Twenty years ago, Phil Carroll took on a volunteer job to organize a service project for his Avenues neighborhood LDS Church Stake (a geographically linked group of LDS ward congregations).
The plan: Volunteers would gather at Memory Grove Park a popular City-managed space at Canyon Road and 2nd Avenue that serves as a memorial to the nation’s war dead. They would spruce up the place—trim trees and shrubs, pull weeds, clean up litter.
Phil pretty much thought, one and done.
But on Saturday, May 13th, Phil will be there again, sunblock applied, sleeves rolled up, with assignment sheet in hand. The church project long ago became an independent, community event. Phil, the quiet and unassuming one-time chair of the Greater Avenues Community Council (GACC), has been in charge since 2001, and continues to give his time to the Annual Memory Grove Cleanup.
The event has evolved into one of Salt Lake City’s most highly attended community volunteer events. Saturday’s expected attendance is 300. Sponsored by the GACC with major support from Intermountain Healthcare’s LDS Hospital, the cleanup is open to any and all who appreciate the park and want to pitch in to beautify the City.
Volunteers need to bring a pair of work gloves and wear weather-appropriate clothing. Salt Lake City provides tools and heavy equipment. The work begins at 8 a.m. and a free lunch of hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, chips, soda, and cookies will be provided at 11 a.m. Intermountain Healthcare’s LDS Hospital has co-sponsored the project for 15 years, and is providing the lunch and bottled water to volunteers.
“I’ve always been impressed by the love people have for City Creek Canyon and Memory Grove,” Phil said, reflecting on the past two decades. “There’s nothing else like that space in most of the country. You can start downtown and be on a hiking or biking trail in the mountains in 15 minutes. So the cleanup became something for people to do. Something to help pay back all of the beauty they enjoyed right in the City.”
The project became cemented on the calendar for the second Saturday morning in May.
“It just caught on. It’s just something people know is coming and they plan for it,” Phil said.
While Phil downplays his role in pulling the event together each year, preferring to share credit with others in the community, those who know him are quick to give him a shout-out.
“Phil’s efforts mean so much to the community. Coordinating neighbors, City employees and IHC these past 20 years is the epitome of community organizing,” said Nate Salazar, Mayor’s Office Community Liaison for Council District 3, which includes the GACC.
Each year, organizers typically choose a specific project in addition to general trimming, pulling weeds, and picking up. On Saturday, volunteers will fan out on the western hillside of the Grove and remove overgrown dry brush and litter.
Mayor Jackie Biskupski plans to take part with her family.
“It’s a perfect opportunity for people to get together on a nice spring day and give just a few hours of their time to help improve our City,” the Mayor said. “We look forward to it every year.”
When the historic tornado of August 1999 swept through Salt Lake City, it cut a devastating path through the State Capitol grounds and Memory Grove, uprooting dozens of established trees and literally chopping off the tops of others. Much of the early cleanup work at the first event in 2001 centered on tending to newly planted saplings to replace the old-growth trees.
Most of the trees have adapted well, and are now tall and healthy specimens.
The emphasis each year is always on “real issues,” as Phil describes them. This means work that can be seen, fully finished, and appreciated by the end of the day — cosmetic improvements to the park, safety enhancements, removal of toxic weeds.
And he hopes people will keep making it a family affair.
“It’s an important education for kids,” he said. “We have tasks that even young kids can do. It teaches them how to make a contribution to their community, and they can look at their work and say ‘I can actually do something to make a difference.’ ‘’
The annual cleanup also builds the Avenues community by reinforcing the relationship with LDS Hospital, the neighborhood’s largest and busiest business.
“LDS Hospital has enjoyed a wonderful partnership with the Avenues Community Council for many years,” said LDS Hospital Administrator Jim Sheets. “As a fixture in the community for the last 112 years, providing health care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we truly value the collaborative relationship with Avenues residents. Whether it be the Memory Grove Clean Up, Avenues Street Fair, or Community Health Fairs, we enjoy the opportunity to partner with the Council to help people live the healthiest lives possible.”
The 20th Annual Memory Grove Cleanup starts at 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 13th. Volunteers may enter at the main gate, 300 North Canyon Road. Everyone is welcome. Water, tools, and equipment are provided, and a complimentary lunch will be served at 11 a.m. Bring a pair of work gloves and dress appropriately for the warm weather. Parking is extremely limited, so volunteers are encouraged to walk, bicycle, or use public transit.