There's an adage in southern Utah that Blanding is a nice place to visit - for about 20 minutes.
It's a distasteful truth in southeastern Utah where tens of thousands of people pass through Blanding, but very few of them spend any time. Or money. And for Blanding residents hungry for tourist dollars, it's a situation they would sorely like to change."We're just not stopping the numbers we need to," said Cleo Bradford, one of Blanding's most prominent spokesmen on economic development.
Bradford and others in Blanding lobbied hard in the 1970s for the state to build Edge of the Cedars Museum - a grandiose dream to lure tourist dollars. Blanding now has one of the finest museums anywhere in the Southwest, but the dream just hasn't come true.
The facility was built too far off the main highway and visitation has lagged. And the tourists that visit the museum "stay no more than 20 minutes on average," said Stephen Olsen, superintendent of the Edge of the Cedars Museum.
"They're here a few minutes and then they're back on the road."
Always persistent, southeastern Utahns are now looking toward another tourism development, expected to be completed by next spring, they hope will lift Blanding out of the tourism doldrums.
An elaborate outdoor cultural center, dubbed the Nations of the
our Corners, is under construction and will be operated as part of the San Juan Campus of the College of Eastern Utah.
Organizers like Bradford firmly believe in their dream that tourists will come to Blanding and stay awhile to hear the story of Ute and Navajo Indians, the Spanish sheepherders and the pioneers who settled the area.
"I believe it will become a major influence on the local economy," said Bradford, director of the Four Corners Study Center at the CEU and chief promulgator of the concept. "It will give people another reason to stop and stay awhile rather than drive on through."
The concept is a cultural center featuring four "villages" representing the Navajo, Ute, Spanish and pioneer cultures. All played integral roles in the historic settlement of the Four Corners area, and the villages will replicate the architecture and lifestyle of the 19th-century cultures.
The cultural center would also feature evening pageants with Indian, Spanish and Anglo students from CEU. Pageants promise to be a popular attraction that will keep tourists in the city overnight, Bradford said.
"For years we have been feeding and entertaining bus tours but we haven't had any facilities," Bradford said. "We just do it out on the rocks. That's not a very professional way to do things if we want to attract large numbers of visitors to the area and keep them awhile."
A $125,000 community impact grant has just been awarded to construct restrooms, a pavilion to accommodate large groups and an outdoor theater for the pageants. Those amenities will complement the Navajo, Ute, Spanish and pioneer exhibits.
"We can now do it professionally," Bradford said. "And we can handle the larger groups that come through. Part of the problem has been we never had facilities to handle these groups."
Construction on the four villages and several hiking trails should be completed by Thanksgiving, and construction on the pavilion, watch tower and theater should be completed in time for the 1989 tourist season. Much of the construction is being done by work-study students at the college and some is being donated.
CEU has acquired from the Bureau of Land Management 66 acres just south of the campus where the cultural center is located. The Board of Regents has agreed to make the center part of the college as long as it is financially self-supporting.
"That's not going to be a problem," said Bradford, adding the authenticity of the exhibits should make it a popular attraction for local residents as well as tourists.
The villages will be authentic reproductions built by descendants of each culture. In many cases, they were constructed with the advice and consultation of tribal elders who still remember the old ways.
Bradford sees the cultural center as part of a two-pronged attraction for Blanding that will focus historic cultures and the prehistoric cultures at Edge of the Cedars Museum.
"We're not attempting to be a museum here," said Bradford. "We don't want to compete with Edge of the Cedars Museum. We have ancient ruins on the property, but they will not be developed. Ours is a cultural exhibit, while their emphasis is prehistoric artifacts. I think we will complement each other."
In fact, Bradford says efforts are underway to acquire an access route from the cultural center to the museum about a half-mile away. People who visit the cultural center will be referred to the museum and vice versa.
Eventually, Bradford would like to see the cultural center and museum as two parts of a tourism triangle, the third part being an interpretive tour of local Anasazi ruins.
"We have a lot of potential here," Bradford said. "It's just developing it so people coming through know what we've got."