Everyone who lives in Grand County probably has at least one thing in common with each other: Whether they’re progressives or conservatives, and whether they ride ATVs or mountain bikes, they all love the surrounding landscape.
“That’s why we’re here,” Grand County League of Women Voters vice president Elizabeth Gore said.
For much of the past year, however, any talk of shared interests has been eclipsed by disputes over public lands issues.
Some residents quarreled openly about the county’s onetime involvement in a regional infrastructure coalition, and many of those same people were also at odds over revived plans for an “enhanced transportation corridor” through the Book Cliffs. The divisions most recently came to a head during a Grand County Council hearing on eastern Utah’s public lands initiative, which pitted sixth- and seventh-generation county residents against newer transplants to the area.
Now that a new county council has largely moved beyond those issues, the League of Women Voters is hoping to kickstart a dialogue that reconnects local residents with their shared love of the land.
On Friday, May 15, the league is hosting a nonpartisan panel discussion and question-and-answer session that focuses on building partnerships and finding common ground on public lands issues.
“Honoring the Legacy of Our Public Lands Through Partnerships: Past, Present & Future” aims to promote a civil and understanding discourse among local residents who have a stake in the county’s public lands.
“Maybe the most valuable real estate of all is common ground,” Gore said.
The discussion will be held at the Grand Center, which is located at 182 N. 500 West; tickets are $40 per person.
The evening kicks off with a 6 p.m. social hour, which will feature appetizers catered by The Farmacy, as well as a cash bar. At 7 p.m., a panel that includes four guest speakers will share its thoughts on collaborative approaches to public lands issues.
Brad Petersen, who serves as the director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, is at the top of the list.
Petersen’s stated mission sounds like it was written with the panel discussion in mind: It says that his office wants to build shared sense of community for all, while ensuring that the state’s public lands can sustain economic growth and a strong quality of life for years to come.
“It’s so cool, first of all, that Utah – of all of the states in the union – not Hawaii, Oregon or Massachusetts … is the first state in that nation to have a department of outdoor recreation,” Gore said.
In addition to Petersen, other speakers include Sara Baldwin Auck, who is the director of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s Regulatory Program and serves as an adviser to various National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Electric Power Research Institute boards.
Gore is also excited to nab Jen Jackson Quintano as a guest speaker. Jackson Quintano wrote “Blow Sand in His Soul,” an acclaimed biography of former Arches and Canyonlands National Park Superintendent Bates Wilson; she also runs a business that partners with private and public landowners on forest health and fire mitigation projects.
Last but not least, Public Land Solutions founder and director Ashley Korenblat will join the discussion.
Korenblat remains actively involved in eastern Utah’s public lands initiative, and she can understand why people feel so strongly about related issues.
“It’s easy to motivate people on the extremes,” Korenblat said. “On the far ends of the spectrum, it’s just really exciting because things are all black and white and it’s either good or bad. That tends to dominate the dialogue.”
In the long run, however, the real and practical solutions come from the middle, Korenblat said.
Korenblat points to Grand County Trail Mix as the kind of role model that the community can follow. The group develops motorized and nonmotorized trails on public lands surrounding Moab, and it includes stakeholders from across the spectrum.
“It’s a great partnership,” she said. “It’s very practical, and it’s had a big impact on the local economy.”
In order for other efforts to succeed, she said, people have to move beyond their have knee-jerk reactions to words like “wilderness” or “industry.”
“You’ve just got to take a step back for a minute and take a deep breath,” Korenblat said.
“Most of the time, we all want the same thing, which is a nice town to live in, where everyone can make a living,” she added.
Gore is hopeful that people can ultimately come to respect each other’s viewpoints, even if someone happens to disagree with them.
“What can we do to appreciate each other and support each other?” she asked.
The May 15 discussion is perhaps the first big step in that direction, and Gore applauds Grand County League of Women Voters president Barbara Hicks for reaching out to city and county officials with personal notes and free invitations to the event.
The country as a whole is deeply polarized on so many issues, she said, but Moab has an opportunity to move beyond those divisions.
“We do have a small enough corner of the world that maybe we could set an example and be a source of inspiration,” she said.
The day after the presentation, the Utah League of Women Voters will be holding its state convention at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center, which is located at 111 E. 100 North.
League of Women Voters sponsors May 15 event at Grand Center
What: “Honoring the Legacy of Our Public Lands Through Partnerships,” a discussion presented by the Grand County League of Women Voters
When: Friday, May 15; social hour begins at 6 p.m., followed by a panel discussion/ Q&A session at 7 p.m.
Where: The Grand Center, 182 N. 500 West
Cost: $40 per person; advance tickets are available at Canyonlands Copy Center and Back of Beyond Books, or online at lwvutah.org
Tickets for the May 16 convention are available online at lwvutah.org for $25 each.
For more information about either event, call 435-260-1468.