“We Must Act:” Green Space and Recreation in Salt Lake County


Recreation has no bounds;

It has no beginning or end;

It recognizes no age, color, or creed

Time or season.

Recreation makes work light,

Keeps minds young

And bodies fit.        

Salt Lake County’s First Annual Report of Recreation, from which this poem was taken, was published in 1947 and reflects the value that the County placed on developing recreational programs in the mid-20th century.   Prior to 1947, individual schools and cities administered recreation programs, but this report marks the first year of a county government sponsored effort.   The 1947 report reveals that the County focused on creating various activity-based programs.  These ranged from familiar activities such as soccer and skiing, to indoor activities such as radio broadcasts and upholstery classes. The report also charted the activities of boys, girls, and adults in various activities, and reveals that the role adults most often played in 1947 was “spectator.”  Apparently soccer moms and dads have a history in Salt Lake County.

First Annual Recreation Department Report, 1947.

First Annual Recreation Department Report, 1947.

One of the highlighted annual events that demonstrated an early affinity for outdoor recreation was Huck Finn Day, which the county sponsored along with the State Fish and Game Department.    The event featured fishing competitions for children 14 and under, as well as awards for “best Huck Finn” and “best girl Tomboy.” The drawing below representing Huck Finn Day is one of the report’s many quirky hand-drawn illustrations.

Huck Finn Day004 cropped

Two decades later, in 1969, another Recreation and Parks Department report demonstrated the shift in emphasis toward land and green space.  The report entitled “We Must Act” includes an impassioned speech from Gary C. Swensen, the Superintendent of the Recreation and Parks Department.  “While we sleep our open-space shrinks, our rivers and streams become polluted,” Swensen warned.  “We must not allow our abundance of open space to become our undoing.”  Though some of Swensen’s predictions for the future, like his idea of an “age of leisure” in which people would work four days a week and retire at 60, seem humorous in retrospect, Swensen’s call for a greater emphasis on obtaining land for public use echoes debates that still take place in Salt Lake County.

The 1969 plan included blue prints for proposed park development.   One of the blueprints given was for the development of what the report called “Millcreek Park.”  

Mill Creek Park Plan

This site now exists as part of Big Cottonwood Regional Park.  This link demonstrates that the County eventually developed the site to reflect those 1969 plans.


First Annual Report of Recreation, Salt Lake County Recreation Department, 1947. Salt Lake County Archives.

“We Must Act” Report, Salt Lake County Recreation and Parks Department, 1969. Salt Lake County Archives.

Special thanks to our Volunteer Archivist, Jenel Cope, PhD, for researching and writing this entry. 

This entry was posted in Salt Lake history, Utah Archives Month, Utah history and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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