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Salt Lake County residents want to see more trails winding through their communities — and they're willing to see tax dollars spent to develop hiking and biking paths.

They'd also like more money dedicated to buy open space to preserve natural areas, to acquire big parcels for development of regional parks and to have more opportunities for swimming — indoors or out.

And they feel it would be worthwhile to elevate the level of park maintenance.

These are a few preliminary conclusions from a Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Division survey to gauge the desires of valley residents as the County Council tries to decide whether to put a parks-development bond on the ballot in November.

"We're continuing to work with Utah State University on the meaning of the data," Parks and Recreation spokesman Martin Jensen told the council last week. "This will be the baseline of our master plan process."

For several months, the council has been considering whether to give voters the option of using a bond to pay for deferred maintenance of existing facilities and the creation of new parks and recreation programs in the valley's fast-growing southern and western quadrants.

When last discussed with the council in early May, county staff was looking at a $123 million bond that would provide $26 million to pay for a backlog of needed repairs and $97 million for new parks.

A bond that size would cost the owner of a $238,000 home about $15 extra per year. Owners of a $500,000 business would pay about $53 more annually, said County Community Services Director Erin Litvack, who oversees parks and recreation.

If the council puts a bond on the ballot, it could be even more difficult to decide which projects to fund with the proceeds. The county already has identified $257 million worth of potential park-development projects. That's where the survey comes in, Jensen said, seeking answers to questions such as "Are we providing the right amenity in the right place?" and "Are we providing enough programs, and where do people want them?"

Surveys were mailed to 20,000 homes in the county, across all ZIP codes, with hopes of getting 700 responses back so the results would be statistically valid; 2,500 usable surveys were returned, Jensen said.

In asking respondents to list their three most important recreation amenities, the survey showed that trail development far outpaced all others. Almost 80 percent of respondents had trail development in the top three, with nearly half giving it top status.

When asked what were the "most important actions to pay for with tax dollars," more than 45 percent of respondents said building walking, hiking and biking trails.

Jensen said there also was solid support for buying land for nature preserves and new parks (especially large regional operations with multiple amenities such as pavilion and picnic areas, children's playgrounds and open lawns) and the construction of indoor and outdoor swimming pools.

The statistics also detailed preferences on a variety of county programs:

• Among sports amenities, respondents felt the county should put the highest priority on providing soccer/football/rugby fields as well as outdoor basketball and tennis courts. There was less enthusiasm for new golf courses or lacrosse/field hockey fields.

That latter finding disappoints Holladay resident Holli Dunn, who made a passionate plea for the parks bond at last week's County Council meeting, seeing it as the primary hope of developing fields for the valley's fast-growing lacrosse leagues.

• The favorite youth activities are swim lessons, followed by fitness and wellness programs and athletic leagues.

• For adults, continuing education and senior fitness programs were the most popular, trailed distantly by organized athletic leagues.

• Farmers markets and after-school programs for students topped the list of most important recreation services delivered by the county.

• Respondents favored using a combination of taxes and fees to pay for activities, emphasizing fees for adult programs and taxes to support programs for disabled people.

While most respondents said they learned of Parks and Recreation programs through the newspaper or from friends and neighbors, almost half said they did not know what the county had to offer.

Only 17 percent learned of programs on the county's website.

In assessing the benefits derived from Parks and Recreation programs, 57 percent of respondents said those facilities and activities make Salt Lake County a better place, while 53 percent said they were important to improving people's physical health (another 15 percent cited mental health benefits).

About 39 percent praised the long-term advantages gained from preserving open space, and 15 percent thought the programs were helpful in reducing neighborhood crime.

Jensen said USU officials expect during the next few weeks to complete their analysis of the survey's 40 questions plus additional comments added by respondents. —

Survey respondents

• 90 percent visited a Salt Lake County park in the past year, most going by car

• Two-thirds found parks in good shape; only 1 percent felt they were poorly maintained

• 45 percent had lived in the county more than 30 years; only 11 percent less than five

• 61 percent were homeowners, almost evenly divided between five age groups ranging from 25-34 on up to 65 and older

• 63 percent were female, 90 percent were Caucasian

Source • Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Division ­—

Hiking heaven?

National Geographic magazine has listed Salt Lake City as one of the 15 best U.S. cities for hiking. "With 10,000-foot peaks within 20 minutes, Salt Lake City may very well be the easiest major American city to get out of, which is why it attracts a large population of outdoor-minded folk," the magazine said.

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