Park dedications often signal the coming of development: new playgrounds, softball diamonds or soccer fields.

Thursday's dedication of the Dimple Dell Amphitheater and Wildlife Ponds was a celebration of open space - natural land preserved and protected amid urban growth.Salt Lake County and Sandy city leaders gathered with community members Thursday to mark the opening of the first phase of the park's Nature Education Center.

The venture is the result of years of work between the two government entities and civic groups, said Sandy spokesman Rick Davis.

"It will be one of the area's great amenities . . . one of the greatest co-op projects ever between the county and a city," Davis said.

Central to the first phase opening is the new 500-seat amphitheater located in the natural bowl southwest of the Nature Education Center site, 2800 E. Dimple Dell Road (10600 South).

Besides serving as a reception and orientation area to the park, the amphitheater will afford a unique multiuse venue for cultural events and Utah school groups, Davis said.

The amphitheater was built by Salt Lake County with private and matching government funds.

Sandy is now planning to build parking lot and trail on the park's west end to provide better access to the park area.

The 650-acre park is an urban natural area and wildlife preserve that has become a home to several animal species and native flowers and grasses. Marking a line between the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and the Jordan River Parkway, Dimple Dell Park also features American Indian and pioneer historic sites.

"The park enhances recreation activities about 100 percent in this area," Davis said, calling the park a magnet for hikes, bikers, outdoor enthusiasts and eques-trians.

Robin Cederlof, a member of the Dimple Dell Citizen Advisory Board, said fund-raising is under way to build the Nature Education Center. The future center will include classrooms and serve as a gathering place for school groups and individuals venturing out into the park.

The park experience is designed to introduce Utahns to the area's natural history, geology and plant life.

"It's to help us learn about the way things were before we got here and changed things," Cederlof said.