SALT LAKE CITY — A former secretary of the interior in President Barack Obama's administration visited the University of Utah to praise the state's lands and share her ideas for recreating in and maintaining the nation's wildernesses.
"We are unique in this country, that we've taken the places that are the most special and we've set them aside for everyone. That was the thought behind the creation of the National Park Service," former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said Thursday during a panel discussion at the S.J. Quinney College of Law.
The event was part of the school's 24th Annual Stegner Center Symposium, which focused on challenges of recreation on public lands.
In the discussion moderated by Robert Keiter, director of the college's Wallace Stegner Center of Land, Resources, and the Environment, topics of focus included land preservation, getting more people to enjoy nature, Bears Ears National Monument and the recent government shutdown.
Jewell also discussed what she learned during her time as secretary and, before that, as CEO of REI sporting goods company.
Her love for the outdoors started young, she said, when one of her school principals taught her to ski and take up mountaineering, and another teacher encouraged her love for science. That time in the outdoors gave her a commitment to nature and the wish to instill that commitment in her children, Jewell said.
But many children today, according to Jewell, aren't developing the same love for the outdoors.
"That is something I think we all need to pay attention to, because some children are growing up with no connection to nature," she said.
According to Jewell, national parks and recreation at them is "extraordinarily important" because the parks serve as a type of cultural journal, sharing with the public and the world "the natural beauty" and the history of the nation.
But she said a way to take a burden off more popular parks and maintain positive visitor experiences might be to promote less-visited wildernesses.
There are under-visited assets in national parks and public lands, and opportunities to highlight "hidden gems" in places that are less visible, Jewell explained.
For example, she said, Zion National Park's strenuous Angel's Landing hike sees a large number of yearly visitors. "I was pretty horrified when I visited Zion in '17 … at the number of people that were woefully unqualified" traversing the hike, Jewell recalled.
If land managers focused on sharing places other than "those iconic spots," it would more evenly distribute visitation as well as "open their eyes to so many more treasures," Jewell said.
When Keiter asked how land managers can improve the diversity of who visits public lands, Jewell said she sought to address that question during her work at REI and as secretary.
She said while much of the REI demographic and outdoor enthusiasts tend to be older and white, she learned that many communities recreate in different ways. Land managers can appeal to them by bridging understanding.
For example, she said, she learned that, for the Latino community, outdoor recreation doesn't always look like "the isolated hiker or hunter going into the back woods."
For many in the Latino community, she said, "It's about recreating together."
Isolated campsites with trees between them don't serve the needs of a good part of the community that loves the outdoors and nature, so "let's listen and put in more group areas, more group campsites," Jewell said.
When asked how she feels about the Bears Ears National Monument designation and President Donald Trump's reduction of the monument, she said, "Bears Ears is under threat — it has been looted significantly in recent years."
It is also important to five tribes in the area that "aren't always happy with each other," Jewell said.
As for whether a national monument designation draws more visitors — and with them, damage — to landscapes, Jewell said Bears Ears faced a lot of attention even before it was placed in the spotlight by the designation.
Social media brought it to focus, Jewell said, including for those who didn't all have an understanding of "appropriate uses."
"When people go to visit responsibly and they take their cell phone, and they find a pot hiding under a rock … and they leave it where it should be … they take a picture and they post it on Instagram and they have just given an irresponsible actor directions to go exactly to that site," she explained.
Jewell said she believes supporters of Bears Ears National Monument "will win in court." That declaration was met with applause from those in attendance.
Federal public lands belong to all Americans, she said, "But (locals) are a voice among many that needs to be listened to."