and plucking noxious weeds. They collect data about visitor use and conditions in each area, and regularly report the data to respective management agencies and/or law enforcement and health officials. Rangers recruit a student volunteer for each patrol, which helps increase engagement and enhance knowledge about public lands issues among University students. The program is funded through a number of small grants and the majority of the funding supports a graduate student to coordinate the program. Program partners include the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Jordan River Commission (JRC), and Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Support from additional local and national agencies help train the Rangers, including personnel the Salt Lake City Open Space District, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA Forest Service (USFS), and local law enforcement agencies. 

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Public land management; service learning; trail maintenance urban recreation; volunteerism

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