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"Staying with Great Salt Lake": A Community Conversation

BY: Katherine Quaid

The questions guiding the Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories podcast – Why stay? How to stay? And who gets to stay (or leave) – are immense, deep questions, personally and collectively. While the podcast explores these questions out loud, and the “What it Means to Stay” portrait exhibit offers a visual platform, the Stay Salty team also wanted to create a space for community members to share their own answers to these questions in a community conversation.

After months of organizing alongside co-facilitators Ashley Finley and Brooke Larsen, roughly 20 people from across the Wasatch Front joined us at the SLC Main Library on May 23 for our community discussion “Staying with Great Salt Lake.” Throughout the evening, we discussed the many ways in which community members are impacted by the crisis of the Lake drying up, and also our shared joys of how we are interconnected with this sacred ecosystem. 

Community members shared how their health has been impacted dually by the shrinking lake and surrounding industry, which has disproportionately impacted people on the West side of the valley, BIPOC communities, people with disabilities and people with chronic illnesses or existing health impacts. 

We also discussed the historical legacy of communities interacting with the lake, from the Indigenous peoples who’ve called the surrounding lake region home for millenia, to people’s Mormon ancestors who have contributed to a legacy of colonization that has led to the current crisis. People shared the emotions associated with caring for Great Salt Lake: a “holy rage” at legislators who continue to stall significant action; a deep grief for all the species whose ecosystems are dying off; and a sustained joy for those moments of connection with the waters, lands, and each other when we are in community with the Lake.

We also discussed what it means to take significant action, how we can mobilize together, and engage new people in conversations about Great Salt Lake outside of our everyday circles. Several community members expressed the need to speak with people in rural areas, co-workers, transplants, and many others, to continue to build a chorus of stories and community to support and listen to the Lake and each other. 

Speaking for myself, and hopefully many others in the room, I walked away with a better understanding of the many unique ways we are interconnected with Great Salt Lake and our current crisis, and how these stories and intersections can lead to solutions to the crisis and action motivated by supporting our local ecosystems and communities.

Sustained action requires community, and these types of conversations and gatherings are the building blocks for creative ideas and solutions that can lead to a healthy Great Salt Lake and justice for communities and ecosystems as we continue to open up, share, listen, and act. 

This conversation is the first of many moments this year where community members are invited to join an ongoing dialogue around Great Salt Lake and what these questions mean to us. Please continue to check out our Instagram (@OfSaltandSand) and website for upcoming events on storytelling, community conversation, and uplifting the narrative to protect Great Salt Lake for all generations.

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