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When the West High Panthers plunge into a new lap pool at the Northwest Recreation Center in Salt Lake City, they can thank you for building their first eight-lane, competition-size swimming venue.

When hang gliders spread their wings in the hills above Draper, they can thank you for giving them a staging area atop their popular Point of the Mountain perch.

When the summer sun beats upon the Oquirrh Mountains, kiddies can thank you for sculpting an outdoor splash pad in Magna with water spouts, dump buckets and spray cannons.

Yes, you built them. You paid an extra tenth of 1 percent in sales taxes through the Zoo, Arts and Parks program to make that $65 million bond possible. Salt Lake County kicked in an additional $20 million.

The fruits of those funds are appearing all over the valley.

Skateboarders now have a concrete playground of grind rails and bowls at the Copperview Recreation Center in Midvale. Bicyclists now have another mile of trail and several new bridges along the Jordan River. Baseball players now have new Babe Ruth and Little League diamonds in Taylorsville.

The county now has started construction — or finished work — on all of the park and recreation projects proposed in 2006 when voters approved the latest ZAP bond with nearly 70 percent support.

"It has been a great success," County Mayor Peter Corroon said. "These projects will last for decades to come."

This isn't the first time voters have tapped ZAP to expand county recreation. The tax originally was approved in 1996 and paid for a dozen projects including four rec centers, four parks, several pools, an ice sheet and an equestrian area.

Voters renewed that tax in 2004, allowing those collections to continue for 10 more years. Then, in 2006, they approved a bond to get more rec projects rolling faster.

Nowhere will your money be more visible this week than at the Northwest Recreation Center — next door to the old Northwest Community Center in west Salt Lake City — where officials will snip a ceremonial ribbon Friday to open the new $14.8 million fitness complex.

Director Kay Cameron has been taking calls about the grand opening for weeks. "The phones haven't stopped ringing," she mused as construction crews applied a final texture to the locker-room floor.

There is a reason for that. The capital's northwest neighborhoods haven't had a competition-size swimming pool before (the old pool had six lanes and was so run-down that officials filled it with sand and turned it into a volleyball court). They haven't had a fitness center that big (it's three times larger than the old one and includes 31 cardiac machines equipped with personal TV screens). They haven't had a gymnasium with enough room for multiple basketball games, plus an indoor running track (the old one resembled a church multipurpose room with a single, undersized court).

Pausing during a workout at the nearby Northwest Community Center, Charles Garcia could see the new building from the window. "I'm looking forward to it," he said.

Garcia, a 67-year-old fitness buff who frequents the weight room at least three times a week, maintains his tax money was well spent building recreation outlets like those around the county. The new Northwest Recreation Center includes 62,000 square feet and soon will be home to West High's swim team.

"We have got to get America back into working out — get them out of those fast-food places," Garcia said. He motioned toward the machines and added, "You know what this is? This is the fountain of youth. Go, exercise, use the equipment, swim and eat healthy."

Yet the construction of new rec centers, skate parks and trails has come at an unusual time for Utah's most-populous county. The economy has sagged severely during the past two years, putting a pinch on projects everywhere.

Salt Lake County has slashed more than $140 million from its overall budget to make ends meet, putting projects on hold and shrinking services to weather the economic storm.

Despite the downturn, rec centers have continued to rise in Salt Lake City, Herriman and Millcreek; trails have continued to branch out in Sugar House and Cottonwood Heights; skate parks have continued to pop up in Kearns and Midvale.

Why? Because public funds didn't stop paying for those amenities during the recession.

"The projects gave a boost to our economy," Corroon said. "We were able to put construction workers back to work."

That said, the ZAP tax also put funding for recreation centers above other critical services during tough economic times, according to the Utah Taxpayers Association.

Howard Stephenson, a state senator and president of the business-backed association, described ZAP as "bad tax policy," steering money toward a specific purpose — parks and recreation — without any consideration of overall government spending.

"A governing body," he said, "should have to weigh expenses for zoos, arts and parks along with police, fire and streets."

Today, the county has finished all but five of the latest batch of 21 ZAP projects. The Northwest Recreation Center — open to residents for free all weekend — is one of the biggest.

But not the biggest.

Your money is building the J.L. Sorenson Recreation Center in Herriman. That 107,000-square-foot behemoth will include two full-size gyms, an eight-lane competitive pool, six racquetball courts, an indoor running track and enough parking for about 350 cars. The $26.2 million project will be complete in early 2011.

Public funds also are paying for the Millcreek Community Center, which will combine a library, senior center and recreation facility into one complex. The $18 million project will include a full-size gym, an indoor running track and fitness room. Officials hope to finish that project by early 2012.

A few smaller recreational goodies still await, including additions to the Jordan River and Parley's trails and completion of the Kearns Skate Park.

After that, well, it will be time to pay off the debt.

You're invited

The new Northwest Recreation Center will celebrate its grand opening this weekend, giving residents free admission to its gymnasium, pool and fitness rooms on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The complex is located at 1255 W. Clark Ave. (355 North) in west Salt Lake City.