When most people think of a wedding reception they think of crystal glasses, speeches, and catered food. Beth Thomas-Rosswog and John Rosswog, however, had something different in mind when they asked their wedding guests to pull weeds in a local park.
The two met when the company they both work for hosted a volunteer day, as it often does. John worked in the building across from Elizabeth and was participating in the event where the two hit it off.
Many of their initial dates revolved around a shared love for volunteering in their hometown of Salt Lake City and visiting public lands for hikes. So, it seemed only suiting that a relationship founded on volunteerism and a love of the outdoors would lead to a wedding where guests were asked to trade their "suits for shovels."
"Neither of us were into fancy weddings, so we decided to put people to work," Elizabeth shared. "It rained like I had never seen it rain in Salt Lake City" but "people came out in ponchos and pulled weeds."
For Elizabeth, this unusual wedding made perfect sense, as her connection to public lands was more than a pastime spent with John, it was transgenerational. During her frequent visits to see family in Morton, Mississippi, it was common to hear tales of her grandfather's altruism. "Every time I go, I hear stories of his legacy," that included helping the needy and donating a large tract of land (now Farris Park) to the town of Morton.
Following in the footsteps of her grandfather, Elizabeth began focusing on caring for public spaces in 2012, when she noticed that "Suicide Rock," a portion of the popular Utah Marathon route was in a dire state. "How could we invite all these people from across the US to participate in a marathon and have them run along debris and graffiti?" Elizabeth recalled.
It wasn't long before she organized some local volunteers to clean up the trail, but she didn't stop there. Elizabeth was soon scouring Salt Lake City for other potential areas that she and her team could improve and found the answer in her own backyard.
Situated in the middle of her neighborhood, Wasatch Hollow Park had fallen into disrepair with weeds so high the local kids couldn't use the once beautiful park. Elizabeth exclaimed, "It's important to take care of places so that future generations will have an opportunity to see them in the pristine condition that we were able to."
Without hesitation, Elizabeth and John spent an entire summer weeding the area that would soon be the site of their wedding. But the results were more than a nice looking park, or the stage for an unusual wedding reception. They transformed a neighborhood.
Since repairing the damaged park, Elizabeth and John have noticed that once common vandalism has been replaced with kids and families coming to enjoy the winding trails, playground, and open grasslands. However, a clean place to play is only the beginning. "We'll have people coming out from the surrounding neighborhoods and people meet. It's kind of become a social space," Elizabeth shared with pride.
Local organizations began hosting events in the park including movie nights and festivals. The renovations carried out by Elizabeth, John, and many volunteers did more than eliminate an eyesore, it built a stronger and more social community.
Elizabeth explained that when "most people go out with their friends they go out to a movie, they go out to dinner. But volunteering is a fun way to get people together while giving back." With regular upkeep of the park throughout the year, there is always something to be done, but a little goes a long way, as Elizabeth explained. "It doesn't have to be anything major, you can go out for 15 minutes, for an afternoon, however often you can, every step you take, makes it better for everyone," she continued. "We may not have a lot of money to give, but we have time."
The newly renovated park has transformed the neighborhood with more and more people using it every year, reports Elizabeth, who took a break from preparing for this year's National Public Lands Day in Wasatch Park to share her story with National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). Since 2012, Elizabeth and her husband John have organized events for NPLD that include litter cleanup, invasive species removal, and general maintenance. While their efforts continue year-round, National Public Lands Day is particularly important to them considering it's when they got married!
Come out and help Elizabeth and John celebrate their love for public lands by participating in an event near you! Or make your own memories by registering a new event in your area. Who knows, you may just fall in love!