Pearl Baker’s family gathers at an event opening the park named in her honor. [Courtesy photo]

Last weekend, Green River-based nonprofit Epicenter broke ground on Pearl Baker Park, a feature of its current affordable housing project in the town: Canal Commons. The community-oriented park should be completed in 2022 and will serve as a space for Green River gatherings, local events and nature appreciation.

“We love the idea of naming the park after a local legend,” said Maria Sykes, Epicenter’s executive director.

Pearl Biddlecome Baker was born in 1907 in Ferron, Utah, before her father moved the family’s cattle ranch to Robbers Roost country in Wayne County. She took over her family’s ranch in 1929 after her father’s death, where she grew intimately familiar with household-name outlaws like Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch. Her first book, titled “The Wild Bunch at Robbers Roost,” was published in 1965.

Her work was heavily referenced in the making of the 1969 film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” which won four Academy Awards.

“You could say that we Robbers Roosters have made our mark in the world, and we think it is because we had a different heritage. We had learned to hit things another lick, and we had wider vision than other people,” Baker once said.

In 1969, Baker wrote “Trail on the Water,” a biography of her friend Bert Loper. A famous river runner who charted the Colorado, Green, San Juan and Yampa rivers for most of his life, Loper cemented techniques that water enthusiasts use today. Baker’s last work, a memoir about her family’s ranch titled “Robbers Roost Recollections,” was published in 1976. Baker passed away in 1992 in a long-term care facility in Price, Utah, though her legacy remains in her writing, descendants, art and myriad other contributions.

The mayor of Green River and some of Pearl Baker’s descendants attended the groundbreaking, where they celebrated their relative’s accomplishments in the area and showcased some of her art: detailed crocheted blankets, hats with bands made out of horsehair, paintings and more. Epicenter also raffled off a copy of “The Wild Bunch at Robbers Roost” and Pearl Baker postcards at the event.

“She was one of those people who kind of did everything,” said Sykes. “The family was wonderful and so positive and excited that the park was being named after Pearl Baker.”

Located at the southern end of Long Street, the park will feature several nature trails and meditative spaces connected by a bridge that will lead to where the Canal Commons houses will be located. Epicenter recently received a grant from Utah’s Office of Outdoor Recreation to create an outdoor classroom in the park.

“It’s really fitting because one of the many things Pearl Baker was known for in this area was being a teacher,” said Sykes. Baker taught grades one through eight in Hite and tutored students in the Green River area during her life. Visitors will learn about native plants and pollinator species in the park’s outdoor classroom.

The construction of the park will be phased into 2022. Phase 1 includes site clean-up, developing walking paths and designating seating areas. Phase 2 will include the construction of the outdoor classroom, plantings and light fixtures. Jeff Adams at Moab-based landscaping company TerraSophia has consulted on the project, along with Community Rebuilds’ Joe Bondi.

“With all of the costs of construction skyrocketing right now we’re trying to move forward with what we can, but we don’t want to spend money that we don’t need to just because costs are inflated,” said Sykes. “It’s kind of frustrating, but it is what it is.”

The final park design, Epicenter stated, will be based on input from construction volunteers and community members, and given what the park’s space allows.

“As soon as someone suggested that we name the park after Pearl Baker, we were like, ‘oh, that’s it,’” Sykes said. As Epicenter and volunteers build the park in coming years, Baker’s art, legacy and passion for southeastern Utah are sure to be felt all around.