Bears Ears in the News: Changes Afoot in Bluff and Blanding
As the battle over Bears Ears proceeds in the courts of law and public opinion, those who live and make a living near Bears Ears are shifting their attention toward planning a future with or without a monument.
As we noted in a prior post, visitation to public lands in the Bears Ears region spiked 35 percent between 2016 and 2017, due in no small part to the controversy over former president Barack Obama's designation of the 1.35-million-acre monument in December 2016 and President Donald J. Trump's subsequent 85-percent reduction of that monument a year later.
The continued presence of Bears Ears in national headlines has kept the visitors coming in San Juan County, Utah, and local businesses and tourist attractions are reaping the benefits.
Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum in Blanding, which was declared a financial burden and slated for closure by the state of Utah in 2011, has seen a steady increase in visitors since then, and, like many other businesses in southeast Utah, has reaped the benefits of Bears Ears-inspired tourism. When out-of-towners visit Edge of the Cedars, they stop in Blanding to fill their gas tanks and stock up on food, injecting more money into the local economy. As Salt Lake Tribune reporter Courtney Tanner observes, "It’s just one example, but in this place, perhaps more than any other, the impact from Bears Ears has been clear and measurable and significant."
Meanwhile, 20-some-odd miles down the road in Bluff, a new tourist development is underway. We observed the construction in Cow Canyon during our last trip to Bluff, and we now have more details on the project.
The venerable San Juan Record reports that Blanding resident Jared Berrett, who owns a pair of locally operated outdoor adventure tour companies (and whom we interviewed last year), is developing Bluff Dwellings Resort, "an upscale 54-unit lodging facility...with a large outdoor pool and patio complex.” This will be Bluff's second upscale hotel and is yet another sign that the town is positioning itself to be the gateway to Bears Ears.
Not everyone is thrilled about the timing of this new development, however. Read on to learn more about why some Bluff residents are frustrated and apprehensive about the project and its designation as San Juan County's first Community Reinvestment Area.
More on the Bluff beat: After voting in November 2017 to officially incorporate as a town, Bluff is preparing to hold elections for mayor and four Town Council seats. The Record reported on the first candidates' forum earlier this month, in which issues related to Bears Ears and development writ large, including tourism, affordable housing, and water supply took center stage. The candidates have extensive experience in the tourism industry, local governance, or both, signaling that the town should be well positioned to tackle the opportunities and challenges it faces by the time elected officials are sworn in early next year.
And finally, a fun story tracing the transformation of Bluff's long-shuttered Silver Dollar Bar, once the watering hole of choice for uranium miners before the industry went belly-up in the 1980s, into the Friends of Cedar Mesa Visit with Respect Education Center. We reported last year on FCM's efforts to raise funds for the project and the vision of the nonprofit's executive director, Josh Ewing, to make the center a place where tourists can learn about the cultural history of the region and how to tread gently near archaeological sites that are significant to scholars and sacred to the region's Native peoples.