The University of Utah’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism in partnership with the National Park Service developed an Urban Rangers program servicing parts of the 100-mile Bonneville Shoreline Trail, which runs directly behind campus. U students act as volunteer rangers to become stewards of the area.
Utilized heavily by U students and the surrounding community, the Bonneville Shoreline Trail routinely receives hundreds of hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and dog walkers each day. Traveling by bike and foot between Hogle Zoo and the top of Dry Creek Canyon, the rangers provide visitor service information, educate trail users about responsible trail etiquette, ecology and management and help keep the area clean.
“This project engages college-aged youth in the wild land-urban interface and connects people to the outdoors by increasing trail knowledge, demonstrating responsible care of natural lands and offering information about other nearby historic trails,” said Matt Brownlee, assistant professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and co-coordinator of the Urban Ranger program. “The program perfectly aligns with our department’s commitment to foster the next generation of resource stewards and outdoor health advocates.”
The project wouldn’t be possible without the National Park Service Challenge Cost Share Program, a partnership with the Outdoor Foundation that provides grants to promote urban outreach, youth engagement and connecting people to the outdoors.
“The partnership with the U directly aligns with the National Park Service’s centennial goal of interacting with a new generation to help them discover local parks, national historic trails and public lands,” said Marcy DeMillion, community planner for the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. “It directly engages youth, involves healthy and fun outdoor activities and targets an important urban population along Utah’s Wasatch Front.”
The program will be integrated into the curriculum of the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism and will be used as a mechanism for students to learn about recreation programming and outdoor recreation participation. There are seven rangers managing about 10-14 student volunteers each week throughout the academic year. In total, the program hopes to engage 40 rangers, 300 school-aged youth, and 400 U student volunteers over two years.
Not only will the program engage youth in healthy outdoor recreation on public lands, the U will track health outcomes, such as caloric output per mile, from trail use and disseminate this information to the public so the trail can be understood as a health resource as much as a recreation and ecological one.
“The Urban Ranger program is an excellent example of an innovative and needed education initiative that will help the thousands of Shoreline users better understand the environment they’re experiencing,” said Tim Brown, executive director for Tracy Aviary and Mayor Ralph Becker’s appointed lead on enhancing the city’s environmental education programs. “With a greater understanding of the environment, we expect greater appreciation of and stewardship for it.”
Agencies and entities that have contributed to the Urban Rangers initiative include the National Park Service, the Natural History Museum of Utah, University of Utah Outdoor Adventures, Competitive Cyclist, Mountain Khakis, Cotopaxi, University of Utah Global Change and Sustainability Center, University of Utah Sustainability Office, University of Utah Facilities Office, Tracy Aviary, Jordan River Commission, Salt Lake City Public Utilities, Red Butte Gardens and the United States Forest Service.