WEST JORDAN — The event had all the makings of a good party — music, food, art, flowers, countless activities — but the main draw for many at Conservation Garden Park's "Party in the Park" was butterflies, released in two waves.
Following one release, there was an audible "Ahhhh" and one young girl exclaimed: "Beautiful!"
For two years, the park has hosted the party, which aims to educate the public and introduce them to the park and its mission. It is one of more than 50 free events and classes held each year at this six-acre botanical garden that drew more than 30,000 people in 2013.
The butterflies help the environment through pollinating, an announcer said. The goal of the garden is to teach Utahns how to better do their part — how to landscape and garden in a way that is conscious of the climate and water resources in the state.
"We're not talking about going to cactus and rocks and cattle skulls," Ashlee Burt, development coordinator for the park, said. "We want to show people you can have a beautiful lush, green landscape and use minimal water. We like to call it water wise landscaping."
The message at this years' party was: "Water in the dark. 8 p.m. to 8 a.m." and the phrase was printed on free reusable bags and on poles that supported the various booths set up throughout the park. Courtney Brown, the conservation programs manager, said that most people already know what to do inside and will turn off the water while they brush their teeth or take quicker showers.
But they might not know that while those activities will save eight and 12 gallons of water, respectively, they could save 1,500 gallons if they watered their lawn one day less each week.
"People use an incredible amount of water on their landscapes," he said. "Sixty to 65 percent of all the potable (drinking) water is used outdoors and that's even though people are only watering in the summer months."
"We just want people to live providently with the resources that we have," Burt said.
Rhonda Thiele, of the Division of Water Quality, was at one station working to educate attendees about the efforts of the Salt Lake County Storm Water Coalition to keep Utah's waters clean.
She handed out fliers about how to properly dispose of hazardous waste, like paint, antifreeze and prescription medications.
"The drain system is separate from the sanitation system, so anything in a storm drain goes to our rivers and creeks untreated," she explained.
Attendees Nick and Chelsea Browning, of South Jordan, heard about the party on Facebook. They came to the park to bring daughter, Allyse, to see the butterflies, but were impressed by everything they saw.
"It's beautiful," Chelsea Browning said. "I love how everything is labeled. I would come back and have a picnic and wander around."
Amber Wells, of West Jordan, said her family has visited the park many times since happening upon it almost 10 years ago.
"It's just peaceful," she said. "I can show the kids the native plants and get ideas for our yard. We've gotten tons of ideas here."
Burt said the park is trying to increase its exposure to the public, leading them to talk to focus groups, who she said are overwhelmingly positive.
One event at the party was a silent art auction, featuring nature and landscape paintings done by seniors at local senior centers who donated the art to raise funds for the park's education and outreach programs.
One artist was Tom Carter, a 91-year-old WWII veteran, who is blind. Another was a woman from Austria who painted a landscape remembered from her native country.
Raelynne Kunz, who organized the auction with Colleen Howcroft, said many of the artists attended the auction and were moved and delighted to see their work displayed and witness the public response. One woman told her how nice it felt to be able to do something that could help others.
"So many of them feel like they're not important anymore," Kunz said. "What they did here to raise money for education for kids is just phenomenal."Comment on this story
The beauty of each painting spoke to the larger message of the party — the appreciation for nature.
"We're very happy to be the peoples garden," Burt said. "We're all about protecting our environment in ways that make sense."