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A new group called "Friends of Moab" has organized to dress up derelict lots throughout the valley with drought-tolerant and ornamental native plants.

The private, non-profit organization has targeted about a dozen highly visible sites around town for plantings this spring, to demonstrate landscaping that will thrive in the desert with minimum maintenance.The plan is to help property owners whose sites are improved with a program to nourish the new vegetation. Civic groups will be asked to "adopt" planting projects on public lands.

The Moab City Council recently endorsed the program and approved a $100 donation for lifetime membership in Friends of Moab. Tom Kuehne, founder of the organization, asked the council to consider further funding in the budget process this summer, to provide water connections and plantings for city properties.

Kuehne said the program reflects a nationwide trend among volunteer groups to take on beautification projects for towns and cities.

The Moab group, according to its mission statement, is promoting landscaping with native vegetation not only in an effort to beautify vacant and neglected lands but also to conserve water, reduce erosion and provide wind and dust breaks, and enlarge wildlife habitat.

Immediate goals of the organization are to:

- Provide educational materials describing which plants thrive best in what environment, which are best for birds and other animals, where to view and harvest matured plants, and how to plant and nourish plants conservatively until they are virtually self-sufficient.

- Prepare landscaping designs and plant vegetation such as desert willow, blackfoot daisy, Apache plume and penstemon on demonstration sites convenient for public viewing.

- Organize periodic cooperative purchases of mass plantings. (Most ornamental desert plants are not mass-grown in local nurseries and must be special-ordered, according to an organizational brochure.)

- Offer consultation on plants and landscaping designs to fit the needs of member property owners.

- Work with local schools and other groups to develop "shelterbelts" and wildlife habitats as living laboratories.

- Provide a newsletter and directory to keep members informed and promote networking.

Kuehne said the organization is now actively recruiting membership. Friends of Moab was incorporated last month and will be governed by a seven-member board of directors.

Memberships range from $5 for students to $30 and up for supporting organizations and corporations. For more information, write to: Friends of Moab, Inc., 350 Marcus Court, Moab, UT 84532.