View on Outdoors

St. George City Parks and Trails

A Look Back and Ahead

story and photos by Karen L. Monsen


“Things have certainly changed. Nothing is like it used to be. But things will always change. There is no stopping it. What doesn’t change is the memories. You can always keep the memories.”  

Lyman Hafen, Home Ground Notes on Belonging to a Place


For St. George’s City Parks Department, 2017 will see a major leadership change. After 34 years, Leisure Services Director Kent Perkins will retire

from responsibilities over parks, urban trails, park planning, recreation, community arts, and the Dixie Center. As St. George grew over three decades, park planners followed the historical path other cities have taken to meet community needs for open space, relaxation, and recreation.


Historical Look at City Parks

Even before the American Revolution, colonists set aside open spaces for community gatherings and recreating. According to “City Park Facts” compiled by the Trust for Public Lands, the oldest American city park, Boston Common, was established in 1634 and more than a dozen city parks were founded prior to 1776.


Many early city parks served as “pleasure grounds” according to University of California Berkeley Associate Architecture Professor Galen Cranz. Later, developmental periods included recreational facilities—ball fields and playgrounds with “smaller parks, closer to the tenement districts where working people actually lived” and other parks to “reduce class conflict” and “socialize immigrants.” From the mid-1960s, Cranz noted a trend to an “Open Space System” that integrated urban spaces into a network where “all open space has potential recreational value.”

Tonaquint Nature Center
Tonaquint Nature Center


St. George’s Parks Past

When Perkins began working in St. George, three parks existed: Vernon Worthen, Bluff Street, and J. C. Snow. The department had 8-9 full-time employees compared with today’s 82 full-time and 250 part-time employees. With Bloomington’s annexation, the city added a golf course and three more parks. A major expansion period followed in 1996 when a bond levy provided funds to build the Aquatic Center, Tonaquint Complex, the Canyon Complex, and several recreational facilities. Today, Leisure Services has a $12 million budget funded by impact fees charged on every new home, city general funds, grants, and the RAP tax.


St. George has earned numerous recognitions. It received the Gold Medal Award from the National Parks and Recreation Association in 2015, was selected as the National Softball Association Complex of the year seven years in a row, and every year hosts the Utah Recreational Parks Association leadership academy. The city categorizes its 45 parks and 40-45 miles of trails into community parks, neighborhood parks, recreation facilities, urban trails, and trailheads. Perkins describes, “Our stated plan is to have a neighborhood park within a half-mile from every resident, a community park within a mile, and connect all of our facilities as much as possible through a bike and trail system.”


Neighborhood parks, generally four acres or less in size, serve as backyard extensions parceled out at one per every thousand residents or 250-300 homes. Community parks range from 7-30 acres, are reached by bicycle or car, include large parking lots, and outdoor lights. Community destination parks include the Aquatic Center, the City’s Recreation Center, Tonaquint Nature Center, numerous ball and sport fields, and the newly opened All Abilities Park—Thunder Junction.


All Abilities Park

On October 8, 2016, Thunder Junction opened adjacent to Tonaquint Park on Dixie Drive. Designed by three in-house landscape architects along with outside consultants, it received additional funding through a special grant and private financing. It includes a volcano, treehouse, slides, a sensory garden, musical instruments, a waterfall with splash-play area, and train rides ($1 per person). The park has a dinosaur theme, is wheelchair accessible with a soft ground cover, and incorporates recreational areas and equipment designed so children with disabilities can socialize and play alongside other children.


New Projects

As 2016 ended, Perkins indicated they were finishing Millcreek Park at 2983 East 110 North Circle near Riverside Drive, will open the final phase of the Little Valley Park soccer fields, are planning another ball field in Bloomington, will extend trails from 2450 East to connect to Washington City, construct another trail section at River Road Bridge, and are getting ready to design a community park in the Tonaquint Heights area, expand Sunset Park, and design a mountain bike skills park.


A new Leisure Services Director will be appointed in 2017 to guide future park expansions and oversee the network of connecting trails. Looking back, St. George residents hold fond memories of the times they shared with family, friends, and neighbors in their local parks. We are especially thankful to Kent Perkins for his leadership and community service. Looking forward, we expect St. George city to continue to add parks and trails to meet community needs for open space and recreation.


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