GCSC Seminar: Reframing the Story of Environmentalism to Highlight Inequality, Justice

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

What is the role of the university in addressing the climate crisis? How can academics engage proactively in environmental and social justice work? How can we transform our institutions to meet this political moment with the urgency it demands?

In her upcoming Global Change & Sustainability Center talk, “Interdisciplinarity, Intersectionality and Environmental Justice: The Time is Now,” Dr. Julie Sze, author and professor of American Studies at the University of California at Davis, will tackle these challenging questions. Sze, whose background is in English, Ethnic Studies, and Peace and Conflict, was drawn to environmental justice work because of the movement’s intersectional approach to environmentalism.

“Mainstream environmentalism is constructed as mostly white, and wilderness, and conservationist,” Sze says. “That erases the stories of people of color and cities and workers,” whereas “environmental justice as a movement was always about reframing the story of environmentalism.”

Sze’s research, which emphasizes environmental justice, inequality, and the intersection between social movements and policy, has led her to believe that we must construct a different kind of university in order to respond effectively to the climate crisis.

What does a different kind of university look like? Sze explains that there is no hard and fast answer to this question, but that we must think critically in ways that draw upon social movements and systemic alternatives to discover the university’s role in addressing the climate crisis.

“There isn’t one easy model,” Sze says, and the process involves examining what students are taught in classes, who they learn from, and what is left out of the curriculum. She says it also means imagining universities that are not based in neo-liberalism, debt, and extraction, and planning campuses that provide more services and less policing.

“Can we have campuses without cops?” Sze asks. “That’s a different kind of university.”

As a scholar and educator, Sze also values academic spaces as entry points to environmental justice work. She was motivated to become politically engaged as an undergraduate student, but says of her upbringing, “I didn’t come from a very political background. It’s not part of my genealogy, my family history, my community, to be interested in these kinds of things.”

She believes that universities are integral to solving the climate crisis because of the opportunities they create for students like her to learn things outside of their own lived experiences and to develop passion for environmental justice regardless of their upbringing. When universities make space for students to ask questions, feel outraged, and be curious, “more and more of them want to do this work…and make meaning in their lives,” she says.

On creating a “new kind of university,” Sze argues that we must always remember how our work in academia is connected to the outside world. She points out that while scientists have been warning about climate change for years, our response has not met the magnitude of the crisis. “How much empirical evidence do we have to show before something’s done?” she asks.

The crises we face today must be met with creativity and urgency. “On the one hand, we have to do what we’ve always done, because it really matters,” Sze says. On the other hand, we have to do something else.” Join Sze at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22 at tinyurl.com/gcsc-sze to learn more about what that “something else” looks like, and how you can contribute to the movement.

Growing food and community in a pandemic

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office
Originally published in @theU

Breakfast or textbooks? Dinner or rent? Even before COVID-19, food insecurity was rife on college campuses across America, leaving students with difficult choices to make. As the cost of living rises and college tuition plunges a generation of young people into debt, some students are opting to forego nutritious food to afford other basic needs.

The coronavirus pandemic has only made matters worse. By heightening food insecurity in vulnerable communities and hindering our ability to break bread with friends and family, COVID-19 has changed the way we relate to our food.

The Sustainability Office at the University of Utah is quickly adapting its sustainable food initiatives to ensure that students have access to food and community, says Jessica Kemper, sustainable food initiatives manager for the Sustainability Office. “We’re trying to build community and put produce in peoples’ hands,” Kemper says. “The practicality of the work has shifted but not the goals or the mission of the work.”

To continue to meet those goals, past programs are shifting to allow students to continue to physically distance while also accessing fresh produce.

Avery Durham, a fourth-year GIS major and a student garden steward in Sustainability’s Edible Campus Gardens, explains that normally the gardens sell their produce at the weekly U Farmers Market, but with the market canceled this year, it will look a little different. “We’ve decided we’re giving away all of our produce,” Durham says.

On Sept. 9, Oct. 14 and Nov. 4, garden stewards will set up a stand outside of the Campus Store to give away freshly grown garden produce to the university community. These Produce Pickups will not only share food but will also share knowledge about where the food came from and how to prepare it. “We’re having these little recipes that we’re going to be giving away with all the produce,” Durham says. “Students can get the produce that they want, and then they’ll have this recipe that they can go and make.”

Elle-Rose Knudson, a garden steward and third-year mechanical engineering major, explains that the rest of the Edible Campus Gardens’ produce will be donated to the Feed U Pantry, which is located in the basement level of the A. Ray Olpin Union Building. “People having access to food is always an issue, of course, but specifically during the pandemic,” she says. “I felt really good about being part of something that allowed people to have access to food.”

In previous years, most of the gardens’ produce was sold at the U Farmers Market, with smaller amounts provided free at Produce Pickups. This year, however, “all of our produce will be going to the Feed U Pantry where anyone with a U Card can pick it up for free,” Knudson says. Director of the Feed U Pantry Emily Huang, a fourth-year biology student, describes the importance of the pantry to the campus community. “Even before the pandemic, food insecurity, especially in higher education, was very prevalent,” Huang says. “But with the pandemic going on we’ve definitely seen an increase in clients visiting the pantry.”

Huang encourages students, staff, and faculty to visit the Feed U Pantry, and hopes to destigmatize the act of utilizing campus food resources. “This really is a non-judgmental space, and we’re just here for students no matter how much help they need.”

The Sustainability Office also has opportunities for those who are missing the community element of sharing food. Campus student groups will host Zoom Cooking Hours, which create virtual opportunities to gather with friends and share a delicious meal. There will be five events this semester, and cooking kits stocked with a recipe and ingredients will be available at no cost at the Feed U Pantry.  Participants will meet virtually to learn a new recipe, cook, and eat together. The program is sponsored by Harmons.

“In the face of a pandemic, it’s a really good time to just take a breather and eat some good food,” Kemper reminds us. Fortunately, between the Feed U Pantry, Produce Pickups, and Zoom Cooking hours, it’s possible for the campus community to do just that.

GCSC SEMINAR: DISASTER RESILIENCE IN AN UNJUST WORLD

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

As climate-induced wildfires rage across the West and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten our communities, many of us have disaster on the mind. How will we respond when disaster strikes close to home? How will we recover? How can we build our communities to be resilient in the face of crisis?

In her upcoming Global Change & Sustainability Center seminar, “A Grassroots View of Disaster Recovery,” Dr. Divya Chandrasekhar will explore these questions, as well as examine what it means to be disaster resilient in a complex, uncertain and unjust world. Chandrasekhar, associate professor in City & Metropolitan Planning and an urban and regional planner who has studied disasters across the globe, is particularly interested in the importance of community autonomy to the recovery process.

Because disasters impact every dimension of our lives, from our collective economy to our individual psychology, disaster recovery must happen at the grassroots level—from the bottom up.

“When you say a community has recovered, it means every individual in that community should have recovered in some meaningful way,” Chandrasekhar says. This can only happen when individuals have agency and power in their own recovery process, so she cautions fellow urban planners and other eager outsiders to take care in their recovery work. Without a deep understanding of the community’s needs and capacities, their efforts will be irrelevant or even harmful, she says. Her call to action? Engage communities in deciding their own futures.

While one might think that a person who spends her life studying disasters would feel rather pessimistic, Chandrasekhar says she finds great hope in her work. While disasters inflict trauma and tragedy, they also present an important opportunity.

“Disasters shake up existing structures,” Chandrasekhar says. “They don’t just destroy your building, they smash government structures. They smash patriarchy.” If a community is ready to address these underlying issues, the recovery process presents a good opportunity to demand justice and build resilience, she says. Climate change and COVID-19, which have hit communities of color and under-resourced communities the hardest, demonstrate that oppressive structures like racism and colonialism cause the effects of disaster to be felt disproportionately.

“The process of going from recovery to resilience requires addressing those larger structural issues,” Chandrasekhar says. “There can be no resilience unless there is social justice.”

So, amidst the grief, the anger, and the loss that disaster brings, Chandrasekhar finds hope—hope for healing, for a more just future and for resilient communities that can withstand disaster.

Whether you’re an organizer doing mutual aid in your neighborhood, an urban planner hoping to better engage communities in your work, or an individual searching for hope in this trying time, Chandrasekhar’s talk will have something for you. Join us from 4-5 p.m. Tuesday, September 1 at https://tinyurl.com/gcsc-disaster as she explores the complexity of disaster recovery and calls for social justice as the only path to true resilience.

Sustainability Office hiring student employees

By the Sustainability Office

Work on campus to help make the U more sustainable! Help the Sustainability Office in its mission to integrate sustainability—the integrated pursuit of social equity, environmental integrity and economic security—across campus departments and operations.

All undergraduate positions are 10 hours per week and pay $10 per hour. Open to U students only.

Edible Campus Gardens StewardS

The Edible Campus Gardens of the Sustainability Office seeks multiple students with leadership skills and a passion for community-based produce. Stewards will assist with maintenance of the gardens, including weeding, planting, turning soil, working the compost system and other garden tasks. Stewards will also harvest produce and deliver produce to the Feed U Pantry. This year, the Edible Campus Gardens team is donating all its produce to the Feed U Pantry and will focus on social justice and equity in our space and in farming and gardening communities. Priority application review is Aug. 30. Learn more.

Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) Intern

The Sustainability Office seeks a student intern to help promote and run the SCIF program at the University of Utah. SCIF is a grant program that provides funding for the campus community to propose and implement sustainability projects on campus and in the community. The student intern will assist the SCIF program through outreach and program tracking, social media, data entry, administrative support, blog writing and campus-centric opportunities. Most importantly, the intern will help the Sustainability Office make the SCIF program fun and exciting for the whole campus. Priority application review is Sept. 7. Learn more.

Sustainability Office Cancels 2020 U Farmers Market

By the Sustainability Office

The Sustainability Office has come to the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 U Farmers Market. We felt it wasn’t possible to move forward safely, and the health of our community must be a top priority. We value the community space created by the U Farmers Market, and we hope it will return in full force in fall 2021. 

Still looking for fresh, locally grown produce? The Sustainability Office’s Edible Campus Gardens continue to grow food and donate it to the Feed U Pantry in the Union building. Weekly deliveries are generally done on Mondays, weather permitting. Additionally, watch our social media accounts this fall for announcements about pop-up free Produce Pickups from garden harvests.

 

 

Sustainability team boosts access to air quality education

By Meghan Burrows and Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

The Sustainability Office created a suite of initiatives this past year aimed at one of our valley’s most significant problems: air pollution.

The Sustainability Education team developed several pathways to enhance interdisciplinary air quality education at the University of Utah. Those pathways include efforts to identify and designate air quality courses; create an online air quality course; and pilot an Air Quality Scholars program. The Senior Vice President’s Office provided $9,000 toward the efforts.

“Bringing an interdisciplinary lens to complex air quality issues allows students to engage with faculty in relevant and authentic problem solving,” said Adrienne Cachelin, director of Sustainability Education. “This is an invaluable educational opportunity and one that helps us better understand the systemic underpinnings of disparities in health.”

Identify and designate air quality courses across campus
The Sustainability Education team identified 42 courses from 12 departments that include air quality content. These courses will be listed as electives for the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability and will be used to build an air quality track for a new undergraduate sustainability certificate, which will launch in 2021.

Create an interdisciplinary online course
Collecting video and content from “The Air We Breathe: A Multidisciplinary Approach on Air Quality” symposium, held in October 2019, the Sustainability Education team developed a new online course that allows students to explore and integrate a variety of approaches to air quality. Students will learn about local initiatives through the lenses of geography, policy, and health, as well as explore air quality as an environmental justice issue.

President Watkins at the Air We Breathe Symposium in October 2019

President Ruth Watkins addresses attendees at “The Air We Breathe: A Multidisciplinary Approach on Air Quality” symposium in October 2019.

Pilot an Air Quality Scholars program

The Air Quality Scholars program was an innovative approach to bring together students from diverse disciplines to develop solutions for local air quality concerns. Three graduate and five undergraduate students received scholarships and participated in a year-long cohort led by instructors Emerson Andrews, manager of the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, and Meghan Dovick, associate instructor for the Global Change & Sustainability Center.

“The scholars from this year-long program were able to engage with students from various disciplines, campus researchers and staff, and community air quality leaders,” Dovick said. “This engagement inspired the scholars to create and implement projects centered around improving air quality for our campus and community. This process demonstrates how collaborative efforts result in meaningful projects.”

The Air Quality Scholars program took a comprehensive approach to learning about local air quality issues and applying that knowledge to real-world projects. In addition to regular group meetings with the instructors, all scholars were required to attend “The Air We Breathe” symposium. Over the course of the year, the students then developed group projects related to research and engagement with air pollution. The projects included:

Analyzing risk perceptions

The Air Quality Data Analysis Project with Tabitha Benney, assistant professor in Political Science, investigated Utahns understanding of health risks associated with long-term and short-term air quality issues. Three students performed data analysis on 1,160 responses to the Utah Air Quality Risk and Behavioral Action Survey to determine the impacts of socioeconomic status on the perception of the health risks of air pollution. Scholars wrote a joint research paper on their analysis and findings, which they will submit to an undergraduate journal.

Engaging learners

In collaboration with the Utah Museum of Fine Art’s planned “Air” exhibition, organized by senior curator Whitney Tassie, Air Quality Scholars developed three apps that will engage the community in healthy behaviors. The first app is a survey about personal habits and air quality, and the second app is a pledge to adapt personal habits to improve air quality. The final app examines the correlation between air quality and school absences. These apps will be on hand at the exhibit and the Marriott Library.

Alerting the campus community

A new email delivery system will inform students, faculty, and staff about air quality status and how to respond. The Sustainability Office and the Global Change & Sustainability Center plan to host a webpage where people can sign up for the emails. Full implementation of the system is scheduled for fall 2020.

Sustainability Leaders Recommit to Centering Equity and Justice

Along with many of you, we spent this past week filled with grief. These feelings are tragically familiar, as is their cause. The legacy of racial oppression played out on city streets around the country and right here in Salt Lake City. We all must play a role in demanding justice in our communities and our nation. Recognizing that our silence would itself be a form of violence, we recommit to working actively against the systems that devalue and disregard black lives and disproportionately impact communities of color. In the Sustainability Office and Global Change & Sustainability Center, we will center justice and equity, reaffirming antiracist practice as a fundamental part of our shared work. We stand in solidarity with oppressed communities, pledge to listen and act, and acknowledge that this is a collective fight.

Brenda Bowen, Global Change & Sustainability Center Director
Adrienne Cachelin, Sustainability Education Director and professor/lecturer in Environmental & Sustainability Studies
Kerry Case, Chief Sustainability Officer

Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund: Year in Review

By Emerson Andrews, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund manager

During the 2019-2020 academic year, the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) provided more than $100,000 to 19 projects designed by University of Utah community members. The projects covered a range of issues, from concerns about equity and accessibility, to water-use reduction, air-pollution awareness, and more. Project funding is approved by an allocation committee comprised of students, staff, and faculty.

Alt Breaks Zero Waste Spa, $702

Project manager: Sara Matlock  |  Advisor: J Swanger

The Zero Waste Spa, hosted by the Bennion Center, provided students with the raw materials they needed to make their own self care products. A SCIF grant covered the cost of materials.

Campus Stormwater Modeling, $976

Project managers: Aaron Meyer, Ryan Johnson  |  Advisor: Steve Burian

The Campus Stormwater Modeling project connected students from Civil & Environmental Engineering with the Facilities Management stormwater management team in order to create precise models of stormwater on campus, which will aid future planning decisions.

Sustainability in City Building Video Games, $990

Project manager: José Zagal

José Zagal, a professor in the Entertainment Arts & Engineering, received funding to research the representation of sustainability in city building video games.

Future Clinicians for Clean Air, $1,000

Project manager: Liza Kasavana  |  Advisor: Teresa Garrett

The Future Clinicians for Clean Air grant funded an event that focused on the health effects of poor air quality and how it impacts the work of clinicians. The event featured a lecture by Trenton Honda, associate professor and division chief for Physician Assistant Studies, which focused on the systemic effects of air pollution on the human bodies.

Inland Port Info Session, $245

Project manager: Malachai Bateman  |  Advisor: Adrienne Cachelin

The Inland Port Info Session brought Deeda Seeds, senior Utah field campaigner at Center for Biological Diversity, and Jonny Vasic, executive director for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, to talk about the potential environmental and health impacts of the Inland Port.

Air Quality Art Installation, $980

Project manager: Angelina L. DeMarco  |  Advisor: Meghan Dovick

The Air Quality Art Installation received funding to visualize the public impacts of air pollution through an art display. The project will be included in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts’ forthcoming Air exhibition.

Xerxes Bee Campus, $1,000

Project manager: Hailey Keller  |  Advisor: Amy Sibul

The Xerxes Bee Campus project used SCIF funding to enroll the University of Utah as a Bee Campus, a status that reflects the history of campus work with bees.

Observation Bee Boxes, $783

Project manager: Zachary Higgins  |  Advisor: Amy Sibul

The Observation Bee Boxes project earned SCIF funding to construct pollinator boxes that allow people to see how native bees nest. These boxes will be installed at the Edible Campus Gardens.

Cover of the Sights & Sightlines journal

Students put together the Sights & Sightlines journal.

Sights & Sightlines, $3,040

Project manager: Michelle Wentling  |  Advisor: Jeff McCarthy

The Sights & Sightlines project used funds to print a journal. Each contributor chose a site on the University of Utah campus; they’re articles focused on a site’s physical characteristics, inhabitants, and history, as well as interviews with people passing through the site. The journal highlighted the issues of environmental justice, deep time, the urban-wild interface, human and animal migration, natural disasters, and land use all focused on the locale of Salt Lake City.

Equitable Vogmasks, $9,996

Project manager: Sydney Boogaard  |  Advisor: Jennifer Watt

The Environmental & Sustainability Studies department used SCIF funding to purchase and distribute Vogmasks at a subsidized cost for the Equitable Vogmasks project. The sales of the masks were so successful that the money earned was used to purchase and sell more masks.

Sustainability & Equity Pledge, $2,250

Project manager: Sydney Boogaard  |  Advisor: Jennifer Watt

For the Sustainability & Equity Pledge, students from the Environmental & Sustainability Studies department purchased green cords for the commencement ceremony that would reflect the students’ pledge to live a sustainable life. The idea is that the visual display of students’ commitment to sustainability will help spread a culture of sustainability across campus.

UKids Accessibility, $10,000

Project manager: Divya Chandrasekhar

Divya Chandrasekhar, assistant professor in City & Metropolitan Planning, used funds to run a safety and accessibility assessment for the area that surrounds the U Kids facility on Guardsman Way. When dropping off her own child, Chandrasekhar noticed she could not access the facility through any means of transportation other than a car. The goal is that the assessment can highlight potential solutions for the accessibility and safety issues.

Waterless Urinals, $2,941

Project managers: John Haraden, Ethan Black  |  Advisor: Bonita Austin

Students from the David Eccles School of Business used SCIF funds to purchase and install waterless urinals at the Marriott Library.

Solar Umbrellas Expansion, $5,645

Project managers: Cami Kenworthy, Ben ReMillard, Michelle Behrmann  |  Advisor: Jennifer Watt

Students from the Environmental & Sustainability Studies department received SCIF money to purchase another Enerfusion table umbrella with solar panels for use at Gardner Commons. The umbrellas allow the campus community to charge small electronics using the energy captured by the umbrellas’ solar panels.

Campus Community Food Project, $4,100

Project manager: Adrienne Cachelin

The Campus Community Food Project researched Glendale residents’ perceptions regarding an urban farm and their visions for how the farm might support food access. The project will move beyond the initial community inquiry, bringing the work full circle by reconnecting the findings with University of Utah campus programs, including the Edible Campus Gardens and University Neighborhood Partners. The project’s emphasis on community partnership positions the University of Utah as a conduit through which allied local government agencies and nonprofits can work together with diverse communities and support expressed needs.

Project Embrace, $5,645

Project manager: Gabrielle Hoyer  |  Advisor: Dean McGovern

Biomedical Engineering students secured funds to support Project Embrace at the University of Utah. Project Embrace is a student-founded and student-led start-up nonprofit that collects gently used mobility assistance devices to be sanitized, refurbished, and redistributed to marginalized and low-income populations. The funds purchased the supplies necessary to refurbish the equipment and market the program.

Medical School Community Garden, $2,070

Project manager: Alyssa Thorman  |  Advisor: Shannon Jones

The Medical School Community Garden, an ASUU-registered student interest group, received funding to build a community garden on the Health Sciences campus. The garden will cater to all students that are a part of the Health Sciences community in an attempt to combat food insecurity, provide a green space, and contribute to sustainability initiatives taking place on campus.

Fort Douglas Light Pollution Reduction, $20,000

Project managers: Kari Stoddard, Daniel Anderson  |  Advisors: Nate Bricker

SCIF awarded students from the Department of Health, Kinesiology, and Recreation funding to partner with the Sustainability & Energy Management Department in Facilities Management to identify and replace outdoor lighting in the Sage Point area of Fort Douglas. The selected fixtures are dark-sky compliant to reduce light pollution.

Bird-Strike Mitigation Continuation, $28,496

Project manager: Barbara Brown

Barbara Brown, professor in Family & Consumer Studies, received funds to complete work on the installation of anti-bird-strike films on windows in buildings on Presidents Circle to prevent the death of Cedar Wax Wings. In addition to the installation, Brown also published research regarding the factors for predicting bird-strike frequency and identifying hotspots on campus.

Student project: Small thermostat changes lead to big change

Students from the Anthropocene Now Praxis Lab created a website to help educate the community about thermostats and the potential to change behavior to reduce emissions.

By Kelsie Rae Patten, student in the Anthropocene Now Honors Praxis Lab

We’re all familiar with the need to reduce carbon emissions in our warming world. We’re told to get solar panels on our homes, drive less, and eat fewer carbon-intensive foods. These changes can require a lot of effort for small individual impacts, so not everyone feels inclined to participate. Alternatively, we push for institutional and infrastructural changes to initiate large-scale reductions of carbon pollution. But recognizing the scale and power of big polluters causes individuals to be far more reluctant to make personal changes—even if they do have direct positive consequences.

What if there was a behavioral change that requires little effort for a high impact? Adjusting one’s thermostat just a few degrees can result in considerable carbon reductions, especially when we act collectively. This is because heating and cooling account for 48 percent of home energy consumption, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Thus, starting with thermostats is perhaps the most effective first step toward environmental responsibility in the home.

How effective is adjusting the thermostat? The Department of Energy estimates that each degree of thermostat adjustment per 8 hours results in 1 percent of savings. So, changing your thermostat 2 degrees closer to the outside temperature is something many people would barely even notice, but it can save 2 percent of home emissions each year. At 2 percent savings, the average American home saves 136 kilograms of carbon into the atmosphere. And if you can change your thermostat 7-10 degrees back while you sleep, you can achieve annual savings up to 10 percent or 680 kilograms of carbon.

This behavior is beneficial for individuals, but especially has the potential to be incredibly impactful with large-scale participation. For this reason, U students in the Anthropocene Now Honors Praxis Lab want to increase public awareness regarding thermostat use. The group is launching an education campaign to teach others about the potential energy savings and positive environmental impacts of reducing energy consumption from heating and cooling. The group also plans to teach members of the U community how to use their own personal thermostats.

At rebrand.ly/Thermostats-101, students from the Anthropocene Now lab have provided tutorials on how to identify and use the most common types of thermostats. A future marketing campaign will include social media posts and stickers that will be placed near every thermostat in certain campus buildings, particularly residence halls.

The greater purpose of this project is to reduce the University of Utah’s carbon footprint. The institution is already making major strides toward sustainability, such as purchasing more clean energy and improving infrastructure. However, behavioral changes must also be prioritized to ensure a clean and safe environment at the U. If all you had to do to achieve energy costs and carbon released into the atmosphere was put on a sweater in your home, would you do it?

 

This student project was supported by the Sustainability and Energy Management Office in Facilities Management, Sustainability Office, and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Insitute. Praxis Labs are hosted by the University of Utah Honors College and provide students opportunities to engage in their communities.

How to safely recreate now

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Engagement Manager

We could all use a little adventure, especially after strictly following the State of Utah “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive. But just as our everyday lives have changed in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the way we recreate must necessarily be different, too.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t go camping or take outdoor trips.

Under Project Orange guidelines, Outdoor Adventures, the U’s outdoor equipment rental and trips program, is expected to begin renting “hard goods” such as rigid and inflatable watercrafts (kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes), life jackets, bikes, and helmets on May 18. Rentals will be through reservation only, with scheduled pick-up and drop-off times, and must be paid by credit card. Tents, sleeping bags and pads, and other “soft goods” are not available at this time because of sanitation concerns. Check the Campus Recreation Services website for current updates.

Alli Hughes, co-manager of Outdoor Adventures, said going camping can be safe if you have “realistic expectations,” including continuing physical distancing and wearing a mask.

“You can go camping with those who are under your own roof or who you have been distancing with—it’s safer than opening it up to other friends,” Hughes said. “The other thing to keep in mind is if you know the location. Check the closures in advance. And if you are able, bring a mask—even cloth ones.”

Parks are reopening. For current status, check with Utah State Parks, the National Park Service, or use Outdoor Adventures’ trip planning site. Hughes points out that as parks reopen, they will go through a stabilization phase before returning to past levels of operation. Coronavirus impacts, such as staff reductions and loss of fees, will reduce services, including trash removal and bathroom cleaning, and affect park safety. There may not be rangers or other on-site staff to help with emergency calls. Additionally, any search and rescue calls force rescue professionals to break physical distancing guidelines, as well as increase hospitalizations. Hughes said that back country permits are largely unavailable, so going in those areas is also high risk.

Crowds should also be avoided. Many people will go to “family friendly” trails that are short and flat, so those who are able should look for alternate options, Hughes said. Trails are busiest during midday, so hiking early in the morning or after the afternoon rush will help goers maintain physical distancing.

Despite the need for increased safety measures, going on hikes or camping can provide an important release for those suffering from cabin fever. 

“I love the brain break provided by getting outside,” Hughes said. “When you get out of the city, you don’t see garbage or billboards. It gives your brain a minute to not be overwhelmed with everything in your environment, words, pictures, social media, and media in general. All of that goes away when you go outside. I like the peace it brings me.”

If you are planning a trip to the great outdoors, keep these tips from Hughes in mind:

  1. Go where you know: Services, including on-site support for contacting help, are limited. Stick to the locations you know best, and do not push beyond your own limitations.
  2. If feeling sick, stay home: Your health—and the health of others—is more important than going hiking or camping. If you have a fever or other symptoms, stay home and plan your next adventure.
  3. Stay at least 6 feet apart: When hiking or camping, maintain physical distancing of six feet or more from other people and groups. Wear a mask if possible.
  4. Avoid hiking at peak hours: Trails get crowded during the midday. Try going earlier or later in the day to avoid people.
  5. Practice leave no trace: Trash services are limited due to lack of staff and fees for maintaining waste removal. Remember to pack it in and pack it out.

Enjoy the outdoors—safely.