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s.marty Author

Improving Air Quality

We all know what winter in Utah is like. Crowds will travel from all over to see the lights at Temple Square, thousands of skiers flock to experience the best snow on Earth, and we all get to experience our favorite thing about Utah—never ending smoggy air. With Salt Lake City’s ever growing population projected to double by 2050, it seems that the air quality is only getting worse from here on out.

According to a study conducted by the American Lung Association, Salt Lake City ranked as the 7th most polluted city in the nation in 2015. The same study gave a letter grade to every state based on the quality of their air, where Salt Lake received an F. This is because every year there is a substantial increase in the number of bad quality air days with short term particle pollution, which is a mixture of primary particles like dust, volatile organic compounds, and emissions and their reaction in the atmosphere. We Utahns definitely have experienced this, and unfortunately not just during the winter time. If you’ve ever been on the top of one of our many mountain peaks and realized you couldn’t really see the city clearly, then you know what I’m talking about.

HEAL, which stands for Healthy Environmental Alliance of Utah, is a group here in Salt Lake City that advocates for clean air and renewable energy sources, and helps to protect Utah from nuclear and toxic air hazards. HEAL originated from another group called Families Against Incinerator Risk (FAIR), a grassroots organization that started in the ‘90s, aimed at stopping the Army from incinerating toxic weapons in Tooele. FAIR was worried about the downwind effect that surrounding communities might face from nuclear and toxic threats being introduced to their environment.

Sitting down with Noah Miterko, a grassroots organizer at HEAL, I got to learn what this organization was all about.

“When HEAL is working on something, we try to work on the grassroots and advocacy side, you know, getting people involved, connecting concerned communities and individuals with the tools and education they need to make a difference,” he said. “It’s important and people really care about this. People get sick from the air quality here, or people even move away because of it. It really blindsides people, I think, who move here from out of town. They think, Salt Lake City: beautiful mountains, the Olympics; it must be super clean. But then they get here, and well, not so much.”

HEAL works to help preserve Utah air by advocating about hot topic issues, educating the public, helping to enact different policies and bills by working with regulatory agencies, and also by encouraging the public to participate in citizen lobbying.

While there are many small ways for individuals to improve Utah’s air quality, such as biking to school and work, switching to renewable energy sources, and being more pollution conscious, the solution to Utah’s air is also tied to legislative work.

“One of the most effective things you can do as a resident is speak to your representatives, speak to your senator, and speak to your city councilperson,“ Miterko says.

University of Utah students, and other community members, interested in clean air or sustainability can find many ways to get involved with HEAL. This upcoming winter they will be holding meetings during the legislative previews, and teaching people how to citizen lobby. In addition, HEAL also hires students for prestigious internships during the spring, summer, and fall. Students involved in these internships work closely with HEAL on research projects relating to Utah air. Anyone interested can contact Noah Miterko at noah@healutah.org.

As a lover of the Utah outdoors, I am grateful to organizations like HEAL that are actively working on helping to clean the air, so that I can hopefully one day breathe without wheezing when I go for an outdoor run in our not-always-so-clear Utah air.

s.marty@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of HEAL Utah.

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See the Stars in Utah’s Dark Sky Parks

Over my fall break trip to Utah State University, I noticed something that I wasn’t used to seeing at my home in Salt Lake City — the starry night sky. Here in the crowded city, the stars in the sky are next to invisible. Thankfully, it is a different story once you drive a few hours outside of it.

Starry shot within Dead Horse Point State Park. Photo by Bettymaya Foott.

Bettymaya Foott is the coordinator for the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative. A University of Utah graduate herself, Foott’s coordinator position allows her to work closely with the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, located here on campus in the College of Architecture and Planning. The Consortium for Dark Sky Studies is committed to the preservation of dark skies in Utah.

DarkSky.org defines certified Dark Sky Parks as  “lands possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.” In other words, these parks are certified places where you can actually see the stars. Luckily for Utahns, we have the most certified International Dark Sky Parks in the world. Utah has nine IDSPs, which include Goblin Valley State Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, and two located very close to the Salt Lake area; North Fork Park, which is located in Ogden, and Antelope Island State Park.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado from which the Milky Way was viewable. Photo by Bettymaya Foott.

Parks must apply to the International Dark Sky Association Dark Sky Places Program to become certified IDSPs. The parks must have at least 67 percent fully shielded lighting — light that only points downward — at the time of the application process, and must commit to having 100 percent fully shielded lighting within 10 years. In addition, the parks must agree to have at least four dark sky-themed events per year.

Foott explains that outside of an International Dark Sky Park status, parks can apply to three additional programs: the International Dark Sky reserves, which is a dark zone surrounded by a more populated periphery; the International Dark Sky Sanctuaries, which describes the most remote and dark places of the world, which are the most fragile; and the Dark Sky Developments of Distinction, which includes towns and places that focus on dark sky conservation, but aren’t qualified enough to become an IDSP.

While unfortunately, it won’t ever be realistic for anywhere in Salt Lake City itself to become IDSP certified because of light pollution, the good news is that this pollution, unlike most others, can easily be prevented and is reversible! Foott offers a few suggestions that we can all integrate easily into our lives:

1. Put lights only WHERE you need them. Excessive light causes light pollution.

2. Use lights only WHEN you need to. Use motion sensors to turn lights on and off as needed. This improves security and reduces light pollution.

3. Select bulbs with WARMER COLORS. Consider using amber or yellow colored lights to minimize sky brightness.

4. Select the most ENERGY EFFICIENT lamps and fixtures. Replacing poor quality outdoor lights with efficient fixtures saves energy and money.

“Get involved locally,” Foott stresses. “Ask your city or county about existing lighting ordinances that help protect the night sky in your area.”

Photo of the night sky from the Aztec Ruins National Monument. Photo by Bettymaya Foott.

Next time you are on a biking, climbing, or hiking trip in any one of Utah’s National Parks that are IDSP certified, make sure you look up at the stars and appreciate just how much more visible they are than when you are in the city.

s.marty@wasatchmag.com

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A Day in the Life of a Wasatch Urban Ranger

Have you ever heard of the Wasatch Front Urban Ranger program at the University of Utah? I bet you haven’t. Most people wish they had known sooner once they learn about the important work the folks involved do.

This program began in 2015 to advocate for trail users and land resources of the Jordan River Trail and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. The Rangers, who are U students, patrol these trails while completing a variety of tasks: talking to users to collect data about their experiences on the trail, picking up trash, reporting any graffiti or maintenance problems, and even handing out treats to dogs and humans alike.

The Rangers start off their patrol by recruiting one other U student. At least once a week, Rangers complete about a three-hour patrol on one of the two trails — the Jordan River Trail, which is patrolled from about 200 South to 3900 South, and the Bonneville Shoreline trail, which is patrolled from Utah’s Hogle Zoo to Dry Creek. Rangers carry an assortment of items in their backpacks which include dog treats, gloves, and first aid kits, so they can be ready to pull noxious weeds or deal with small trail accidents. The Rangers also have access to the Gaia GPS app so they can track places that need trail maintenance.

In the program’s annual report for the 2016-17 school year, rangers reported 548 maintenance issues and removed 807 pounds of litter on the two trails. That is no small feat.

Urban Rangers out on the trail. Photo by Sierra Marty.

The data collected by the Rangers is meant to make a difference and is sent to important agencies like the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Jordan River Commision, Campus Security, Red Butte Garden, and the United States Forest Service.

This year, the program is lead by three guys in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism department: Nick Rushford, Nate Furman, and Jeff Rose. However, students do not have to be majoring in PRT to join the team or volunteer; you can be studying anything.

These Wasatch Rangers aren’t paid for their time. This project is entirely service correlated, but what better service project is there than getting to walk on a trail and have a good time making it a good time for others? Essentially, anyone can be their own Urban Ranger. Have you ever picked up trash on your way out on a trail? Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of having a bike tire popped by puncturevine, a nasty weed that has mace-like seeds? Then you might be a good fit for this program. Anyone who loves the outdoors and is looking for service hours can volunteer to go on a patrol — general inquiries to UrbanRanger@utah.edu or call (801) 581-8542.

s.marty@wasatchmag.com

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Local Artists Showcase Utah’s Beauty at UMFA

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA), located at the University of Utah, reopened a few weeks ago after having been closed for 19 months. The remodel of the museum came with an exciting feature — a new usage for the space called the “Great Hall.”

American artist, Spencer Finch, was invited by the UMFA to work in the Great Hall, where he created the “Great Salt Lake and the Vicinity,” a descriptive pantone color chip piece.

Throughout the hall, Finch’s pantone chips line the walls, color matching to what he saw on a three-day journey around the Great Salt Lake. Traveling by foot, boat, and motor vehicle, he matched pantone chips with the landscape he saw. Searching to consider landscapes in new ways, Finch used colors not usually associated with the Great Salt Lake, such as deep pinks and bright blues, to describe things like algae and the reflections he saw on the lake.

In an interview with senior curator Whitney Tassie, Finch said, “The more I learned about the lake, the more I realized that a lot of people who live right near the lake never go to the lake. No one’s interested in it. They think it’s polluted; they think it’s smelly; they think there are lots of flies; they think it’s ugly; it’s not a natural wonder. But it’s pretty spectacular, I mean, it’s pretty amazing.”

Finch’s “site-specific installation” has already attracted many visitors, including myself, and is a contemporary art piece I recommend seeing.

In addition to “Great Salt Lake and the Vicinity,” UMFA collaborates with the Dia Art Foundation and the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminister College to maintain two other awesome land art pieces: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels.

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970, black basalt rock, salt crystals, earth, and water. UMFA photo.

In the museum’s permanent collection, you can see an original photograph from Nancy Holt of her Sun Tunnels. The photo features 24 photos taken every half hour for 12 hours, from sunrise to sundown, through the angle of one of the tunnels. You can see the gradation of light change as the sun moves over the tunnels, while you are still looking at the same view. Holt was inspired to create these tunnels because she “wanted to bring the vast space of the desert back to human scale,” as cited in “Nancy Holt: Sightlines.”

Since its reopening, UMFA has become a kind of “jumping off point” for art and interactive learning. Inside the museum you can find three different conversation areas named Trailhead, Basecamp, and Lookout. In these conservation areas, you can find informational pamphlets, biographies about local artists, and activities for kids to do.

Admission into the museum is free for U students and faculty, and thanks to its cafe, conversation areas, and quiet environment, it can make for a perfect study place, as well as a perfect date idea during its late open hours of 9 p.m. on Wednesdays.

If the museum atmosphere isn’t your scene, you can take it a little further to create your own art adventure. In Spencer Finch’s piece, his art started as soon as he left, and the same can go for you. Plan a road trip out to see those two amazing Utah land art pieces, or even camp out in the desert at the sun tunnels alone, the important thing is just to go and get yourself out there.

Before you go, make sure to check out a Spiral Jetty Backpack from UMFA, which includes a microscope, binoculars, thermometer, compass, maps, and a sketchbook, to make your adventure into Utah’s salty desert an even more interesting trip. These backpacks can be found at the front desk of the museum or at the Salt Lake City Public Library’s Children’s desk downtown.

s.marty@wasatchmag.com

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