Salt Lake County begins program that ends entry costs for children at recreation centers

A swimmer swims laps at the Draper Recreation Center in Draper on Feb. 26, 2021. A new pass offers Salt Lake County school-age children access to all 21 of the county's aquatic and ice centers and nine outdoor pools at no additional cost.

A swimmer swims laps at the Draper Recreation Center in Draper on Feb. 26, 2021. A new pass offers Salt Lake County school-age children access to all 21 of the county's aquatic and ice centers and nine outdoor pools at no additional cost. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)


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SANDY — Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson can't recall when, but she remembers joining Martin Jensen during a tour of a new county trail when Jensen brought up an idea he had been thinking about.

Jensen, then the director of Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation, proposed the idea of waiving costs for children to use the county's busy recreation centers. Wilson said she had questions, but she was also "all in."

"I just started to think, 'Well, the operational revenue from what a child pays is relatively limited compared to the capital costs in what we invest in,'" she said, recalling that conversation, before rattling off a list of reasons why the idea made sense. "It just seemed to me that it was worth exploring."

One thing led to another, and it ultimately sparked the creation of Salt Lake County's new "My County Rec Pass." Parents or guardians of school-age children — ages 5 to 17 — can sign their child up to receive a pass at no cost through the pilot program. The pass is also open to 18-year-olds, as long as as they have an ID with them. Proof of Salt Lake County residency is also required in all cases.

Wilson first announced the idea when she unveiled her proposed 2024 budget in October, and she said thousands have already applied since registration began in April. But beginning Saturday, the pass will offer access to all 21 of the county's aquatic and ice centers and nine outdoor pools, as well as its amenities.

There are also a few other age requirements. For example, children 9 and under must be supervised by a parent, guardian or chaperone 14 or older at all times. Patrons must also be at least 16 (or certified if they are 14 or 15) to use weight rooms/fitness areas. Some age restrictions apply to climbing walls, as well.

However, the goal is to encourage more outdoor activities and boost "youth mental health," according to county officials.

"This initiative highlights our dedication to offering accessible, inclusive and engaging recreational opportunities for school-age youth throughout the county," said Doranne Pittz, associate director of Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation, in a statement. "Our goal is to expand our reach and impact, making sure every young person can enjoy the benefits of recreation and community engagement."

Funding for the program comes from the county's tourism, recreation, culture and convention tax revenue. A little more than $2 million went toward the program, according to the county's final budget.

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton explained on social media the County Council believes the project may become "self-sustaining" when parents purchase annual passes to join their children at recreation centers.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.

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