Salt Lake City is closing popular Artesian Well Park for major renovations

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Carl Mayer fills bottles with spring water at Artesian Wells Park in Salt Lake City at 808 South, 500 East on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. The city is temporarily closing the popular artesian spring for drinking water, for a renovation and landscaping upgrade designed at making the small park more appealing.

A small Salt Lake City park popular for its artesian well water is being temporarily closed.

Construction barriers now surround Artesian Well Park, at 808 S. 500 East, and work has started to improve the look of the 0.10-acre green space, strip away some of the brick, and improve access to the well’s waters.

“That whole corner is basically going to change,” said project manager Nancy Monteith, with the city’s Public Services Department.

The Central City neighborhood park has attracted people for over a century as a natural spring-fed source of drinking water. Historical records suggest early settlers replenished their oxen there while carrying granite cut from Little Cottonwood Canyon for construction of the Salt Lake Temple.

The $355,000 renovation project — developed by the city working with members of the Central City Community Council — will also add seating and other features to make the park more of a community hub, Monteith said.

(Courtesy of Salt Lake City) City officials are temporarily closing Artesian Wells Park in Salt Lake City at 808 S. 500 East, for a renovation and landscaping upgrade designed at making the small park more appealing and improve access to its popular artesian well.

The city expects work to be completed by March or April, depending on weather conditions, she said.

A 2017 survey about usage of the park drew responses from 220 area residents, with nearly 80% of them saying they lived outside the site’s 84102 ZIP code. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they have been visiting the park for more than 10 years.

“So here's this teeny little park with this incredible regional draw,” Monteith said. “And these are people coming to collect water.”

According to Luke Garrott, a former Salt Lake City councilman who lived near the artesian well for nearly 15 years, the park’s design flaws made it “really dysfunctional as a public place, except for the well, which brings hundreds and thousands of people every month.”

“So it needed to function in both ways,” Garrott said.

While construction work is underway, the city is referring residents to another artesian well located at the southwest corner of nearby Liberty Park, at 700 East and 1300 South, for their water collection needs.

The project also comes as Wasatch Community Gardens’ Salt Lake City campus, a block east of the park at 615 E. 800 South, is preparing for an expansion to add more gardens, a greenhouse, indoor classrooms, kitchen facilities, a community center, offices and an eight-unit affordable apartment complex.

Improvements planned at Artesian Well Park will focus on making its well accessible from all directions, reducing the need for residents to line up to fill containers.

Crews will add spigots to the well, which is said to draw from an underground aquifer with a recharge area that extends from Red Butte Creek beneath the University of Utah campus. That will include a high-capacity spigot to fill five-gallon jugs.

The project will also add new signs, benches, paving and plantings, while also removing some of the brick surface landscaping to make it more attractive and to better allow rainfall to permeate into the ground, Monteith said.

Garrott said he hoped to petition the city to rename the renovated park after the late W. Paul Wharton and Ethel C. Hale, community activists who lived nearby. Married for more than 50 years, Wharton and Hale were longtime anti-war and human rights advocates who helped create listener-supported radio station KRCL-FM, based in Salt Lake City.

Hale, who died in 2016 at age 94, fought for gender equality among other causes and was one of the city’s first female bus drivers. Wharton, a lawyer who championed the rights of seniors, died in February at age 82.

“They were involved in a lot of great projects and inspired a lot of people,” said Garrott, who teaches political science at the U.

Hale and Wharton were said to love gardening and feeding birds and named their Central City property Singing Waters, according to their obituaries. They were also sometime critics of the design of Artesian Well Park, calling it “Brick Oven Park” due to its hardscape surfaces, Garrott said.

So naming the renovated park after them, he said, “is fitting. The redesign is meant to open all that up.”

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