Case Study: A Growing Ensemble for more than 20 years

The town of Moab is nestled next to the Colorado River in southeastern Utah's canyon country desert. The summer sun is unrelenting and the winter nights bring freezing temperatures and occasional snows. It is a challenging environment, to be sure, yet it is also one of the most livable towns in the American Southwest and one of the most magnetic travel destinations internationally. The Moab Rotary Park, located on Mill Creek Cr., offers shade and quiet from the desert sun. An ADA accessible park, it also offers musical instruments, a playground, shelter and picnic tables, grills, sports court, and amphitheater, and public restrooms.

Moab-Park-II.jpg#asset:10589In the middle of this active, high desert Mecca site the very first installation of a music park in the United States. The trail where the music park is located is surrounded by a stream built by community members. The trail has multiple uses but the most iconic feature is the "Xylophonus Rex," an oversize xylophone. The xylophone was set up in Moab's Rotary Park in 1996 and is still being played today thanks to the help of an anonymous contribution of $10,000. The only difference is that since then, the X. Rex is one of the many pieces in the largest ensemble of the music park and the largest collection of outdoor music instruments in the world. Xylophonus Rex has been in the ground for more than 20 years. The response from guests and neighbors of the park was so positive that more instruments were added. Some of the original instruments are still in the park and used today, others have been retired and replaced with new ones. 

Moab Community Development Director, David Olsen, was the man behind the vision to install the X. Rex in Moab's heavily traveled Rotary Park. Mr. Olsen has worked for the city 25 years and received many different calls from other communities interested in creating a similar space. He expected children to be enthusiastic, but he was ecstatic by the overwhelming positive reception form the tourists and community at large.

L_Moab-Rotary-Park-May-2011-008.jpg#asset:10565According to Olsen, "I get more positive comments about the musical park than anything. People actually pick up the phone - after a trip to Moab - to tell me, 'That was the greatest thing we have ever seen in a park. We loved it. We want a musical park for our community.' People of all ages usually have a big smile on their face when they play the instruments. Here we are in Moab [surrounded by gorgeous National Parks] and we have visitors telling other visitors that they must go to Rotary Park and play the instruments." The public's enthusiasm inspired Mr. Olsen to add instruments the following year, plus a new instrument each ensuing year.

With a 16-year partnership between Moab and the outdoor music instruments manufacturer, Mr.Olsen has become an invaluable source of ideas for research and development. Some of his observations of the instruments in a high-use area have led directly to enhancements that meet the specific needs of municipal leaders and park' managers. Instruments are designed to mitigate vandalism concerns and continue the legacy of low-maintenance sensory additions to the landscape.

With instruments in the ground at Moab Rotary Park for more than 20 years, they are still making beautiful music for all who play. And Olsen has found that the numbers of those who play continue to grow. The musical playground is a captivating draw for young and old. It is a sight, and more importantly, a sound to behold. It has been such a feature in the area that PBS filmed a shoe at the park for everyone to see.

Community members and officials describe how most first-time visitors to the park experience a "wow factor." Just like local residents have done for years, newcomers are drawn to the instruments and waste no time in creating music. Instruments have been installed in the park to invite musical exploration in people of all ages. Since the beginning, the instruments were designed to be low-maintenance and highly durable, even under harsh weather conditions. The park celebrated in 20th anniversary in 2015. The most recent instruments were added in early 2017. As of now, Moab Rotary Park is the largest and oldest music park in the world.


This article was contributed by David Olsen, Former Moab Community Development Director, Moab Utah as part of Natural Harmony: An Instrumental Guide to Blending Outdoor Music & Community­­­™.

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Read more outdoor music park case studies in our program, Natural Harmony: An Instrumental Guide to Building Outdoor Music & Community


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