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South Jordan Journal

Greenspace and free-speech advocate’s blood, sweat, tears all over new East Riverfront Park

Oct 14, 2019 12:04PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

SoJo Mayor Dawn Ramsey (middle) is the main “cutter” of the ribbon for South Jordan’s new all-abilities park. Members of the city council, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, and a member of the Playworld park equipment aid the ribbon-cutting. (South Jordan City)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected] 

You won’t find her name in any of the recent write-ups, but South Jordan resident Janalee Tobias is, unofficially, one of the visionaries, stewards and—through unparalleled volunteerism of time and energy, and ultimately, legal-defense dollars—true “donors” of South Jordan City’s new all-inclusive, all-abilities East Riverfront Park playground.

Mayor Dawn Ramsey recently posted video and photos of the mid-July ribbon-cutting for the park on her personal Facebook page. The images feature her and the SoJo city council as well as Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson. 

The mayor’s write-up credits park funders, including SoJo and Salt Lake County (through its ZAP fund), as well as the SoJo Rotary Club and a trio of foundations: the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation and the Michel Foundation.

An interesting post, prompting imagination and the thirst for backstory, followed the mayor’s missive.

Vice chair of the South Jordan Planning Commission Julie Holbrook, posting as a Facebook friend of the mayor’s and as a private resident, suggested that a more appropriate name for the park would be “Tobias Park.”

It is a comment that, as of press time, still stands on the mayor’s Facebook page.

July 2019 ribbon cutting with certified-inclusive design

For years, SoJo has been touting a new $400,000 all-inclusive, all-abilities playground at East Riverfront Park (10991 South Riverfront Parkway).

SoJo officials announced the park would be open a year before it actually was.

The playground—said to be the first-of-its-kind in Salt Lake County—meets or exceeds all qualifications composed of modern “inclusive” design.

The design facilitates a variety of movements—spinning, sliding, rocking, swinging and climbing. These each may stimulate different parts of the brain, muscles and sensory systems to help children (and, arguably, adults) grow and develop—no matter what age they are or abilities they have.

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania-based vendor Playworld, the company providing the equipment for the playground, is an organization that boasts the constitutional right to play as an all-inclusive right for all ages and all abilities.

Playworld officials note that one in five people in communities live with a visible or invisible disability and charges that “the time has come to go way beyond ADA and ‘accessible’ standards.” 

The company is doing just that by providing equipment for all of us—those with physical and cognitive disabilities, autism, visual and auditory impairments, and even “the Silver Tsunami” that is our booming aging population, outpacing growth of any other age group.

The company also touts the new SoJo park as one of its most unique installations in the country.

“It’s hard to top the majesty of the mountain ranges in the distance, but this orange and majestic purple play space provides a striking contrast,” the vendor boasts on its website.

While comparing majestic mountains to majestic play hills may not be a thing, the park is receiving rave reviews, from young and old alike.

♬ With ev’ry development—turn, turn turn ♬ 

Pete Seeger’s song from the 1950s (and the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes which is the basis of the song) seems to really apply to the development journey of this park.

Where the all-abilities park lies right now was intended to have been part of the office-park development that Anderson Development did in South Jordan. 

Learning of the development plans, greenspace activist from 1996 to the present, Tobias waged a notorious anti-development campaign of the Jordan River Bottoms area. 

Due to the ceaseless efforts of Tobias and others she recruited from her neighborhood, hundreds of residents started coming to public hearings to protest what was seen as a massive, inappropriate co-opted development of the Jordan River riparian river bottoms that were gifted to SoJo from the state or Utah and earmarked as a park for the city. 

The grassroots-greenspace recruiting efforts of Tobias and colleague Judy Feld galvanized anti-river bottoms development and were so successful that the SoJo public hearings needed to be re-routed to the South Jordan Middle School to accommodate the hundreds showing up. 

Anderson Development retaliated with the hammer of threat, sending warning letters to Tobias and Feld. Multi-million-dollar lawsuits against the two ensued.

Ultimately, the matter went to the Utah Supreme Court. The court ruled that the lawsuit against Tobias and Feld and 20 unnamed “Jane and John Does” from their neighborhood who had joined them in supporting their greenspace defense, unconstitutionally chilled freedom of speech and public participation.

Even though “right” by the court and protecting free-speech for others in Utah challenging developers in public hearings, their actions came at a high cost.

Tobias and Feld reported having exhausted personal funds and even having second-mortgaged their homes to defend themselves to what the court ultimately determined was an unrighteous violation of the Citizen Participation in Government Act.

Teary-eyed ribbon cutting and a legacy already enjoying the park

At the July ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new park, a teary-eyed, painfully victorious Tobias, who stood, anonymous, a spectator to the ceremony, told city council members how much she appreciates the park. “It was a big effort,” she acknowledged.

The irony is huge in that also in attendance at the July ribbon cutting for Tobias Park—oops, East Riverfront Park—was Tobias’s 2-year-old grandson, Boston, who had actually broken his leg while playing on a slide at another, non-inclusive, non-all-abilities park.

“Boston and all of us had been sad about his leg—that he broke on a slide at a regular park—so we were all in heaven!” Tobias said.

Boston’s full enjoyment of the park pays off comments that Don Tingey, strategic services director with South Jordan City, made to the South Jordan Journal two years ago, when the city first released the design for the park—“It’s the kind of park where a 2-year-old will be able to play on it with his 5-, 6- or 7-year old sibling.”

That 2-year-old can indeed now play with siblings and friends, yes, and—thanks to the new all-ages, all-inclusive, freedom-of-speech defined park—a broken-legged 2-year-old can play on all elements of the park with his greenspace- and free-speech activist grandma.


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