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Finding Hope in the Natural World

Joe’s experiences in the Utah outdoors led to his lifelong passion—and advocacy—for natural spaces.

From his earliest days, Joe held a true love and regard for natural resources and the environment.  In his early diaries, he wrote of fishing and finding peace on the banks of the Logan River.  When he traveled to Europe for his LDS mission, he often wrote of the landscapes in which he immersed himself and the struggles he witnessed playing out over management of their own natural resources.  When he came home, he loved to explore the Wasatch mountains and did so by foot, hoof, and ski.  And when he diligently worked to create Alta as a skiing destination, he also saw the potential to convert land once ravaged by industry, be it mining, timber, or sheep, and restore it to its natural state to be enjoyed by another industry entirely.

Once he and Jess returned to Utah from Boston, Joe found a new passion in duck hunting along the shores of the Great Salt Lake. Many farmers, including Perry Burnham,  began flooding their fields to create marshes to attract the duck.  Joe, with his hunting partner Ward McAllister,  hunted often on Perry’s land and before too long they decided to create a private club.  Joe wrote the bylaws and he and Ward each had a share.  The club remains today and they continue to steward the landscape to maintain healthy habitat for waterfowl.

Later in life, Joe was introduced to river rafting.  Among some of his favorites were the Snake, Yampa, Green, and Colorado Rivers, including Cataract Canyon.  He loved the solitude of these adventures and being deep in the quiet of nature.  He ran these rivers in the days before many of the dams were built and braved the rapids in wooden dories fashioned after Major John Wesley Powell’s designs.

But Joe always had a soft spot for Northern Utah, particularly Logan Canyon and the breathtaking Bear Lake.  Both he and Jess treasured their time there and so, in the early 1930’s, they purchased a home that was located in Ideal Beach near Garden City, UT.  Not long after that, Joe was able to purchase a lot about a mile up the road and they moved the house to its permanent location.  There, Jess and Joe spent as much time as summer would allow, entertaining friends and family at the pristine water’s edge.  They cooked over a coal stove, listened to a lively collection of records, enjoyed the ever-changing and particularly vibrant color of the water, witnessed gorgeous sunsets while nestled in the cottonwoods, sailed their wooden spray sailboat, and spent time with family and friends who left their memories in the pages of many house journals.  It was here that Joe’s friendship with Wally Stegner was able to blossom and grow.  They bonded over their love of the land and had lively discussions about the future of water and the diverse challenges facing the desert Southwest. This friendship was strong and enduring.  Joe shared his love of the outdoors with future generations of his family and this commitment lives on in his and Jess’ namesake foundation.   Wallace said it best in his Letter (3 Dec 1960) written to David E. Pesonen of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission:

“We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”