Casey Finlinson has a few tips for anyone heading to this year’s free Pumpkin Walk, coming Saturday, Oct. 27, to the Central Utah Gardens.
Ride the free Utah Valley Express bus to the Lakeview Station, across the street from the gardens, and if you’re among the first 250 passengers, you’ll walk away with a new pedometer. If you’re trying to avoid huge crowds, he said, instead of being there right at noon, shoot for a couple of hours before it closes at 6 p.m.
“It’s our biggest event of the year, usually drawing about 2,000 people,” said Finlinson, the garden’s conservation garden manager. “But once people realize that this could be the last chance they’ll have to see the gardens, we’ll probably see a lot more coming by. And we do have parking, but we’re really encouraging people to take the bus.”
The gardens will become property of new owners as the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, after 50 years in the same location, moves into its new headquarters in northern Orem in January, said Education/Outreach manager Monica Hoyt. The former computer software building that will soon house district operations is about a half-mile from the new Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant and the Don A. Christiansen Regional Water Treatment Plant.
“We have added to our original mission over the last 50 years,” Hoyt said, and that meant adding more people. “Our old facility just can’t hold our staff.”
They’re moving to an area now familiar to many who in recent weeks headed to the Olmsted facility for its dedication and open houses. The district never anticipated the interest it generated, no pun intended, with free tickets to the events gone in 48 hours for each event.
It’s the latest in a rich history of water development that first surfaced as early Utah settlers in the mid-1800s found the land so dry, it was impossible to plow. Though CUWCD wasn’t founded until March 1964, when the federal government called for the formation of a local district to play a role in the ongoing Central Utah Project (CUP), droughts and other challenges through the years called for creative measures to meet homesteaders’ irrigation and culinary needs.
After its foundation, the district found itself also wrangling with environmental and economic concerns, with federal legislators threatening to close CUP down in the late 1970s. A stay of execution was received in the closing moments of argument, sealed with the 1992 Central Utah Project Completion Act and further propelled toward completion in September when federal funding was doubled. Through it all, working from 355 West University Parkway, the district has expanded on its mission, not only expanding on the reservoirs, wells and water treatment facilities that produced the best-tasting drinking water of the Intermountain Region but also championing the endangered June sucker and the algal-infested Utah Lake.
And with the support of the seven counties it serves, the ongoing water development has fueled the district’s economy, the stable supply of water attracting new construction and increased livelihood for its residents. The challenge now, General Manager Gene Shawcroft said in the 2017 Annual Report, is preparing for the future, for a population expected to double by 2065. And part of that collective strategy includes moving to its new quarters at 1426 East 750 North.
Finlinson, who will remain at CUWCD, said they will continue water conservation education at the new headquarters, without a demonstration area at this time. And while much is up in the air, he hopes they’ll have the opportunity to develop new gardens, using what he’s learned after nearly 12 years of nurturing Central Utah Gardens into the conservation park it is today.
“Change is always hard,” he said. “We’re leaving with a lot of great memories and I hope we can build on them.”
They’ll know to shade the pavilions where concerts are held and work into the design the other little nuances that came with time. Most importantly, he added, “we’ll fix the soil (in future locations) so our plants can flourish a little more. We’ll practice what we preach.”
And while the Pumpkin Walk promises a lot of fun, from winners of the Pumpkin Carving Contest held Oct. 26 to the Puking Pumpkin demonstrations and prizes for wearing Halloween costumes, Finlinson urges those who simply want to enjoy the gardens one last time to stop by in mid-October.