SALT LAKE CITY — On its face, a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a Bears Ears education and visitor center seems benign, but its components led one board member of the environmental group involved to question the ethics of offering hikes to "secret" sites for $10,000.
The campaign by Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks to raise $310,000 to buy an old bar in Bluff to convert it to an education center, with a fundraising deadline of Dec. 31.
A Facebook promotion details that for a pledge of $10,000, the donor will receive a guided hike with Josh Ewing, Friends of Cedar Mesa's executive director, to secret sites.
"I have just reviewed the 'FCM' Kickstarter Campaign," an internal draft memo reads. "I am totally repulsed (first-word choice) disappointed, maddened, angered, by two elements," wrote a board member whose identity has not been disclosed.
Ewing, who says he knows who wrote the memo but declined to identify the author, said he regrets the language used in the campaign crafted by Duct Tape Then Beer, which describes itself as a team of "creative professionals with roots in the outdoor community."
"It was a mistake to use 'secret' on our hikes with the Kickstarter campaign given the level of sensitivity around that word particularly," he said. "I regret that people read into that what we were doing as being something that was irresponsible."
Other board members, too, say that Ewing has their "complete" support and the accidental distribution of what should have been a private discussion was "unfortunate."
"It was a regrettable and inadvertent release of private information," said David Nimkin, who is on Friends of Cedar Mesa's board of directors. The board also released a statement in support of Ewing.
The draft memo, accidentally circulated outside the board, questions the intentions of Ewing, who has been central in the fight to establish the Bears Ears National Monument and whose group is now suing the Trump administration over its reduction in size.
"A 10K price tag for a secret site hike with Josh? This is the marketing strategy of Backpacker Magazine — '10 best secret hikes in Utah!' and worse …," the memo reads. "A campaign does have its costs. But I am NOT willing to have FCM be seen as an organization willing to sell secret sites to $10,000 donors."
It goes on to say that "Josh seems to have gone rogue and is only feeding off FCM to pursue his own agenda … which is not totally in FCM's best interest."
The draft memo raised questions, too, over other Friends of Cedar Mesa media productions, including the Patagonia-funded "Defined by the Line — A Film About the Fight to Save Bears Ears."
The 2015 film shows Ewing climbing into an archaeological site and picking up a pottery sherd, which the Bureau of Land Management said drew complaints from viewers at the time.
"The BLM discourages climbing in or on structures or picking up sherds," said BLM spokeswoman Lisa Bryant. While it is not unlawful to pick up such objects, Bryant said the film did not show Ewing putting it back where it was found — which is illegal.
"We know in subsequent conversations with Josh that he did put it back," she said, "but that should have been shown."
The agency also does not recommend climbing into archaeological sites because of the risk of damage, she added. She encouraged visitors to learn more information from its Respect and Protect campaign.
The BLM did receive an application from Friends of Cedar Mesa for guided hikes in the Cedar Mesa area on Nov. 1, which is under routine review. There are 50 active special recreation holders in the Cedar Mesa area that offer hiking. The groups mostly come universities or other schools, Bryant added.
Ewing said the guided hike component of the fundraising campaign is designed to show donors spectacular places they might not otherwise know about and is not about trampling through sacred sites.
But the board member's memo said the Kickstarter campaign underscores the need for the board to have "oversight" of all media productions.
"This has been an ongoing problem," it read. "I can honestly say I do not trust Josh to make the correct media decisions to put (Friends of Cedar Mesa) in the best light."
The draft memo wound up in the inbox of Jim Stiles, founding publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr and outspoken critic of what he calls the outdoor recreationists' "urbanization" of the West in pursuit of the tourist dollar.
Stiles called out Ewing, and Friends of Cedar Mesa, in a blog he published Wednesday, accusing them of slick marketing to jeopardize the monument they say they want protected.6 comments on this story
"Friends of Cedar Mesa has repeatedly portrayed itself as a champion for the land, but the FCM memo expressed many of my own concerns," he said. "Ultimately, I think FCM's marketing and selling of the Bears Ears region will almost certainly degrade and damage the very resource FCM claims it wants to protect."
Stiles believes many environmental groups have joined hands with influential outdoor recreation businesses at the expense of landscapes.
"How is it possible that our environmental 'leaders' in Utah are now individuals who would sell 'secret hikes' to wealthy benefactors for $10,000?" he asked.