Leaders We Admire: Josh Ewing
Executive Director, Friends of Cedar Mesa
When Josh Ewing left a six-figure, 80-hour-a-week job in advertising, he had no intention of entering the nonprofit world—until he and his wife moved to southeastern Utah and discovered San Juan County. He shares the journey that led to his joining the fight to protect Bears Ears National Monument.
Foundation: How did you get involved with Friends of Cedar Mesa?
Ewing: After college, I moved to Salt Lake, where I ended up doing PR for the 2002 Winter Olympics and got very involved in politics. Traveling around Utah, I fell in love with the Bluff area—places that are now part of Bears Ears National Monument. A decade later, after my wife and I moved here, I volunteered for Friends of Cedar Mesa. I had no intention of being a conservationist or a nonprofit leader. But when the opportunity began to build to have a local voice in the Bears Ears protection effort, I thought, “If not me, who?”
Foundation: What does Friends of Cedar Mesa do?
Ewing: We work to ensure that public lands here in San Juan County, Utah, are respected and protected. We do that through on-the-ground stewardship projects, educational outreach, research, archaeological site monitoring, and advocacy. San Juan County is the most archaeologically rich county in the U.S. The Bears Ears region is central to the future of conservation in the United States under the Antiquities Act, so we’re in the middle of the hottest fight in conservation right now. And even when that fight’s over, this is internationally significant public land. It’s a lifetime project to ensure that it’s protected.
Foundation: How does Grand Circle Foundation help?
Ewing: It’s hard to overstate the impact they’ve had by being visionary and helping us get momentum to do important work. In particular, we needed to build an education center to essentially serve as a grassroots-powered Visitors’ Center for the monument until such time as the government would step up and create an official one. That was big project for a small organization! The Foundation was one of the first major contributors to that effort. By so doing, they showed many, many other people that there was momentum—that this was a project that had viability, which was crucial to getting the project rolling.
Foundation: What’s your vision for the future of the organization?
Ewing: It’s going to sound funny, but my vision for the future is we become less important. The goal is to empower and support the five tribal nations, supported by many other tribes, that put forward the idea of the Bears Ears National Monument. The goal is to have a Visitors’ Center run by the tribes, with support from the government, and we step back a little bit. Then, our mission will shift to doing more research, and I’m sure we’ll always have a large role in the ground work, like stabilizing archaeological sites, mending fences, trail work, monitoring sites for looting, that sort of thing.
Foundation: What do you do during your off hours?
Ewing: I’m passionate about rock climbing. The ancient Pueblo people were clearly adept climbers, and I’ve developed a fascination with the archaeology of their ancient cliff dwellings. The other passion I’ve developed is visiting and learning about the cultural history of this area. We have the oldest rock art in North America here. I enjoy seeking out and photographing it. I use my photography to advance protection.
Foundation: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Ewing: My other volunteer work is that I serve as a captain on the Bluff Volunteer Fire Department. The Friends of Cedar Mesa depends on the generosity of donors to do its work. Grand Circle Foundation welcomes your contributions to support education about these lands, to help protect these historic lands for future generations.
Tell us a little about yourself. Which do you prefer?
Chocolate or vanilla?
Reading a book or seeing a movie?
Reading a book.
Going for a hike or sitting by a fire?
Going for a hike—ideally it’s a hike that involves a backpack and a fire!
Talking or listening?
Dogs or cats?