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Mike Anderson, Mike Anderson, Deseret News
New piece of art unveiled at the Ogden River Parkway Thursday, May 31, 2012. While most visitors like the interactive sculpture called "Water Cycle," many question the $300,000 price tag.

OGDEN — The Ogden River Parkway used to be a scary place to go, but thanks to some improvements, it is slowly turning into a family-friendly place.

While most visitors to the park like the new piece of art unveiled last month, they are a little concerned about the $300,000 price tag.

Ogden River Renovation project manager Crystal Young has seen the renovation through since the beginning of construction two-and-a-half years ago.

"It's amazing, an amazing transformation," she said. "I think that people were scared to come down here. (It was a) very blighted neighborhood, especially in the later years. All the buildings were condemned."

Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell agreed.

"There were shopping carts in the river, old car bodies in the river, it was a scary place to go," Caldwell said. "You didn't go walk down there. You certainly didn't walk down there at night. It was just a place to hide."

The Ogden River Parkway links more than a dozen of the city's top attractions. The 9.6-mile pathway along the river meanders through the heart of the city. The trail begins at the mouth of Ogden Canyon and ends at the south end of Fort Buenaventura just west of 24th Street.

The latest addition is an art piece unveiled last month. It's called 'The Water Cycle,' and it's being touted as the centerpiece of this long-term project. It's designed to stand out in its new home, near the 1900 block of Grant Avenue. The sculpture, created by Andy Dufford, of Denver, is inspired by the cycle of water from snowfall to runoff.

The area also has plenty of places for people sit down, relax and enjoy the interactive sculpture.

Lori Carter recently took her family out for a day along the Ogden River Parkway. She said parks like this are a stark contrast to what the riverbanks used to be. "It's come a long ways," she said. "They've added to it, and it's nice."

People can come up and turn the artwork's wheel, causing water to pump out. It's symbolic of the Ogden watershed and the importance of preserving areas like the Ogden River Parkway.

"It's real pretty. It adds something real pretty to the park," said parkway visitor Gerald Titus. But he confessed he's also concerned about its $300,000 price tag.

"I'm not saying it's not nice, it's very nice, but if it cost that much money, I think it's a high-priced amenity," Titus said.

"I'd like to see (the money put into) benches, or something else people could enjoy the river here," said Dan Ferrin, another parkway visitor. But Ogden administrators say the money used to purchase the artwork came from a city fund earmarked for art. Caldwell said that money can only be spent for that purpose.

"Communities can be defined by art," Caldwell said. "Art's a critical part of communities. We wanted to make sure that we identified unique art projects and identified who we are."

Many people who have visited the parkway overwhelmingly supported the river improvements as a whole. "It's fun to walk. I mean, I walk it almost every day," said Kyle Brett, who lives near the parkway. "It used to be … not a place that we would care to walk."

But many of them wonder if the $300,000 should have been spent on just one thing. "The art is nice, but wow, way overpriced," Ferrin said.

The Ogden Arts Council says art will continue to be a theme along the River Restoration project, but this will likely be the biggest purchase. So far, about $6 million has gone into the project as a whole, most of that coming from federal grants.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc