Two social science research programs have been launched this winter in the communities surrounding Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This December and January will see a team of Arizona State University scientists visit southern Utah to explore how Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument can play a part in stimulating regional tourism and creating benefits for local communities. Early next year, Colorado Mesa University researchers will be studying visitor use of Monument resources along the Hole in the Rock Road.

Led by Dr. Gyan Nyaupane, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director in the School of Community Resources & Development, the Arizona State University team includes two professors and five graduate students from Arizona State University and an undergraduate researcher from Southern Utah University. The study will identify critical relationships between community development, tourism, and conservation.

Dr. Nyaupane, also affiliated with Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability as a Senior Scientist, is an international expert in the “appreciative inquiry” technique, which seeks out the best qualities in individuals and organizations. Appreciative inquiry projects build a working network of partners that function cooperatively to identify and reach a future that contributes positively to the interests of all stakeholders.

During fieldwork in Kanab, Dr. Nyaupane said, “I am very excited for this study and look forward to meeting with community members in southern Utah to learn about all the good things they have been doing in their communities. Unlike traditional problem-solving or deficiency-based approaches, we will be focusing on the successes and strengths of individuals, communities and organizations, which I hope will provide a new vision for the future of these communities and the region.”

The Arizona State University research team will be conducting interviews with local business owners and stakeholders from communities ringing the southern boundary of the National Monument from December 16 through December 22. The team will be back in January to interview leaders and community business interests in Garfield County in early January.

These interviews, combined with an analysis of community assets, will lead to community stakeholder meetings in early spring. A one-day Appreciative Inquiry summit is planned for mid-April, 2013. Stakeholders will share their goals and aspirations for enhanced partnerships and cooperative efforts between the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and local tourism, recreation, and associated business interests.

Dr. Tim Casey, Professor of Political Science with the Natural Resources Center at Colorado Mesa University, will come to southern Utah in early 2013 to establish a visitor experience baseline for portions of the Monument along and accessed via Hole in the Rock Road. Dr. Casey is a lead researcher and field coordinator at the Natural Resources Center and has extensive experience working with BLM on similar social science projects on the Colorado Plateau. He has been responsible for facilitation of public meetings and focus groups regarding public lands since 2006. His team will study who visitors are, where and how they are recreating, and most importantly, why they are recreating.

The Colorado Mesa University team will also put together focus groups with local political leaders, area residents, business owners, outfitter and guides, recreationists, and visitors. The first focus group is scheduled for March in conjunction with the GSENM Outfitters and Guides Workshop in Escalante. The Colorado Mesa University researchers are looking to involve the public in the planning process, to open dialogue between the Monument and the public on recreation issues, and to gather data needed to better understand the public’s desired outcomes for recreation management in the Hole in the Rock Road area.