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Weber County Library decries unsavory behavior at Lester Park; changes planned

By Deborah Wilber - | Aug 12, 2022
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Homeless residents take shelter in the shade at Lester Park, located at 663 24th St. in Ogden, on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. Staff at the nearby Weber County Library main branch claim the park is often the site of illegal acts and say park users cause frequent problems at the library.
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Signage at Lester Park in Ogden, pictured Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, encourages park users to report suspicious activity.
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Lester Park, located at 663 24th St. in Ogden, is pictured Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.

OGDEN — Staff at the main branch of the Weber County Library are eager to see changes come to city-run Lester Park, which they describe as a hub of illegal behavior.

Various illicit activities at the park surrounding the downtown library have reportedly caused many issues over the last few decades, they say, citing public disturbances requiring police presence, panhandling, vandalism, drug use and prostitution.

Ogden Police Department Public Information Officer Lt. Will Farr said he couldn’t recall any acts of prostitution at Lester Park, located at 663 24th St., regarding such reports as hearsay. As for responding to reports of panhandling and other acts often involving homeless people, Farr said OPD has been actively addressing issues at all city parks off and on throughout the years.

“All the parks in Ogden City are seeing an increase in homelessness,” he said.

According to Farr, community engagement in reporting suspicious activities is needed to help combat problems occurring at public parks. While officers patrol these areas as often as they can, he said OPD cannot post an officer at parks 24 hours a day.

Library Social Service Specialist Bobby Workman addressed members of the Weber County Library board of trustees during a March 11 meeting regarding health and safety. Disruptions throughout the library system stemming from the park are not limited to homeless people, Workman said. However, the number and intensity of disruptions emanating from park users are grueling on staff, he added.

In addition to being conveniently located next to the library, which offers free services to the public at large, Lester Park has many trees and and a pavilion offering shade and shelter from the elements.

Members of the WCL board of trustees believe adequate lighting and reconstruction of Lester Park would help deter some of the activities that get reported to them.

“Neighbors complain to staff that they should do a better job of maintaining the park, not understanding it is an Ogden City responsibility,” Workman said.

If the park offered amenities to attract others in the community such as those presented to the City Council on Jan. 12, 2017, by landscape architects from the American Institute of Architects as part of a competition sponsored by the library board to reinvent the park, he contended, it would attract children and families for social and cultural activities and naturally drive out any illegal behaviors.

According to Library Development Board member Marcia Harris, not only had nothing ever come from the concepts sent to the city, but nothing more was discussed related to the park until a community member got the ball rolling earlier this year. The city’s fiscal year 22 budget allowed for $4.5 million toward Lester Park improvements.

Where the AIA concepts were designed in 2016 with community desires in mind, featuring botanical plantings and a walkable path through the park, current interests seem to be focused on pickleball courts and recreation to bring people in to the space.

“The efforts that began five years ago are now being acted upon,” Harris said. “There is some reason for optimism that change is finally coming to Lester Park.”

Environmental design certainly has its benefits, Farr said.

Unsheltered Ogden resident Larry, who did not want to give his last name, said he his grateful for the park, where he used to play basketball as a kid.

A U.S. Army veteran going by his service nickname “Cougar” said he lived in a tent at Lester Park from 1984 to 1985 after he was discharged for injuries he sustained as a paratrooper.

According to Cougar, it was not a big deal to camp in the park in those days, and while pitching a tent in the park is no longer permitted, he said he still makes use of the shade and nearby facilities during the day.

“They say they don’t leave anyone behind, but they left me behind,” said Cougar, who currently resides in his broken down truck parked at a friend’s house across the street.

Workman said he does not wish to negatively frame homeless members of the community and understands most use the library as a lifeline and means of betterment.

However, he said it is unnecessary for the library to serve as a day shelter, and no one is permitted to camp, sleep, cause disturbances or panhandle on library property.


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