Since pioneer times, the Jordan River - a sluggish, narrow stream hardly qualifying for the word "river" - has been mostly an eyesore. Fifteen years ago, in an attempt to change the negative image to a positive one, a plan was launched to transform the entire length of the Jordan into an attractive parkway.

While the concept of the 130-mile Provo Jordan River Parkway - involving both flood control and outdoor recreation - is exciting and far-seeing, and has drawn support of federal, state, and local officials, the project has fallen on lean times.Little of the greenery and facilities to line the banks of the Provo and Jordan rivers has been put into place, although substantial work has been done in Salt Lake City from 10th North to 21st South.

The chief difficulty has been, of course, financing. With the state having a budget crisis the past few years, the parkway has not rated high on the list of state priorities. That's understandable, but the project must not be allowed to disappear.

Since the parkway authority was first formed in 1973, the state has spent $11.4 million on the project, local governments have come up with $2.7 million, and the federal government, $2.8 million in the name of flood control and conservation.

Some critics complained this week that too much of the money has gone into buying land for the parkway, and that as a result, little development has been done. They argue that some of the major parks along the waterway should have been developed first, to make sure they would be usable when money ran short.

Yet the complaint about land purchases is short-sighted. In the development of the parkway, the first concern must be property. Delays would only drive up the price or even cause some land to become unavailable.

With much of the property in hand, development can move forward if money is provided.

In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with a piecemeal approach to building the parkway. It would be nice to be able to finish the project in one massive effort. But lacking that, doing the work bit by bit at least keeps the parkway going.

A bigger push probably could be made to collect private donations for the parkway, as was done in earlier years. This source of revenue - while perhaps not large - should at least be harvested.

Parks and other recreation facilities are not frills; they are an integral and necessary part of the quality of life in an urban area and must be encouraged and supported.