SALT LAKE CITY — It looked like an Easter egg hunt.
Hundreds of elementary students swarmed the hills around This Is the Place Heritage Park on Friday, carrying plastic sacks and scavenging through the bushes and grass. Often, a student would find something and yell out.
The Days of '47 officially kicked off Friday with the annual Pioneer Kids Service Project. Fifth- and sixth-grade students from Mountain Shadows Elementary in West Jordan and Burton Elementary in Kaysville spent the morning cleaning up the park and learning about Utah history.
Organizers had intended to have the students stain the park's many wooden surfaces, but the wet weather prompted a change of plans and the young volunteers were asked to help remove garbage.
"The idea is for the kids to have an experience of what the pioneers used to do," Service Project Committee Chairwoman Joyce Ellertson said. She said the project helps get the park ready for the summer season and gives students a chance to do service in a historic location.
"The kids love it," Ellertson said.
While it required some adaptation, the rain hardly dampened spirits. The 300 students essentially sprinted around the various sites and were eager to boast to their friends about the many treasures they had discovered.
Fifth-grade teacher and chaperone Nancy Farnes said her students were glad to be outside after a week of mostly indoor recesses. Her students, from Burton Elementary, visited the park for a field trip in the past, but she said the service element adds to the experience.
"I love coming," she said. "Maybe they'll be a little more cautious about throwing garbage on the ground."
Luke Allen and Jordan Anderson, two of her students, said they participated in a field trip to the park last year but preferred the service project. They recalled a particularly dreaded task during that field trip: dancing with a girl.
"I like cleaning more," Luke said. "Last time we had to dance, like square dancing with girls."
Jordan said after a week of indoor recess, it was nice to be outside without worrying about getting caught by the principal. He said he'd like to come back to the park in the future.
"I hope we do because it's a lot of fun," Luke said.
While the project is meant to be an educational and fun experience, park facilities and security worker Matt Peck said the work done by the students, and other service groups throughout the year, goes a long way in maintaining the park.
"For us, it helps us out immensely because of the limited staff we have," Peck said. "If it weren't for service groups we'd have a hard time keeping up with everything."
Mountain Shadows Elementary teacher Ed Glass said the service project is a good way to give both a learning experience and an activity to the students. He said the school regularly participates in the project and sees a good turnout from the students.
"They're not in class," Glass said. "That's the most important thing where they can get out together."
Members of the Days of '47 Pageant royalty also joined the service project. Courtney Curtis, the pageant queen, and her second attendant, Megan Howell, met with students and helped with pick up garbage.
"We do a lot of functions like this," Curtis said. "It's a fun way to talk to people and learn new things."
The Pioneer Kids project is the first official event of the Days of '47 season, Ellertson said. Upcoming events include a Pops Concert at Abravenel Hall on July 8 and 9, the ninth annual Family Fun Day at the Utah State Fairpark July 9, the Days of '47 Rodeo July 18-25 and the annual Days of '47 parade on July 25.