Monica Zoltanski of Sandy and her neighbors admire the natural beauty of their local park, Dimple Dell, and love riding their horses along the regional park’s unpaved dirt trails. One day, Monica learned at her city council meeting that Salt Lake County was planning to pave one of the main trails as part of a $4 million project.
This posed a threat to local equestrian enthusiasts, and it would also destroy several archaeological sites. More concerning, however, was that to her knowledge, most people seemed to oppose the new project.
Together with her newly formed organization, the Dimple Dell Preservation Community, Monica was successful in influencing local government to preserve the park the way the locals wanted it. Here’s what she learned:
What motivated you to get involved?
“I am an equestrian. I ride my horse in Dimple Dell park, and it’s the only wide-open space for horseback riding in the area. Every other park has paved trails. I was so concerned and I was so focused on [Dimple Dell] because I could take my horse to ride without going up the canyon and burning a half a tank of diesel to pull a horse trailer to get up the canyon and back. I can’t ride my horse on a golf course; I can’t take my horse to a city park, so it’s Dimple Dell or nothing. People just love it because it’s natural with no hard surface.”
What were the challenges of organizing a group?
“I’ve never been in political action groups or been an activist or anything like that. I have just [tried] to be mindful about what’s going on around me.
“I couldn’t persuade action groups to take it on. So I started posting on Facebook. My friends helped me. It was just a very organic, unplanned, inexperienced neighborhood group that got together and met over kitchen tables. It was a lot of late night planning and strategizing about what we could do. We had no budget or money whatsoever and no political ties or influence.”
What was the most effective tool you used to make a difference?
“We couldn’t have done it so quickly without social media. We put up fact-based content on our Facebook page, and it was so important to have good, no-cost communication. A lot of people commented that our message was fact-based, and it was civil. We had a respectful discussion. And I would say that those two factors were key elements in the success of how quickly our message spread and how people felt like they could trust our organization.”
What message would you give others who want to make a change in their community?
“It has to come from within. It has to come from the people. If you’re looking for change or if you’re unhappy with the direction of your community, you have to … get out and go door-to-door and start knocking. Start showing up in government offices and developing an understanding of the issues. Then you can start to influence others to get on board with your position. You can’t wait for someone else to come and offer you a solution.”
What started out as a protest against paving a park trail has turned into a community organization that loves to do things together. By seeking community-driven solutions, Monica and her friends have increased the health and vitality of their civil society.