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The City Journals

Artwork raising awareness, appreciation of Jordan River

Sep 07, 2018 01:06PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Artists paint a Jordan River overpass. (Van Hoover, by permission)

By Joshua Wood | [email protected]

The Jordan River is often overlooked as a natural asset of the Salt Lake Valley, but one local nonprofit is working to raise awareness among the community’s youth. 

Hartland Community 4 Youth and Families recently completed a three-year project that focused on beautifying the area around the Jordan River and raising awareness of the river’s importance. The project also provided at-risk youth with the opportunity to get outside to enjoy this underappreciated natural area that flows through their neighborhoods. 

The river serves the Salt Lake Valley as a unique and diverse ecosystem running right through its heart. The project was conceived as a way to beautify the Jordan River Trail while helping to connect young people in the area with the river.

“The initial idea for the project was that there were so many old signs along the trail that had been tagged,” Project Leader Van Hoover said. “They were these old dilapidated signs that were structurally sound, and the thought was how cool it would be for people who were passing by to see cool art to appreciate rather than an old sign.”

During the first two years of the project, five directional signs were painted each year to cover graffiti and to add art to the area expressing appreciation for the river and the trail. The concept evolved to focus on art created by kids and community artists. Inspiration for the artwork was derived from activities that Hartland organized for local kids to enjoy, such as canoeing the river and biking the Jordan River Trail. 

“The overarching goal was to help the community have ownership of the river and the trail,” Hoover said. “They’re a lot less likely to destroy public spaces when they made it better or got to play a part. Now kids can go on the trail and say, ‘I got to help paint that mural.’ To me that’s a powerful connection.” 

During the third year of the project, which concluded this May, larger murals were painted on buildings facing the river near 1700 South and 300 South and a river overpass. The project involved dozens of kids from Hartland’s programs as well as community artists and other volunteers. 

“Everybody that participated saw the city in a new light,” said Pete Vordenberg, project volunteer and Hartland board member. “They discovered this thing flowing through their city that they had no idea was there. They cross over the river in their car or the bus. People don’t think of it as a natural resource.” 

Project organizers hope this will be part of a larger movement to appreciate the Jordan River and what it can mean to the community. “It’s an opportunity for the city and the whole valley to enjoy this natural thing,” Vordenberg said. “Cities can revolve around a river like the Jordan River. This is such a great step in the right direction.” 

“People can think of the river in a different way,” Hoover said. “What sections of the trail are safe? People ask me that all the time. The river is being stigmatized. We can change the way people see it, that it is a positive place to be.” 

The artwork along the river depicts natural features of the Jordan River like pelicans, turtles and trees. The images also show ways that the river can be enjoyed like canoeing. 

“The artwork was very connected to what the kids did on the river,” Hoover said. He hopes their connection to the river will continue to grow and that more people in the community will value the Jordan River as a resource to be protected and enjoyed.