Bears Ears’ only visitor center isn’t run by the feds

With the monument facing stripped-down protections and sky rocketing visitation, a local nonprofit built its own guerrilla visitor center to educate the masses.

The terracotta mesas and umber buttes reveal that this is an exceptional place. Yet not one sign from the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service, the two federal agencies that jointly manage Bears Ears National Monument, indicates where it’s actually located. There are no federal facilities dedicated to the rising tide of visitors.

“It’s managed by Google,” says Josh Ewing, executive director of the land-conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa, based in nearby Bluff, Utah. “Because that’s the only place people are getting their information.”

In the absence of federal resources, Ewing and Friends of Cedar Mesa raised $700,000 from the crowdfunding site Kickstarter and built the Bears Ears Education Center last year. The local climbers, guides, conservationists and educators saw the growing hordes descending on the fragile, embattled monument and feared they could permanently damage the landscape.

Federal agencies estimate that more than 130,000 visitors came to the newly shrunken monument in 2017, a 72% surge from the year before. BLM estimates put the monument-wide number in 2018 as high as 750,000. But even greater numbers are expected: Fodor’s, the popular travel guide publisher, ranked Bears Ears at the top of its list of recommended places to visit in 2019.

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