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Mountains? Beehives? Fry sauce? What Utahns say they want on new state flag

A Utah flag flies in front of mountains in Cottonwood Heights on May 12. Mountains are a popular theme theme among what Utahns told the Utah State Flag Task Force they want in a new state flag.

A Utah flag flies in front of mountains in Cottonwood Heights on May 12. Mountains are a popular theme theme among what Utahns told the Utah State Flag Task Force they want in a new state flag. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, is drawn to the motives behind Utah's current flag every time he views it.

The flag was obviously meant to convey to the rest of the nation that Utahns are Americans and they deserved statehood after decades of quarrels between leaders and the federal government. A large eagle and two U.S. flags are mixed into the design that also features a beehive and a sego lily.

"I see a different voice in that flag and in the seal," McCay says. "Their Americanness was being questioned. Whether or not they belonged in this country was being questioned. … What I see with that flag is pioneers desperate to be American."

While he's quick to note he understands and appreciates their mindset when designing the first state flag, he also wants to make it clear that their strife isn't really an issue anymore. Utah has proven over the past 126 years that it does indeed belong.

McCay and others within the Utah State Flag Task Force are now preparing to sift through thousands of new flag designs and ideas to figure out what message the Utah flag should send out to America today.

Nature is the early favorite

Utah's outdoor splendor appears to be the leading theme Utahns want the nation to know about Utah now.

"Appreciative of natural beauty" and "adventure" were leading values, while mountains, Delicate Arch, red rocks, snow, the Great Salt Lake and national parks were all among the 10 leading symbols, landmarks and cultural icons based on feedback from Utahns about what a new flag should contain, said David Wicai, the director of strategic initiatives for the Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement.

Red or orange, blue and white jumped to the top of the leading flag colors. Those colors are all meant to characterize the red rocks in southern Utah, the sky or the Great Salt Lake and Utah's famous snow or the snow-capped mountains, respectively.

Delicate Arch at Arches National Park. The natural feature landed in the top 10 of symbols, landmarks and cultural icons that could be featured on a new Utah flag.
Delicate Arch at Arches National Park. The natural feature landed in the top 10 of symbols, landmarks and cultural icons that could be featured on a new Utah flag.

The task force officially received over 5,000 flag designs either online or through the mail from its "More Than a Flag" submission period. Wicai added that people from all 29 counties and even places all over the world submitted designs. There isn't an official number yet because they are still sorting out all the submissions.

Wicai and Lindsey Ferrari, a consultant for Utah's More Than a Flag initiative, provided these numbers to the task force in an update to the flag design collection process during a meeting at the state Capitol on Tuesday. They told the task force that members of a design review committee, which includes elected leaders, design experts and students, will be able to review what people drew up next month.

The values, symbols and colors are among the 1,500 text submissions also submitted during this process. These are what Utahns wanted in a flag without designing one themselves. It offers the first insight into what Utahns want in a new flag and what the winning design may look like.

While the results lean heavily on natural themes, the results show Utahns aren't necessarily ready to ditch some of its past, either.

Other ideas tossed around

Bees or a beehive and the sego lily flower also landed in the top 10 symbols and icons, while "hardworking" — or industry — was among the top values. Other values included "family," "community," "pride," "faith," "trustworthy," "kindness," "service" and "freedom." To that end, Temple Square and Native American themes landed among the top symbols and icons.

Wicai said most of the responses are what he would have suspected, but there were some outside-the-box ideas that appeared. These include some of Utah's condiment and dessert staples.

A photo of fry sauce next to fries on a tray at a restaurant. Fry sauce was an idea tossed around a few times for the new Utah flag during a recent public comment period, according to members of the Utah State Flag Task Force.
A photo of fry sauce next to fries on a tray at a restaurant. Fry sauce was an idea tossed around a few times for the new Utah flag during a recent public comment period, according to members of the Utah State Flag Task Force. (Photo: Devon Dewey, KSL.com)

"We got quite a few responses for fry sauce; we got quite a few responses for green Jell-O — not necessarily in the top 10 of values, symbols and landmarks but we got quite a response from people in what they felt was important," he said.

Gov. Spencer Cox quickly interjected to jest that Utah's next project should focus on "rebranding our culinary history."

The next steps

Wicai said the list of ideas was forwarded to five Utah-based professional design firms the state contracted to design up to 10 flags each by June 10. Upwards of 50 new designs will be tacked onto the pool of over 5,000 submissions from the public, though there's no guarantee that the professional designs will be among the finalists.

The state's design review committee will finally review the collective pool of online, physical and professional designs on June 24. The plan is still to whittle the designs to 20 to 30 finalists, which will be made available for the public to see in August.

The task force is still hammering out details about how the public will see the finalist designs, but elements of that may include all of them manufactured into actual flags that fly somewhere in Utah. Ferrari suggested it could be an actual tour across the state so all Utahns can see the final designs in person if they want.

A new design is still on track to be selected and voted on by the end of the year.

Addressing concerns in the process

Ferrari added Tuesday that the project's wheels are still in motion even during what is dubbed as a "quiet phase." As the committee reviews design ideas, it will still look to address concerns about the flag that remain, such as cost and the threat of losing state history.

"We've been talking about how do we message that. I think one answer to that — you can see in the response from the public — people still love the same things," she said. "It's not that their passions have changed about what makes Utah great, it's just how do we demonstrate that?"

During the meeting, a member of the public also asked about the political motives behind the measure, which triggered about 20 minutes of task force members downplaying the role of politics in redesigning a state flag.

In short, they don't believe it has a role at all in redesigning the flag to represent the state today. Utah's situation over a century later is vastly different from the politics that resulted in the original design, although that design would still remain as the governor's official flag if a new flag is adopted.

McCay said he's listened to children in classrooms and spoken with adults about the flag and what it should represent today, and there are people from all over the state who are eager to rebrand the state flag.

"Not everything that changes is because it's politics. That's one of the things that I believe people lose sight of," he said. "The level of engagement that you've seen from people throughout the state, to be involved in the design, I think it's been pretty spectacular."

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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