The gathering, hosted by Friends of Cedar Mesa (FCM), sold out two weeks prior to the event kickoff, marking the best-attended Celebrate Cedar Mesa in its five years of existence.
On March 3, more than 40 volunteers met for service projects across public lands in San Juan County. Projects included highway cleanup, visitor improvements at the Sand Island Boat Launch, and buck building for buck-and-rail fences that will be installed at a sensitive archeological site.
FCM estimates more than 200 hours of service were performed.
On Friday night, nonprofit publisher Torrey House Press co-hosted an outdoor reading from mainly Native authors and writers, many of whom contributed to the new book Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for Bears Ears.
Saturday’s event featured a series of presentations by scientists, writers, and tribal leaders. Topics ranged from paleontology and archaeological research to current policy debates.
Hopi Vice Chairman Alfred Lomahquahu, Jr. sat on a panel with legal scholars and land managers to discuss the future of Bears Ears National Monument, which President Obama designated in late December.
Willie Grayeyes, chairman of Utah Diné Bikéyah, accepted FCM’s “Advocates of the Year” award on behalf of his group.
Don Simonis, who recently retired from the Bureau of Land Management, was recognized for his career as a land manager and archaeologist.
Hopi archeologist and river guide Lyle Balenquah spoke about visiting cultural sites respectfully and discussed the importance of the Bears Ears area to the integrity of Hopi culture.
“The history of the Hopi people is recorded upon the landscapes of their ancestors [including in San Juan County],” said Balenquah. “Thus, maintaining Hopi culture... must encompass the actual preservation of those places where the ancestors dwell.”
Author and adventurer Craig Childs was the keynote speaker. He wrapped up the day with an energetic round of stories from the decades he has spent exploring Utah’s public lands.
Childs’ sons Jasper, 13, and Jaden, 9, also briefly took the stage to talk about growing up taking extended backcountry trips.
Childs concluded by saying public lands provide a common experience in the West that transcends political and cultural differences. His remarks were met with a standing ovation.
Workshops on Sunday included classes on photography, pottery identification, and the making of replica Ancestral Puebloan pottery.
FCM Executive Director Josh Ewing called the event a success, adding, “Like every year, we are grateful for many local supporters and folks from around the Four Corners who learned about the latest research and challenges for the landscape.
“This year’s event took on particular importance with the recent Bears Ears National Monument designation. As such, many of the presentations focused on practical ways to help provide real stewardship for the landscape via on-the-ground and visitor education.
“Participants met FCM’s Erica Tucker, the new Visit with Respect Program manager. Erica will coordinate volunteers to provide friendly visitor information about how to visit archaeological sites respectfully, so they can be preserved for future generations.”