Dialog about public lands in Utah is reaching a boiling point. Utah, with its 30 million acres of public lands, including iconic wonders like the Arches National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, has seen legislation introduced to transfer public lands to state ownership, superimpose a grazing zone over a national monument, and limit the authority of federal land management agency employees to act as law enforcement. On the other side, the conservation group Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance hasn’t been shy about calling some of these proposals “stupid, arrogant, and unconstitutional.”
Over the backdrop of this drama, a group of dedicated volunteers deep in the heart of southern Utah are taking an interesting approach to improving the heated conversation over public lands: They are hosting a huge party.
The 7th annual Amazing Earthfest will be held this year from May 12th – 18th in Kanab, UT. Rather than stoke the fires of controversy, Amazing Earthfest is all about different points of view, and finding common ground in the amazing things that everyone appreciates about the Colorado Plateau – the towering red rock arches, the insanely colorful sunsets, the diverse cultures (Cowboys? Mormon Pioneers? Native Americans? All in one place?) and the densest concentration of awesome National Parks, Forest and public lands in America.
Truth be told – I’ve been so fired up about Amazing Earthfest, I joined them as a volunteer last year. I hopped on the phone with Rich Csenge, who founded Amazing Earthfest 7 years ago, to get the low-down on what makes Amazing Earthfest unique:
Seth Levy: You’re from the East Coast originally – how did you end up in Kanab, UT?
Rich Csenge: I explored all over UT, AZ, NM and CO over the course of 10 years, hiking the backcountry, biking and exploring, and my wife and I settled on Kanab because of the unparalleled access to public lands, and the fact that there isn’t a single big box store in town! The descendants of the original settlers of the town in 1873 still live here so it’s unbelievably authentic.
Seth Levy: Why did you start Amazing Earthfest?
Rich Csenge: I wanted to continue my service in conservation in a way that fits my new home, and that helps my new community. I wanted to honor and share my personal experience of majesty, wonder and spiritual renewal through connecting with nature on America’s public lands.
Seth Levy: Who is welcome at Amazing Earthfest? Just outdoorsy/environmental types?
Rich Csenge: Everyone with a curiosity about the natural world is welcome. Hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, ATV riders, astronomy enthusiasts, rock-hounds, artists – everyone. It’s a family-friendly event, and most of the activities are free.
Seth Levy: What are you trying to accomplish with Amazing Earthfest?
Rich Csenge: To help people appreciate the natural wonders and resource values on their nearby public lands.
I hope this festival helps get people out of the paralysis that characterizes the current conversation about public lands vs. economic interests. I want to elevate to conversation, and show folks that public lands, recreation and tourism are GREAT THINGS for the local economies of small towns throughout the Colorado Plateau. That’s out model – we’re small communities show off their local resources and local experts.
Seth Levy: What makes Southern Utah such a special place?
Rich Csenge: The high density of special places that are incredibly accessible. In most places, getting to a National Park or Monument, you have to drive a long time down a hairy road, but here in Kanab, you don’t have to go a mile off the pavement! We’ve got a wide variety of landscapes, ecosystems, cultural, wildlife, and recreational resources accessible to all Americans; Forests, Parks and Bureau of Land Management Lands, known as America’s Public Lands.
If you’re a cooped-up East Coast computer jockey like me, I can’t recommend a spring trip to Southern Utah enough. The Colorado Plateau in the spring is all bright, clear light, warm red rocks, and geologic features that look closer to taffy than stone.
It’s not all mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking and rafting though – and that’s why events like Amazing Earthfest are so important. By visiting, having fun outside, and talking to people who live and work on those amazing landscapes, you are equipping yourself to take part in the biggest conservation challenges that face our generation.