CULTURE KLASH: Shifting Sands

By on October 11, 2016

SHIFT Festival brings together conservation and outdoor luminaries to address environmental issues du jour.

From renowned author Terry Tempest Williams to Sierra Club Outdoors’ Stacy Bare, diverse speakers and inspiring ideas abound during this year’s SHIFT Festival.

From renowned author Terry Tempest Williams to Sierra Club Outdoors’ Stacy Bare, diverse speakers and inspiring ideas abound during this year’s SHIFT Festival.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – For the third annual SHIFT Festival, organizers decided to take on a precious topic, particularly in the American West. Public lands all over the country are currently endangered, as an increasing number of Republican lawmakers try to privatize them. SHIFT is bringing speakers and issues to the table that push back against the potential land grab.

At issue are controversial topics such as the “Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act,” introduced into Congress this summer by Utah Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee. Former legislative policy analyst John Kelley, writing for High Country News, called the bill a “smokescreen” for opening all wilderness areas to mountain biking, thus undermining the Wilderness Act of 1964 that prohibits such use.

But the bill has supporters beyond the anti-environment senators who introduced it. Organizations like the Sustainable Trails Coalition in Colorado are among the proponents. SHIFT festival participants have the opportunity to discuss this issue in detail at a happy hour sponsored by Stio 5 p.m. Friday, October 14 at King’s Grill. Moderated by Luther Propst, a panel of experts, on both sides of the debate, will discuss what opening wilderness to bikes might mean in the long run.

Zooming out from the micro issue of bikes in the wilderness, at a macro level, SHIFT features several eminent speakers talking more broadly about the importance of public lands. Terry Tempest Williams speaks at 7 p.m. Thursday, October 13 at Center for the Arts. The award winning author of many books, including the classic, Refuge, Williams recently made the news for her purchase, with her husband Brooke Williams, of leasing rights to 1,120 acres of federal public lands in Utah. That means more than one thousand acres of southern Utah beauty that will not be marred by oil and gas exploration.

In an essay in The New York Times, Williams wrote that the purchase was intended “to shine a light on the auctioning away of America’s public lands to extract the very fossil fuels that are warming our planet and pushing us toward climate disaster.”

On the more agro end of things, SHIFT will serve up speakers like Stacy Bare, director of the award-winning Sierra Club Outdoors, which hosts 265,000 people a year in various outings from picnics to major mountaineering and riverine expeditions. Looking very much like a mountain man gone wild, Bare will keynote SHIFT’s “Adventure, Inspired” film night 7 p.m. Friday, October 14 at Center for the Arts.

As the extraction industry rumbles forward in late stage capitalism, gobbling up natural resources and spewing them back to fuel cars and homes, the environmental movement is having a hard time diversifying its outreach beyond the rugged white dude. Perhaps what the environment needs is not so much badassery as it does common sense, collaboration, and dare we hope for estrogenic vibes to slow everyone down to smell the wildflowers.

Judging from the line-up at SHIFT, enviros still have a ways to go, but inroads are being made, as reflected in some of SHIFT’s programming.

A highlight is the workshop on diversity led by Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, a former NOLS educator and diversity and inclusion manager. Among her many achievements, she led the first all-African American climbing attempt to summit Denali in 2013. She is also the founder of The Avarna Group, which guides organizations in diversity issues.

According to SHIFT’s website, the Cultural Relevancy Workshop led by Rajagopal-Durbin will “help participants to understand and confidently articulate what [diversity] entails, explain why it’s critical to our collective future, and build a plan for their organization to move forward with this work.”

Another key component of making conservation and the environment relevant in today is new media and new generations. SHIFT has placed a strong emphasis this year on millennials and youth, including its “Emerging Leaders” program, as well as a keynote address by media specialist Alyssa Ravassio on “Outdoor Rec, Conservation and the New Media Landscape.”

The festival concludes with the popular People’s Banquet 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, October 15 at the Center for the Arts. The event features keynote speaker Steven Rinella, host of the TV show, MeatEater, and author of several books on, what else? Eating meat.

“Hunting and fishing are cornerstones of Jackson’s food heritage, and the hunting and fishing communities are deeply engaged in the protection and preservation of our natural resources,” said Christian Beckwith, SHIFT’s director, of Rinella’s appearance.

The People’s Banquet offers a cornucopia of local food prepared by local chefs, (including meat). Also on offer are all manner of cheeses, veggies, and prepared dishes designed to deepen SHIFT-goers’ sense of place down into their bellies, and hopefully fueling a multi-generational populace of eco-focused minds. PJH

Reporter’s note: This preview only scratches the surface of a jam-packed weekend of SHIFT programming. Visit for more information on all the scheduled talks and events, as well as ticketing info.

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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