03.3.14

Historic Photos: A Great Way to Bring Communities Together

There’s nothing quite like a series of old black and white photographs—of buildings long-gone, unnamed ancestors sitting on a wagon, familiar mountain ranges with cattle grazing in the foreground—to get people talking. And that’s what happened February 12 in the dining room of the Cowboy Blues restaurant in Escalante, when organizers with the Escalante River Watershed Partnership hosted a special evening event: “Preserving Historic Photos of Escalante, Boulder and the Escalante Watershed.”

About 60 people from the community came together to view old photographs, talk about why they’re important, and learn how their own photos can become part of a broader public collection that helps tell the story of the Escalante River watershed. Network group Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is a key member of the Escalante River Watershed Partnership.

The evening program consisted of three short presentations. Local rancher and ERWP member Dennis Bramble’s talk “Science and the Photographic Record” introduced the concept of photos as indicators of change, particularly to landscapes. He showed, for example, photos of the Escalante River taken before invasive Russian olive trees took hold, when the trees dominated the landscape, and current photos reflecting the work of conservation corps and volunteers who have been removing the trees from the corridor once again.

Photograph of three men and a girl by George Edward Anderson near Escalante, UT ca. 1880-1920: ”He is perhaps best known for his traveling tent studio, set up in small towns throughout central, eastern, and southern Utah to capture the lives of the residents”. - BYU Harold B. Lee Library (Thanks to Ron Rogers for photo and info)

Photograph of three men and a girl by George Edward Anderson near Escalante, UT ca. 1880-1920: ”He is perhaps best known for his traveling tent studio, set up in small towns throughout central, eastern, and southern Utah to capture the lives of the residents”. – BYU Harold B. Lee Library (Thanks to Ron Rogers for photo and info)

Paula Mitchell, Archivist at  Southern Utah University, described the university’s historic photo collection, the need to continue building and improving the metadata accompanying those photos, and how people attending the event could contribute their photos to the university’s digital collection.

Finally, Ron Rogers, ERWP’s Communications Coordinator, introduced the idea of how everyone probably has a few “pioneers in your attic,” family photos that once shared, could enrich people’s understanding and appreciation of the region’s earliest settlers and life in the Escalante River watershed. He invited everyone to bring their old photo collections to the Escalante Heritage Festival in May, where ERWP will have a booth and equipment set up to scan the photos.

Collectively, these historic photos can help tell a richer, more comprehensive story of the public lands in the region and how people have interacted with and impacted the land since western settlement. This historical context can help spark ideas for modern-day management practices and habitat conservation that will sustain people and land well into the future.

To learn more about the project, contact Ron Rogers ron@gsenm.org

Before-and-After photos help show the benefits of removing invasive Russian olives trees from the corridor of the Escalante River, in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (Photo by C. Overby)

Before-and-After photos help show the benefits of removing invasive Russian olives trees from the corridor of the Escalante River, in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (Photo by C. Overby)