Red Hills Desert Garden opens to public; STGnews Videocast, Photo Gallery

ST. GEORGE – Touted as Utah’s first desert conservation garden, the Red Hills Desert Garden in St. George officially opened to the public Wednesday.

The Red Hills Desert Garden, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2015 | Photo By Mori Kessler, St. George News
The Red Hills Desert Garden, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2015 | Photo By Mori Kessler, St. George News

Set between the Washington County Water Conservancy District’s office building and nearby Pioneer Park along Red Hills Parkway, the $3 million conservation garden covers 5 acres and features a landscape of over 170 low-water-use plants and an 1,150-foot meandering stream. Paths crisscross the site and move along and over the stream, and benches are situated under shade structures, offering visitors a place to sit and enjoy the desert scenery.

A part of the path leads into an artificial slot canyon covered in red faux rock that blends into the native landscape. At the end of the slot canyon is a viewing area where visitors can observe fish native to the Virgin River swimming in the stream.

“It’s a great place to come and enjoy the peace and quiet, a little water, and learn something, as well,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said.

The primary focus of the garden is to teach and promote water conservation and landscaping principles, while also offering visitors a chance to learn about the environment of the Virgin River and the six native fish species that populate it.

Right to left) 7-year-old Maxwell Kearl, along with 10-year-old Annabella Blackmer and 3-year-old Mia Blackmer, crossing the steam at the Red Hills Desert Garden, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2015 | Photo By Mori Kessler, St. George News
From right, 7-year-old Maxwell Kearl, 10-year-old Annabella Blackmer and 3-year-old Mia Blackmer crossing a steam at the Red Hills Desert Garden, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2015 | Photo By Mori Kessler, St. George News

Though not completely installed yet, signs giving details about the plants in the desert garden will feature codes visitors can scan with their smartphones to receive details about the plants.

By showing that a desert landscape can still look attractive while saving on water use, county water district officials are hoping the garden will motivate members of the public to follow suit with their own landscaping.

“We wanted to showcase that you can have lovely landscapes and still be conscious of less water in this environment,” Ron Thompson, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said. “… My hope here is this will be a great desert education facility (where) people (visit) and get comfortable with what works in the desert and what doesn’t.”

Traditional landscapes can use up to 60-70 inches of water per year, while the desert landscaping featured at the garden takes 17-20 inches of water per year, said Corey Cram, associate general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District

The Red Hills Desert Garden, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2015 | Photo By Mori Kessler, St. George News
The Red Hills Desert Garden, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2015 | Photo By Mori Kessler, St. George News

The Red Hills Desert Garden came about through a partnership between the City of St. George, the Washington County Water Conservancy District and the Virgin River Program. Other agencies, like the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Utah Division of Water Resources, were also involved.

People are attracted to water, Cram said, and while the prime focus of the desert garden is to encourage water conservation, the district also wanted to provide a means through which the public could view the Virgin River’s native fish and learn more about them.

“We wanted to make this something people could appreciate and see,” Cram said. “We have tens of thousands of people who live here and have never seen a native fish out of the Virgin River. … It’s very difficult for people to appreciate a fish if they’ve never seen it.”

Now, garden visitors can view the fish in an artificial habitat built to replicate the Virgin River. The water used for the stream is pumped in from the Virgin River via nearby Skyline Pond.

“This is Virgin River water for Virgin River fish for Virgin River education,” Cram said.

Virgin River chub as seen through the viewing area, Red Hills Desert Garden, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2015 | Photo By Mori Kessler, St. George News
Virgin River chub as seen through the viewing area, Red Hills Desert Garden, St. George, Utah, May 20, 2015 | Photo By Mori Kessler, St. George News

So far, some Virgin River chub and speckled dace have been placed in the stream. The speckled dace have already begun to reproduce in the stream.

“That tells us the stream is working,” Cram said.

The fish in the stream won’t just survive but will thrive there, he said.

While Wednesday marks the garden’s official opening to the public, people have already been taking advantage of the site, and some have already visited many times. Thompson said he’s had many people tell him they enjoy the desert garden a great deal.

“I’ve been so impressed,” St. George resident Suzan Hawes said while visiting the garden. “The landscaping is absolutely gorgeous. … The community is going to love it.”

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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4 Comments

  • arrowone May 21, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Nice to spend out tax dollar so wisely. The public should have a say on how their money is spent.

  • ForkliftJones May 21, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    What a waste of my taxes….

  • wilbur May 21, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Nice luncheon area for those fatted cats at the WCWCD, eh?

  • beacon May 25, 2015 at 7:25 am

    This may be a desert garden, but it’s not the first. Salt Lake has a garden that has had desert landscaping with drought-tolerant plants for years. So, this seems to be one more example of the WCWCD trying to get credit where credit it not due. Not only have they spent our tax money poorly, but they have drawn more traffic to Red Hills Parkway that has little parking. People park along side the road and, mark my words, someday there’s going to be a serious accident or death due to this poor planning. Perhaps they’ll try to get more desert tortoise habitat to expand parking and try to correct for their poor decision.. That’s the way the decision makers seem to like to do it. Make a poor decision and then make more to add on top of that. We have a perfectly good Virgin River where people could have been educated about the real thing. Just goes to show how much “fakeness” our water people rely on.

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