A Retrospective by Ryke Longest, Chair of Scenic America’s Board of Directors
Scenic America’s 2018 affiliates conference was held October 11-13 in Utah, a state long touted as the center of scenic beauty in the United States. The location was chosen in part to help celebrate the launch of our newest affiliate, Scenic Utah.
The conference began with a celebration at the lovely Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City, where Teddy Roosevelt himself welcomed us to Utah and reminded us all to treasure majestic places.
Click here to read Teddy’s remarks in full.
The next day’s “Scenic Symposium” featured renowned speakers and accomplished professionals from across the country sharing their best practices for promoting and preserving scenic beauty. In addition to representatives of a dozen Scenic affiliates, symposium attendees included planners, landscape architects, attorneys, educators and community leaders.
Utah’s scenic beauty tends to bowl people over on their first visit. From the majestic red rock canyon lands to the snow-capped Wasatch front, Utahns can walk out their door every morning and view some of the most spectacular vistas in the world. In turn, these scenic wonders draw visitors from around the world in increasing numbers every year to visit the parks, resorts, forests and water features.
Vistas throughout Utah stir the deepest parts of us as human beings. When Elder Orson Pratt first saw the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, he wrote: “We could not refrain from a shout of joy which almost involuntarily escaped from our lips the moment this grand and lovely scenery was within our view.” For thousands of years before and hundreds of years since, Utah’s scenic vistas have inspired great joy, reverential awe and profound contemplation.
It seems to me that the primary threat posed to Utah’s natural bounty is citizen indifference to its pricelessness. Beauty which we see everyday can become the unseen backdrop of our lives. Once a scenic byway becomes part of your daily commute, it is far easier to focus on the annoyance of the slow-driving tourists than the wonders that cause them to drive slowly. We can easily overlook the beauty of the overlooks. We can paper over a gorgeous vista of mountain horizons with cheap commercialism and distracting signage.
Protecting scenic beauty is good for business, as well as for the soul. Utah’s scenic attractions drive a growing tourism economy. In five counties, tourism accounts for more than 40 percent of jobs. Statewide, the industry employs well over one million people. Tourists bring wealth into Utah, increases private employment and supports the quality of life.
Utah became a great place to live long ago, but leaders know better than to rest upon that past. Rather they look towards an even brighter future. Building that future will require preserving Utah’s natural treasures, including its hidden gems and scenic byways. Many of those leaders gathered together at our symposium with leaders from across the nation to learn the best ways to protect our common heritage of beauty.
For one concrete example, Utah currently has over 2200 miles of designated National Scenic Byways. Many of those miles are well known and highly travelled routes connecting The Mighty Five national parks. Others connect travelers to national forests, state parks and resort communities.
Driving up the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway, you can see the eons of stones eroded by the babbling course of the Logan River which meanders alongside the road. Within the canyon lies the Cache Valley National Forest, hosting forestry research by Utah State and stands of aspen, fir, chokecherry and willows. Driving high into the mountains, you crest the range and suddenly appears below you the bright turquoise waters of Bear Lake, spread out in all directions. At this end, public land protection has supported private investment in the resort communities ringing Bear Lake. Scenic Byways are the connectors that bring beautiful places to the public.
Scenic America works to educate the public about the benefits of programs that promote scenic beauty, such as the National Scenic Byways Program. Legislation has been introduced to reopen the nomination process for National Scenic Byways. Reopening this program will help new generations of Americans discover scenic gems in their communities. Click here to contact your Members of Congress in support of this effort!
Teddy Roosevelt reminded us many years ago that “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”
We can easily forget this inheritance, or allow others to squander it. Or we can seek to preserve it as part of the common inheritance of all Americans. Scenic America seeks to preserve that inheritance. Many of America’s best innovations, including National Parks and Scenic Byways, recognize that beauty is good for business, just as it is good for the soul.
Scenic Utah’s launch will support efforts by local communities to protect the beauty of this wonderful place. As an affiliate of Scenic America, the newest chapter will work with partners around the nation to promote American beauty. We look forward to promoting Utah’s scenic wonders and to protecting them for our children and theirs after them. We owe them that.