‘Guerrilla Visitor Center’ Aims To Protect Bears Ears

A private group hopes to fund a visitor center that guarantees what the federal government cannot: protection for the wild, scenic, historic national monument Bears Ears.

Preserved native dwellings at Bears Ears; Photo by Josh Ewing

An old bar popular among uranium miners in the 1950s may soon become the gateway to America’s most controversial public land.

Bears Ears made headlines in 2017 as the focal point of a heated debate around national monuments. The crux of the debate is whether the federal government should have the authority to manage and protect vast swaths of land, predominantly in the American Southwest.

Now, a newly formed collaboration aims to take proactive steps to protect Bears Ears regardless of federal regulations.

Friends of Cedar Mesa, a southeastern Utah nonprofit, is campaigning to raise $840,000 for the Visit with Respect Education Center, located in the old bar in Bluff, Utah.

The group plans to build the education center in order to educate people about how to responsibly recreate within Bears Ears.

Crowd-Sourcing Bears Ears Visitor Center

Before the end of 2017, the group needs to secure $310,000 for the main building purchase. Friends of Cedar Mesa already raised the bulk of that money, but it recently teamed up with the outdoor filmmakers Duct Tape Then Beer to launch a Kickstarter to raise the remaining $100,000. Currently, the group is $60,000 short.

The nonprofit’s mission is to ensure cultural and natural values are respected and protected on public lands within San Juan County. The center will serve as a location for people to learn how to responsibly enjoy the national monument, attend events, and explore the history of the area.

The future Bears Ears Visit With Respect Education Center

“While the political and legal fight over Bears Ears will play out slowly over the next decade, the biggest threat to the monument’s archaeological resources requires urgent, immediate action,” the nonprofit said in its project overview. “We simply cannot wait for politicians to solve the visitor education crisis.”

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Bears Ears Problems: Irresponsible Visitors

Friends of Cedar Mesa says irresponsible visitors are a threat to the cultural preservation of Bears Ears National Monument.

Visitation to Bears Ears has more than doubled over the past decade. In fact, Cedar Mesa – the area of southeastern Utah that encompasses Bears Ears – saw more visitors in 2016 than 2014 and 2015 combined. And the first half of 2017 saw more visitors than all of 2016.

Clearly, more people are visiting, and writing, about this corner of Utah.

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But, while good for the monument, this increase in visitation poses a threat to the sensitive landscape. The danger arises from what Friends of Cedar Mesa calls “uneducated and careless visitors.” Rampant vandalism, looting, grave robbing, and irresponsible motorized vehicle use all negatively impact the land.

Hence the need for an education center, the group claims.

Solution: ‘Visit With Respect’ Education Center

The center will serve as a venue for educational events and presentations that teach tourists how to visit respectfully. The group aims to open the visitor center in spring 2018.

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Friends of Cedar Mesa claims Bluff is the “gateway for responsible exploration.” But it is also located close to tribal partners. The nonprofit works with the Bears Ears Tribal Commission to give tribes a voice in telling Bears Ears’ story, hopefully inspiring visitors to respect the land.

Crowdfunding Campaign, Duct Tape Then Beer

The $840,000 overall budget includes buying the property, remodeling, and constructing auxiliary buildings, bathrooms, and plumbing. Educational exhibits, utilities, insurance, and part-time employee funding are also part of the budget.

The organization seeks to “put our money and our time where our hashtags are.” And its founders say they’re tired of waiting to see what politicians do in the future.

Want to help Duct Tape Then Beer’s crowdfunding campaign to purchase the bar? Visit its Kickstarter page! Otherwise, Friends of Cedar Mesa is currently seeking donations to help reach its $840,000 goal.

Donate Now: Help build the Visit With Respect center on Kickstarter.

Nate Mitka

Midwest born, Nate Mitka is based in the GearJunkie Denver office. He is an advocate of all outdoor activities and has developed some habits, like running without headphones, eating raw vegetables, and fixing the chain on his ratty old bike.