Southern Utah News Articles
Rich Csenge - embarking on another project
Talking to Rich Csenge (pronounced Senj), it quickly becomes apparent that he is a proponent of the adage: “The inactive thinker is a dreamer.”
Instead of dreaming about what might be, the Kanab resident through the years has acted on a constellation of ideas he believes will produce a more just, equitable and sustainable planet, while at the same time elevate human consciousness closer to its full potential.
Be it connecting with the beauty of the natural world, being bedazzled by a starry night, bringing awareness of global warming to nonbelievers, growing a healthy garden, or posting where to buy the best apples in Kane County, Csenge focuses all his energies to make his vision a reality.
So far, his crowning passion is the Amazing Earthfest, held every year in Kanab to bring attention to the phenomenal beauty on public lands in southern Utah. He is also responsible for organizing recent films and discussions to strengthen awareness concerning the threat of climate change, has produced Facebook posts to inspire gab fests about how to engineer sustainable communities, and led efforts resulting in Kanab adopting a dark sky ordinance in order to preserve the dark skies with which the region is blessed.
In fact the latest addition to Csenge’s repertoire is his effort to have an astronomical observatory constructed in the area so residents and visitors will be able to marvel at the starry sky. The structure would also be used as an educational tool for area students.
Soft spoken, but persistent, the boyish-looking Csenge started the Amazing Earthfest right after he arrived in Kanab more than a decade ago with his wife, Debra, so they could share their exuberance for public lands with others.
The weeklong festival, which last spring concluded its 12th year, offers a daily sampling of hikes, bicycle tours, lectures, documentaries, music, travelogues, pot-luck dinners and star parties, all crafted to bring attention to the area’s natural magnanimity. All activities are open to the public, and carry a definite message of environmental preservation and a narrative advocating that communities and individuals use their creative resources to become more self-reliant and stimulate spiritual growth.
Through donations, grants and his own wallet, Csenge, 66, volunteers his time organizing the annual event that is a nonprofit organization. All funds raised from the sale of festival merchandise, including T-shirts, carry bags and coffee mugs, go back into the organization’s coffers.
“I’m trying to expand our conversation about the natural,” he said. “How do we relate to it? How do we leave a lighter footprint? We don’t want to sell stuff, but provide an experience.”
Csenge’s journey to southern Utah began in New York City where he was born and raised until he was 18. From there he drifted to North Carolina, Maine, Vermont and California, where he met his wife, before settling in Kanab, because of its many national parks, monuments and huge swaths of public lands.
He said his attraction to nature and wilderness came from his search to find personal fulfillment.
“It’s a lifelong process,” he said.
When not being active in community projects, Csenge operates Joy in Wood, his furniture business that produces customized pieces built largely of hardwoods imported from the South and East. His small house in Kanab is crowded with exquisite examples of his work, while the walls are hung with his wife’s landscape paintings. The artwork, however, is about to be hung on display in a gallery she plans to open soon in Kanab.
What excites Csenge most today are plans for the observatory. He and others on a board he created have met several times to build public and private support.
A star party is planned for Dec. 7 at 7 p.m., at the Kane County Water Conservancy District office to explain his challenge of bringing the stars down to Earth – or at least their images – to the public.
“Our vision is to have a very fine telescope and a range of smaller, more portable, telescopes,” said Csenge. “The larger instrument will have connectivity with media so an image can be projected onto a large screen.”
There will also be a classroom and outdoor amphitheater for “constellation shows.”
Csenge acknowledges the project will be expensive, but hopes to meet costs through grants, contributions from area businesses, and help from the county.
“Our concept is not to have it as a research facility, but as a public education facility intended to attract and provide programming for area residents, visitors and students,” he said.
Among those showing support for an observatory is the Southern Utah Space Foundation at Southern Utah University and Kanab resident Von Del Chamberlain.
The former director of the Hansen Planetarium in Salt Lake City and chief of the education and presentations division at the Smithsonian Institution’s Space and Air Museum in Washington, D.C., for 11 years, Chamberlain shares Csenge’s drive and enthusiasm for the project.
“He [Csenge] has that persistence to accomplish those things he starts out to do,” said Chamberlain.
He finds it sad that most people living today never get a chance to view the dark sky, but hopes to preserve it in Kanab, which is located in some of the world’s blackest and most brilliant patches of the heavens.
“The project will not be just for visitors,” Chamberlain said. “Even more important, it’s for those who live here and future generations.”
Superintendent of the Kane County School District Ben Dalton, said school officials have met with Csenge and others to discuss the observatory and likes the idea, especially the idea of an amphitheater.
He said teachers met with Csenge’s board last month to discuss the initial plan and proposals to find out the most effective practices that could be implemented into the curriculum and used in course instruction.
“We see an opportunity for students to participate with the observatory in our astronomy classes,” Dalton said. “We’re excited to have our students, in a rural area, being able to look through a telescope of that quality, and gain a greater understanding and appreciation for our solar system.”
With Csenge’s track record of success, chances are leaning toward completion of the observatory and offer another opportunity to expand one’s mind.
“Being with nature offers a connectedness that accelerates consciousness to a level where people can feel a greater oneness with each other and other creatures,” Csenge said. “If you don’t have a connection with nature, if you’re just stuck in a city doing business, I think you’re impoverished.”