Two pressing priorities for Utah at present and in the long term include smart urban planning and addressing growing mental wellness needs. How can the two be addressed in a way that benefits the quality of life for all Utahns?  

A couple of cities have done just that and deserve attention for the leadership that might be emulated in other parts of the state.  

First, like many Utahns I struggle with managing my anxiety. I’ve consulted licensed medical professionals in this regard since I was a teenager, and I try to do things that enhance my well-being, like getting adequate sleep and nurturing meaningful relationships with my family.  

But there is one other habit that is my secret weapon. Something I deploy on a daily basis in a variety of settings that makes as big a difference as medication or therapy. That strategy is exercise, something that has been optimized by thoughtful city leaders and community groups.  

South Provo neighborhoods

Each day at about 11 a.m., I lace up my trainers and spend my lunch hour walking through south Provo, just below the campus of Brigham Young University.  

Is 30 minutes of exercise a day enough to keep you healthy?

With much of the Wasatch Front blanketed by similar looking subdivisions, I’m grateful to the neighborhoods and community organizations that have created unique identities for each of the different historical districts on the city grid.  

There are traditional homes from the early 20th century with broad porches, sometimes flanked by flags declaring allegiance to a particular university or cause, not to mention modern apartment complexes covered in glass and steel which provide a nice contrast to the historical properties.  

The Maeser neighborhood close to Provo’s City-County Government Complex has to be my favorite. I’m grateful to the individual homeowners that have taken pride in their property and provided variety for admiring flaneurs (walkers) like myself.  

Spanish Fork River Trail

I live in South Utah County, so on the weekends I visit what I consider to be my “ribbon of life,” the Spanish Fork River Trail

These trails, spread along the Wasatch Front, are a respite from chaotic growth best preserved with prudent city management, as well as farsighted developers who see the wisdom of private-public partnerships that preserve “wellness spaces” across the urban hubbub that appears to be with us long into the future.  

The Spanish Fork River Trail is quite remarkable. Like Camille Pissarro capturing Paris during different times of the year, I’ve watched the same landscapes transform themselves into different types of beauty — a tonic for the ailing soul.  

 In the right sunlight during the fall, with pink streaks running across the sky, sometimes the river appears claret red as it runs toward Utah Lake. Dried reeds along irrigation canals in the winter provide a barrier to wind along a particularly sinuous part of the path exposed to the elements.  

At other spots, nodding trees arch above the trail, blocking walkers, runners, cyclists (and the occasional skateboarder) from snow, rain and the unforgiving glare of an August sun.  

To some the presence of such refuges might be surprising, given the explosive growth Spanish Fork has experienced. 

At first, I cynically smirked when a statue of a farmer pushing a plow was erected at the burgeoning Canyon Creek Shopping Center, which displaced much open space along the I-15 corridor.  

However, when I consider how much the city of Spanish Fork has dedicated to maintaining a growing web of trails throughout the city, including the Spanish Fork River Trail, I can’t help but tip my hat to the planners that recognized the life-changing effects of wellness amid Utah’s continued growth. 

I started walking on the trail in 2014. I gradually increased my walks from two miles to a point where I prepared to walk the St. George Marathon in 2018. That achievement, not to mention the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the city’s “ribbon of wellness,” has changed my life for the better.  

I’m excited to see how communities and developers (who are often required to include quality of life elements in their projects, such as at Daybreak) can work together to create “spaces of wellness” throughout the Wasatch Front.  

Those intentional efforts add beauty for the eyes, highlight connections between nature and serenity, and engender joy on a daily basis in a way that accentuates all that is good about our state.  

Evan Ward is associate professor of history at Brigham Young University, where he teaches courses on world history.