Featured

Film Photography: Trend or Timeless?

I’ve always been interested in photography. However, while my other friends were taking photography classes in High School, I was doing college courses. I didn’t have a need for a “fine arts” credit, so I never got around to it. I was pretty much always on a strict schedule of overachievement so that when the time came, I could be the first college graduate in my family. It was a conscious choice I made, and I don’t regret it.


Fast forward to 2015/16 and I come across an instagram page called @Moment. They make removable lenses for mobile phones. I was excited that I wouldn’t have to drop serious money on a camera, but at the time, I didn’t have the money to drop on their system either. I casually followed them, but didn’t really have an excuse to buy one of their lenses. As time went on, I subscribed to their youtube, learned to take better mobile photos, downloaded their manual photography app, etc. I basically learned how to be a photographer without having a full frame camera. I started following other photographers on instagram (Chris Burkard, Alex Strohl, Keith Ladzinski, Michael Shainblum, Chris Poplawski, etc.) and absorbing their material. I bought myself a Joby tripod and a Jelly fish phone mount. I got some pretty awesome time lapses, took family photos, took a million photos of my daughter, and basically just practiced photography with my iphone.

As time went on, I transitioned from a full-time office job to a full-time self-employment job at home. Making a lot more money if I’m being honest. This gave me some play money, and I started buying small things from Moment to improve my photography game. Still didn’t have a reason to splurge on lenses yet. I started with a thinner phone case that would allow me to attach their lenses someday. And then the unthinkable happened. My wife decided to open her own hair salon in our house. This meant she needed to be cranking out content on her social media channels. I saw my opportunity and seized it. I bought Moment’s wide lens and telephoto lens. As we kept going, I got their anamorphic lens for videos, a DJI gimbal to steady the shot, a better tripod from Peak Design, a setup that allowed me to attach a light and mic to my phone, lens filters for buttery footage, and a macro lens for fun. I went full Moment.

During all of this, I noticed a trend on social media. Film was coming back. Subtle things that friends would post suggested they were getting into film photography. Having grown up in the Great Transition (as I like to call it), I grew up with my parents having a film camera and film video cameras, and I watched everything transition to digital. So film canisters littered my closet, mainly being used for my ridiculous coin collection. I pushed the thought of getting into it aside, as my mobile photography hobby was getting worked on and if I was going to get a full frame camera, it was going to be a digital one.

Still, more and more film camera related things were popping up on my feeds. It wasn’t until Moment announced they were selling instant photo cameras that I decided to look into film. I must have flipped a switch because film related content was rushing in everywhere. I spent hours pouring over the best types of all manual film cameras. I watched countless youtube videos. I took a look on ebay and realized that the prices have skyrocketed on all the cameras I was looking at. The market always compensates for demand. By any means, I decided to place a few bids and offers.

I didn’t think I’d win any, but here I sit with two Canon ae-1 and two olympus OM-1 cameras. I resold one of the Olympus cameras after refurbishing it (courtesy of youtube videos), and ended up making more than what I bought it for. I’m not saying this is a good business model, but if your parents or grandparents have one laying around, beg for it. I then delved into lenses for these old cameras. As some of you may know, old lenses tend to have scratches, mold, dust, or fungus in them. I did a lot of research, read through countless lens histories and reviews and was able to get pretty good deals on decent lenses for my cameras.

So now I have two film cameras and a new hobby. I enjoy the simplicity of no electronics. Of focusing a lens. Of advancing the film. It’s simple. Everything else I have going on is difficult. Film just feels like an escape. I can see the appeal. I also appreciate the wait. I have to use a whole roll before I can see the images. We’ve grown accustomed to instant gratification.


I recently came across an article about how Kodak has quadrupled their film output since 2016. Some celebrity made a post about a film camera and Kodak’s sales exploded. I hopped on board because of an instagram page talking about film cameras. I thoroughly enjoy it and plan on shooting film until my cameras die. But how many people will put it to the side in a few years? And that begs the question. Is film here to stay?

Some Thoughts on Politics

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS AN OPINION PIECE, DO NOT TAKE MY OPINIONS THAT I HAVE FORMED AS FACT. GO DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH.

I don’t particularly like arguing about politics. I grew up in a very conservative household. Kind of. My mother was a die hard republican, my father refused to affiliate, but always voted republican. When it came to environmental issues, my parents didn’t believe in climate change, yet hated people who trashed the outdoors. They were semi-tree huggers who didn’t want to admit it. I myself had aligned with my parents’ views initially, until about age 15.

I have refused to align with either party, and honestly, my voting patterns cross lines frequently. I do not believe in a two party system, and believe that representatives look to keep themselves in office more than represent their constituents. I make my decisions on who I will vote for after looking at their policy history, current policy opinions, and who they are as a person. Basically, I try to find as many facts about each candidate as possible before voting. Because of this, I constantly get ridiculed by one side more than the other. I have friends and family who are die-hard republicans, and other friends who are blue-blooded democrats. However, only one side constantly tries to tell me I am in the wrong and the country will go to hell if a democrat takes office again. I have even been told by members of my church that I can’t be a real member if I am a democrat. Now, I’m not a democrat, I am unaffiliated, but I refuse to vote straight ticket.

Prior to the 2016 election, I did not like any of the candidates. I couldn’t stand Donald Trump, never have liked the Clintons and Hillary just wasn’t taking stands on issues. I ended up voting for Gary Johnson, a third party candidate who I knew had no shot of winning, but I felt he was a better option than the others.

When Donald Trump won the election, I couldn’t believe it. Here we had a candidate who was very belligerent, openly mocked reporters, spread nothing but divisiveness, and didn’t have any real answers to issues. I kept thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, I mean, first term presidents rarely introduce radical change.

Over the last four years, I have stood by, watching the news, reading the facts, ignoring opinion pieces, and making my own decisions. I feel that I am a pretty rational person and am good at seeing both sides and making a decision. I’m not perfect, I do have strong opinions about certain policies. However, I have watched this country become more and more divided as Trump’s presidency has progressed.

Trump went to work trying to dismantle everything Obama put in place. Immediately removed Bears Ears as a national monument, tried to get rid of Obamacare (with which I mostly didn’t agree, not that it wasn’t a good idea, just that it was a very flawed piece of legislation), and promised to build a wall one way or the other. He ridiculed the media constantly, branded everything he didn’t agree with as fake news, and set about to divide the country even more by labeling Democrats as “Do Nothing Dems”. As president, he should’ve been seeking to unite the country, not divide it.

He has continued to have a high turnover in his cabinet, firing anyone who didn’t agree with him implicitly, and had plenty of people resigning because of the pressure from the Oval Office. He gave tax cuts to everyone, which should’ve helped the average American out, but in reality, only benefitted the rich and the upper middle class. I got less back in my tax refund than the previous year. He has remained one of the most polarizing presidents, attracting closet racists and nationalists to his ranks. I would think he would condemn racism, instead he pretends it doesn’t exist. He continues to make claims of grandeur, that his office has done so much for this country, but I have yet to see a leader for the people. He is a leader for certain groups of people.

Congress and Senate republicans do not stand for what their party stands for, they wait for Trump to state what he wants done. They have successfully stacked the federal courts with Trump approved justices, something which FDR attempted to do years ago. I honestly cannot stand the fanboy/girl ism of our republican representatives. Mitch McConnell refuses to do anything without Trump telling him what to do. The executive branch has attained too much power. Obama started issuing executive orders to get around passing bills in a republican controlled congress/senate, and Trump has continued to exercise that power, and abusing it by declaring a state of emergency in order to build a wall? In what world do we live in that walling off our country to stop immigration is an emergency? Did we turn back time to east and west Germany?

Instead of having an actual immigration policy, Trump has resorted to keeping children in cages, attempting to remove DACA protections, and building a wall. His own wife is an immigrant. Immigration reform needs to happen. Have you talked to someone who is attempting to become a citizen the correct way? An old co-worker of mine came to the US on a work visa. He fell in love with the United States, but could not leave the company that severely underpaid him because they owned his visa. He then attempted to obtain his own visa to live here. Three years of work and thousands of dollars later, he was still denied. So he did what a lot of people who come here on visas do. He dated until he found someone he loved, and got married. Because he was married, he could now get a visa and work towards a green card. He was able to leave the company we both worked for, and is now living a happier life. Immigrating here is a pain in the ass, and costs thousands of dollars. Immigrants supply a lot of our workforce.

Now let us move on to something a little more disturbing. Trade Wars. Basically went like this: “China, I have beef with you, you should do this”, and then China said “Screw that”, and then Trump said “that’s not nice, we’re the greatest nation in the world, I’m going to have everyone boycott your products and tax your imports”, and China replied by saying “Ok, Bet”. And then our farmers were screwed out of millions. What level of pettiness is this? International negotiations are very sensitive, they are not a standard hostile takeover business negotiations. Instead, we ended up hurting our own economy.

Coronavirus. It showed such a lack of leadership that it just solidified my decision to vote for someone else this election cycle. I was already refusing to vote for Trump for obvious reasons. The downplay, the false information, the pushing of unproven drugs, the overall lack of care for real medical evidence, showed Trump’s intense lack of leadership.

Now, my final point. Trump now wants to discredit mail in voting and push back the general election. The only reason he has for this is fear. He knows he is falling behind in the polls, so he wants to buy time to try and strengthen his voting base. This is the only reason I can see for his push to postpone the election.

If I could describe the Trump administration in one word, it would be Erratic.

Improving Transportation: Vineyard, UT

Improving Transportation: Vineyard, Utah

Courtney Evans, Kailey Neafus, Shayne Tillman

Utah Valley University

Introduction

Vineyard, UT is a rapidly growing residential city that began its major growth in 2015. While the city is constantly developing, the overall demographics, and their governmental makeup of a mayor-council structure have remained largely unchanged. The newly established city does not have a newspaper, which pales in comparison to the problems surrounding the city’s economic development, environmental concerns, and their underutilized Parks and Recreation Department.

Vineyard is a residential city with an estimated population of 10,052. 94.8% of those residents are white. From 2017 to 2018, the population increased 62.79% and that upward trend shows no signs of slowing down. There are currently 8 undeveloped zones for residential, single family, and high-density housing in the Vineyard area (City of Vineyard, 2019).  As of 2017, there were 948 households in the city, with an average size of 3.52 people per household. Household members over 25 are likely to have a bachelor or postgraduate degree and earn a mean income of $45,941 per year. This number rises to $75-$100 K for families (City of Vineyard, 2019).

Vineyard is a small city, which is still growing, so at the current time, they have a mayor-council structure. This means the Mayor acts as a CEO and is in charge of approving legislation that the city council formulates. The Mayor can be a driving force for legislation in this type of structure. The current Mayor is Julie Fullmer, serving her first term until December 31, 2021. There are four city council members: Tyce Flake, Nathan Riley, Chris Judd, and John Earnest.

 

 

The Problem

Vineyard is rapidly growing residentially but appears to be having a difficult time expanding and growing economic development within the city mostly due to transportation issues. Although a rail line and bus station are under construction, Vineyard currently lacks accessible forms of transportation (City of Vineyard, 2019). This lack of transportation decreases the likelihood of business growth due to a deficiency in customers. Without a certain amount of business revenue, Vineyard will lack the funding for infrastructure in order to accommodate their projected 9,900% population increase over the next 30 years.

The issue of providing adequate transportation in Vineyard has existed since the boom of residential development in the early 2010s and affects the entire city. The issue worsened in 2016 when Vineyard was declared a city (due to a higher population) and no longer a town. If effective action is not taken to improve transportation, it will remain a major issue for Vineyard residents.

The Causes

In 2010 when Vineyard only had 150 residents, the then town planner of Vineyard, Jennifer Robinson acknowledged that implementing transit-oriented options could be a catalyst for Vineyard’s development (Israelsen, 2010). At the time, UTA officials brought forth the idea of a transportation hub in Vineyard to try and reduce congestion on I-15. While plans such as TransPlan50 have been implemented to improve transportation options, the rate of change is zero because the city’s population has increased, yet public transportation within Vineyard looks the same as it did ten years ago.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Vineyard is the fastest growing city in the country with an estimated population of 10,052. The lack of public transportation will become more problematic as the population increases. Between 2017 and 2018, Vineyard saw a 62.79% growth with no signs of slowing down (Hanson and Johnson, 2019). Vineyard’s city website currently shows 8 undeveloped areas zoned for residential, single family, and high-density housing in the Vineyard area. “Studies have shown that traffic congestion is the number one concern of individuals in rapidly growing areas in the U.S., often ranked higher than crime, school overcrowding, and housing shortages” (Morrison and Lin Lawell, 2016).

Figure 1. Population Growth in Vineyard, Utah (USCB, 2019)

Who is Impacted?

Residents, students, and businesses are all impacted by the lack of transportation options. Additionally, those who live nearby in Orem are also impacted due to Vineyard’s roads emptying out onto one of Orem’s busiest roads, Geneva. This road, as well as I-15, and University Parkway, must be used in order to leave Vineyard’s city limits. The congestion these roadways experience will continue to worsen as Vineyard’s population increases.

Additionally, given how close the location is to Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University, high density housing likely has and will attract students. Currently, UTA is partnered with local universities to offer free public transportation to students. Students who live in the area are currently unable to take advantage of that offer. Lastly, Utah Valley University plans to expand their campus by building in the northern end of Vineyard. At the moment, the only way to reach this future part of campus is by driving, walking, or biking a significant distance.

Businesses, and Vineyard’s economy, are likely to continue to suffer while public transportation is slowly being expanded in the area. “Companies that are moving to the suburbs are finding locations where their talent can commute via public transit” (Schaper, 2018). There is currently a shopping complex located in Vineyard, Utah that contains a movie theater, an ice cream shop, and two restaurants that will continue to develop over the next few years. At the moment, the only way to arrive at these businesses is to drive or walk 2.3 miles from the nearest bus stop.

The UTA website shows that Vineyard currently has zero bus stops within the city limits. The closest bus stops nearby in Orem do not have park and rides or ample parking lots that could account for those with cars. For those without cars, walking or biking are the only options. It is a 1.6 mile, or 32-minute walk from Vineyard City Hall to the nearest bus stop on Geneva Road in Orem, Utah. Add in additional factors like thirty-degree weather and snowy conditions, people without cars are going to be unable or unlikely to make that walk.

How to Measure the Problem

There are many ways to measure these transportation issues. We can look at average commute times, average traffic congestion within the city of Vineyard, how many cars pass through the city limits each day and especially during peak hours, and measure how much demand for parking is present in Vineyard (Schrank, 2019).  With the rise of population, we have an increased number of automobiles on the public roads, creating more traffic congestion. The Texas Transportation Institute published a report showing the relationship between higher population and travel times (Schrank, 2019). We are a commuting state, and vineyard is no exception to the rule. Vineyard currently has no large businesses but has a largely upper-middle class population. This means most of the population has to commute.

Figure 2. City Size and Roadway Congestion Index, United States 1982-2017 (Schrank, 2019)

Utah Transit Authority will be branching into Vineyard. The city is not large enough to justify creating their own public transportation system, but Vineyard can influence the use of public transportation. Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has published all of their financial records and yearly reports on their site. This is the most beneficial resource in determining how public transportation will affect Vineyard financially.

To determine the reduction of traffic congestion, we need to look no further than Los Angeles. Public transportation was proven to decrease traffic congestion, but only on roads that paralleled the transportation corridors (Jaffe, 2013) (Anderson, 2013). This works for Vineyard, as Utah is based on a linear model, with all major roads next to each other. This might be the best indicator we can use to determine the decongestion benefit.

Current Measures Being Taken

Although Vineyard continues to maintain rapid population growth, the transportation issue is expected to improve over the next decade. Vineyard is participating in Utah County’s transportation plan known as TransPlan50 (Mountainland Maps, n.d). The objective of TransPlan50 is to effectively accommodate the rapid population growth of Utah County through urbanization and creating new routes of transportation for Utah County. TransPlan50 is divided into four phases that each last ten years. The project is set to be completed by 2050. The first phase of TransPlan50 began in 2019 and includes the construction of the Vineyard Connector, which is currently underway.

Vineyard Mayor, Julie Fullmer, has been an active player in raising funds to improve/increase transportation in her city (Pugmire, 2019). In June 2019, the city received a federal grant to use toward the construction of a Vineyard Frontrunner station. Mayor Fullmer has also had success in securing local and state funds to use toward other Vineyard transportation ventures. With all the plans for increased transportation, Vineyard should begin to see an improvement in transportation by the end of 2020 and significant improvement over the next decade.

In 2013, the Utah Transit Authority reported that 65% of its revenue came from sales tax collections (Utah, 2014). This is a concern. The public is funding transportation, and it is not able to sustain itself on ticket sales alone. If we look at the costs associated with introducing public transportation, most public transportation is a failing venture. Vineyard has the opportunity to create a transportation hub to reduce traffic congestion due to commuting. Being a brand-new city, they should be able to put a large emphasis on using public transportation.

Similarly, nearby Saratoga Springs also saw rapid growth in a short period of time just like Vineyard. “Over the next 5 years [their] population is projected to jump from 30,000 residents to 40,000 residents and from 30,000 to 50,000 in the next 10 years – a 66 percent increase” (Saratoga Springs Demographics, n.d.). From 2010 to 2015, they saw a 76.2% increase. They also have a large concentration of single family, residential, and high-density housing. Unlike Vineyard, Saratoga Springs has implemented modes of public transportation to reduce possible congestion, expanded roads such as the Pony Express Parkway with multiple lanes and higher speed limits. Lastly, there are currently three bus stops near Saratoga Springs, including a church park and ride that transports residents to the frontrunner station located in Lehi, Utah.

 

 

Policy Option #1: Intermodal Transportation Hub

Back in 2010, when Vineyard only had 150 residents, the idea of an intermodal transportation hub was suggested in order to reduce traffic congestion in the area. Nine years later, and that exact idea is a promoted solution to Vineyard’s transportation woes. The Vineyard Commuter Rail Station is currently in the planning stages. It was originally slated for completion in December of 2019. However, minutes from city meetings show that construction has not even started yet. Once completed, the hope is that it will reduce traffic on nearby roads for residents and commuters. “Studies have shown that traffic congestion is the number one concern of individuals in rapidly growing areas in the U.S., often ranked higher than crime, school overcrowding, and housing shortages” (Morrison and Lin Lawell, 2016). All stakeholders promoting the construction of the intermodal hub believe it will make the roads nearby safer, invite new retail and business to the area, enhance pedestrian walkways, make the area clean and beautiful, and provide commuters with better transportation options. Stakeholder, and Mayor of Vineyard Julie Fullmer said, “Vineyard FrontRunner Station is going to breathe life into UVU’s Master Campus, and Vineyard’s Town Center. The first designs have just been sent out for review by the stakeholders and City Council. It will include multimodal transit connectivity for pedestrians, bikers, cars, buses, shuttles, autonomous vehicles, and more to use the FrontRunner and eventually light rail” (, 2018).

According to USA Data, Vineyard has 1.47k employees who work in professions outside of the home (Vineyard, UT, 2017). The construction of the FrontRunner station will likely mean that a portion of those 1.47k employees will no longer drive to work. The FrontRunner provides an environmentally friendly, cost affordable option, that would reduce traffic on the nearby roadways.

Sadly, the construction of the intermodal station is not a cost affordable option. It required extensive government action. A substantial portion of the funding was provided by the United States Department of Transportation. In June, Vineyard received a $6.8 million grant, which made moving forward with the project possible (Pugmire, 2019). Overall, the project will cost close to $18 million (Mountainland, n.d.). The rest of the funding comes from local and state funds.

While the construction and funding of the project requires government action, they cannot force people to use it. Stakeholders hope that the population will be willing to make changes in their personal lifestyle in order to reduce traffic in the area. If the majority of the citizens decide that they prefer their cars, then the government backed solution will not succeed.

The impact the intermodal station has on decreasing traffic in the area and providing different means of transportation is still unknown. With that said, any implementation of public transportation is an improvement for the city. After completion of the project, data can be gathered to determine if the Vineyard FrontRunner station accomplishes its goals.

Policy Option #2: Creating Walkable & Bikeable Communities

Decreasing traffic flow and increasing public transportation is largely influenced by the city’s planning for other modes of transportation. The Federal Highway Administration is the main agency pushing this policy option. The 2019 Urban Mobility Scorecard lists the cost of congestion for the United States in 2014 at $160 billion US Dollars (Schrank, 2019) with the American Public Health Association listing an additional $387 billion spent on obesity, health costs related to air pollution from traffic, and the cost of traffic crashes (APHA, 2010). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published a guide on reducing this cost by creating a walkable and bikeable community in cities. The study completed by the HUD states “The feasibility of walking and cycling is as much determined by the presence of bike and pedestrian facilities as it is about the proximity of critical destinations to where people live.” (HUD, 2016) To implement policies that support pedestrian and bicycle planning the focus needs to shift from planning for all modes of transportation and work more towards on satisfying the needs of all users.

The Federal Highway Administration has collected case studies to create safe, comfortable, and connected pedestrian and bicycle networks. Connected networks enable all types of cycling and walking trips, including commuting, traveling to schools, transit connections, local parks, recreation, gyms, and everyday trips like groceries, health care, etc. (FWHA, 2015). Along with connected networks, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation preaches implementation of Vision Zero programs (PBIC, 2016). These programs were born in 1997 in Sweden. They are designed to manage kinetic energy in traffic systems to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries.

A good example of this is the City of Austin, Texas. Their plan, Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, which has now been adopted into their more comprehensive Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, was implemented after studying where fatalities and injury accidents between automobiles, bicycles, and pedestrians occurred. They then used that data combined with demographics and realized that many areas with the highest amount of accidents per capita either had no sidewalks or were in dire need of sidewalk maintenance. After mapping out the entire city streets with crash scores, they found the areas they needed to focus on first. They are currently implementing new sidewalks and safer crossings (City of Austin, 2018).

Figure 3. Creating Walkable and Bikeable Communities – Street Example (HUD, 2018)

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has a supplemental program to increase the mobility of citizens in communities of safe, connected cycling/walking communities. It is called the NACTO Bike Share and Shared Mobility Initiative. Its mission is to build cities into “places for people, with safe, sustainable, accessible, and equitable transportation choices that support a strong economy and vibrant quality of life.” (NACTO, 2019) They have released their 2018 report showing that 84 million trips were taken in 2018 nationwide across cities with bike/scooter share programs in place. This is another piece to the puzzle of creating a walkable & bikeable community.

Vineyard is having a population explosion and has had to accelerate the timeline on their town center that was projected to commence for 10-15 years from now (Pugmire, 2018).  This means that infrastructure is constantly being built. Vineyard is currently building a UTA Frontrunner station at the north end of their town, but still need to consider their first mile and last-mile modes of transportation. Vineyard’s master plan shows a large amount of residential homes. Being a smaller city, Vineyard has the opportunity to create a community of walking and bicycling citizens. This not only increases the overall health of the city, but also decreases the amount of public funds spent on infrastructure maintenance (HUD, 2016).

Implementing connected networks of safe roads & trails while also including shared micro-mobility programs is highly equitable as it provides the same benefit to all citizens regardless of economic or social status. Politically, it is quite feasible. There are funding programs in place already through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. HUD provides Community Development Block Grant Programs, and the League of American Bicyclists can provide a Bicycle Friendly Community/Neighborhood Designation to increase interest in relocation to Vineyard. The shared micro-mobility programs can be outsourced to private companies, driving up tax revenue. Although this policy/program mainly relies on government action, it also requires a shift in citizen lifestyles, which the city can influence by building out a connected network into their infrastructure. By focusing on alternative means of transportation, we can reduce the annual costs towards citizens and cities (HUD, 2018).

Policy Option #3: TransPlan50

In order to effectively accommodate the rapid population growth and urbanization of Utah County, Mountainland Association of Governments created a plan to alleviate the lack of accessible transportation (Mountainland, n.d). Mountainland Association of Governments serves the Utah counties of Summit, Wasatch, and Utah. Mountainland acts as an entity that assists in fulfilling regional goals of helping the communities to improve the area, advocating for local issues and concerns, linking those in need with the appropriate funding and services, and solving issues and mediating disputes between communities (Mountainland, n.d). The transportation issues occurring in Vineyard (and the rest of Utah County) have been a concern of Mountainland Association of Governments and a factor in developing a plan to address and resolve the transportation issues. In 2019, Mountainland announced the launch of a regional transportation plan known as TransPlan50.

There are five main objectives of TransPlan50: “1) Update the current regional road system to a metropolitan grid-based network. 2) Explore additional freeways and add capacity. 3) Create a robust transit system. 4) Build a regionally connected active transportation system. 5) Preserve what we have.” (Mountainland, n.d). TransPlan50 has been divided into four phases, with each phase lasting ten years. Phases one-three consist of official construction plans. The first phase began in 2019 and the third phase will reach completion by 2050. The fourth and final phase of TransPlan50 is a compilation of potential transportation projects for the future. None of the proposed projects in the fourth phase have an official plan in place.

Although the active construction of the TransPlan50 projects are creating traffic delays, the ultimate outcome is expected to greatly improve current and future transportation conditions throughout Utah County. If the appropriate changes in transportation are not made to accommodate the growing population, traffic delays will escalate to a high level of unmanageability. Residents of Utah County will also encounter difficulty and inefficiency when driving vehicles or other modes of transportation (such as a bicycle) and when using public transportation. If consumers struggle to transport themselves around their community, local businesses may end up seeing a decrease in their profit. The lack of accessible public transportation and routes of transportation could potentially lead to a decline in the local economy. Depending on the severity of the transportation conditions, local residents may decide to move elsewhere. Local residents may also end up viewing the local and state government as apathetic and ineffective, which would negatively impact political leaders of the area.

The solutions that TransPlan50 projects provide will require government action, especially in regard to financing. The funding for TransPlan50 is being acquired from numerous sources. Some of the financial sources include private funding, federal funding, state funding, and local funding. In 2019, the creation of the Transit Transportation Investment Fund was authorized by the Utah Legislature and will be a source of funding for TransPlan50 (Mountainland, n.d). The Transit Transportation Investment Fund was updated from a previous fund to include financing for transit, as well as highways. An increase in auto related taxes and vehicle registration fees will occur over the next two decades (Mountainland, n.d). The auto related taxes and vehicle registration fees will steadily increase annually in order to contribute to the financing of TransPlan50.

Vineyard Mayor, Julie Fullmer, has been an active participant in raising funds to improve and increase transportation in her city (Pugmire, 2019). Mayor Fullmer has also had success in securing local, state, and federal funds to use toward transportation improvements in Vineyard. Mayor Fullmer has a clear and realistic understanding of the transportation issues that her city faces, which is why she continues to be a supporter and advocate of TransPlan50. TransPlan50 is generally accepted by most Utah residents and government officials as a plan that will positively impact Utah’s future.

Policy Recommendation

The best option that is in Vineyard’s control would be to create a walkable and bikeable community. They still have enough open space to enact this policy without having to increase costs by redoing current infrastructure. This option would be the most equitable, allowing residents of all income class to have access to first and last mile transportation. TransPlan50 is already in place as well as increasing Utah Transit Authority integration. By creating a walkable & bikeable community, traffic congestion would decrease along main roads, making Vineyard a safer place to be a pedestrian. We believe this would also allow further economic stimulation by inviting small businesses into the community along walking and bicycling paths. This policy is highly efficient, can be very effective if implemented well, and would generally be very politically feasible.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has stated the following: “Research shows that trails have the potential to create jobs, expand local businesses, and enhance property values. Shortly after its com­pletion in 2012, the $62.5 million Indianapolis Cul­tural Trail, a multipurpose trail in urban Indianap­olis, generated 11,000 jobs, as well as $863 million through construction, private-sector investment, and increased tourism. The project also increased property values by $45 million. The 150,000 annu­al visitors to the Little Miami Scenic Trail in Ohio spend an average of $13.54 per visit on food, bev­erages, and transportation to the trail. They also spend an estimated $277 each year on clothing, equipment, and accessories during these trips. In Apex, North Carolina, developers added a $5,000 premium to homes adjacent to a regional greenway, and those homes were still the first to sell. These are just a few of many examples that document the economic benefit of active transportation facilities” (HUD, 2018). Because of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development statements and research, we cannot recommend this policy option enough to a growing city.

 

 

Conclusion

            Vineyard will continue to grow at a wild pace and will need to better their alternative transportation methods in order to control congestion and keep their community safe. However, we understand the city does not have a lot of room to grow or create tax revenue. Vineyard has other priorities they need to address, such as maintaining relationships for their public utilities, police force, fire department, etc. While we believe that implementing the policy options outlined in this paper will help Vineyard better their city and make it more equitable, we also know that it is a lower priority issue. However, we believe we have shown that by building a community that is equitable in modes of transportation, Vineyard will be an example to other cities on how to create a thought-out community. This policy option would also help grow the city even more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

“Childhood Obesity Facts | Overweight & Obesity | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed September 15, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html

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Fullmer, J. (2018, June 17). Mayor Julie Fullmer: How we’re accommodating Vineyard’s explosive growth. Retrieved from https://www.heraldextra.com/news/community/mayors/mayor-julie-fullmer-how-we-re-accomodating-vineyard-s-explosive/article_17061242-57c7-5de2-aa8b-043b3ab7fc8f.html

Hurd, M. K. (2019, May 3). The Expansion of Vineyard. Retrieved from https://www.utahvalley.com/articles/post/the-growth-of-vineyard-utah/

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Combating Homelessness in Metro California

Introduction 

Homelessness affects countless individuals and families with growing numbers. While homeless people are generally seen as drug addicts or physically handicapped persons, the term applies to a much larger group. A small family who has fallen on hard times and must forfeit their current housing and live with relatives is considered homeless. People who live in their cars or in shelters are homeless. We are seeing an increasing population of homeless students as well. We see families who have jobs, but they cannot afford to live anywhere. Homelessness can be defined as any individual or family that is at risk of losing a fixed residence or any person who currently does not have a fixed residence. The reason homelessness becomes a public issue is because the public spends money on taking care of the homeless. The causes of homelessness are extensive. I will analyze and attempt to measure the effects and magnitude of homelessness, specifically in the state of California.

The California government has countless resources, reports, and articles dedicated to the study of the effects of homelessness and how they are currently trying to combat this massive problem. I also pulled information from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), which is a great asset in accurate numbers on this problem. My other sources include local newspapers in California, as they are closest to the issues. I tried to stay away from very biased sources, but obviously, some of these newspapers do have bias, which is why I veered away from articles that mentioned current political administrations, and instead focused on the issue at hand.

How to Measure Homelessness

In the article, The Methodology of Counting the Homeless, the authors explain that the best way for us to determine how many homeless individuals there are is to perform a technique called Indirect Estimation (Cowan, 1988). This method of measure is by far the most economical, however, it also leads to largely inflated rates. Another method is screening for homelessness in census questions. This method of measure only happens once every ten years, so we have to estimate the rates between the census dates. Random telephone surveys are another method used frequently to count the homeless, even though not all homeless people will have a phone. The most used way is by counting the number of shelter inhabitants, how many the shelters must turn away, and how many people contact the state department of housing. We then inflate those numbers by 10% to give a rough estimate of how many people are currently in categories of homelessness one and two.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has four categories to determine the level of homelessness an individual or family is experiencing. Homeless can range from someone attempting to leave a domestic violence situation with nowhere else to go and no funds to live elsewhere, to individuals and families that lack a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” (HUD, 2012).  By looking at the report just cited, we can separate and better define homelessness. Category One refers to all persons who are “Literally Homeless”, we see these people the most often. They are the ones on the side of the road, under overpasses, in shelters. Category Two are all those who are in imminent risk of homelessness. This category includes everyone who will lose their residence within 14 days and have nowhere else to go. Category Three is reserved for youth under the age of 25 who have no stable residence, meaning they have moved at least twice within the last 60 days and are expected to remain in that state. Category Four is for all those who are attempting to flee or who have fled domestic violence and do not have anywhere to go or the funds to leave their situation.

If we look at the 10 States with the highest counts of homelessness, we can see that California eclipses other states by a large margin.

Figure 1. Ten States with Highest Homeless Counts/Rates, 2018 (NAEH, 2018)

Causes of Homelessness

The leading causes of homelessness are insufficient income and lack of affordable housing. Smaller causes include mental illness and substance abuse.  The cost of housing is out of reach for many families and individuals in California (LAFH, 2019).  While this may be due to cities and counties charging fees sometimes up to 18% of the total sale price for new home construction (Dillon, 2019), the main cause of high housing costs was the business boom California experienced in the 1980s (Lindsey, 1981). The high emigration rates to California from Asia led to an influx of Asian money. This drove real estate prices up and through the roof. Housing costs have been increasing ever since, only having a slight downturn during the Great Recession).  The average rent in California is also 50% higher than the rest of the country. Affordable housing has become increasingly difficult to find and isn’t at all affordable to develop.

California has also had a lot of pushback for upwards expansion. Southern California especially, is full of single-family residential homes. Many citizens do not want to see high-rise apartment buildings in their city, and do not want to live in one. Developers could not keep up with the demand for homes, causing a massive shortage, increasing prices. While many residents of California earn higher incomes than other states, the cost of housing is keeping them from being able to buy or rent a home. California State Housing Department estimates that 180,000 new homes are needed per year in order to stabilize the housing market, and numbers show that the average is less than half of that per year (Levin, 2018).

The Problem

California has one of the largest homeless populations, accounting for over 23.55% of all homeless persons in the nation (USICH, 2018).  While homeless populations across the United States of America are decreasing steadily, California’s continues to increase. Much of this is due to rising housing costs, with the average California home costing $440,000, more than double the average cost of a U.S. home ($180,000) (Alamo, Uhler, & O’Malley, 2015).  The average rent in California is also 50% higher than the rest of the country. Affordable housing has become increasingly difficult to find and isn’t at all affordable to develop. The California Senate knows this is an issue in their state and has been trying to implement policy to increase the construction of affordable housing units (2018). In California, we see the need to create both supportive housing and affordable housing to not only reduce the population of the homeless, but to also reduce spending on public services. Health care costs could decrease by millions of dollars (RAND Corporation, 2018).

Homelessness puts a strain on public services and spending, which then takes funds away from other important policies, some of which could be used to proactively reduce homelessness, rather than creating reactive policies. Many Americans focus on how much it will cost. We don’t like seeing homeless people on the street, most of us probably feel bad for them, but we don’t know how to help, and while we might understand the importance of higher taxes for the government to intervene, we don’t like seeing more money coming out of our paychecks. While some may argue that we should be doing more as a society to fix homelessness, our hands are tied in how much we can afford to help. Therefore, government intervention is now required. I cannot think of an argument for private intervention only that, when given the issues and causes of homelessness, could still stand on solid ground.

California has one of the largest homeless populations, accounting for over 23.55% of all homeless persons in the nation (USICH, 2018). Much of this is due to rising housing costs, with the average California home costing $440,000, more than double the average cost of a U.S. home ($180,000) (Alamo, Uhler, & O’Malley, 2015).  While homeless populations across the United States of America are decreasing steadily, California’s continues to increase (Cowan, 2019). Last year’s count of the homeless population revealed an increase to over 130,000. This means that per 10,000 people, 33 of them are homeless. California accounts for 25% of our nation’s total literal homeless population (Mejia, 2019).  If we look at a map of where the homeless population of California is located, we can see that the highest concentrations of homeless people reside in the most metropolitan areas where housing is most expensive.

Figure 2. Homelessness by County (HUD, 2017)

These numbers might continue to increase as they are based on a fragile balance of economy and wages in California. “Our state has more than 1.7 million low-income households spending more than half their income in housing costs,” said Ben Metcalf, the director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development. “When you’re paying that much for housing, with so little left over, even a minor shock can start a cycle of homelessness.” (Cabales, 2019). California is seeing a deficit between what they can afford to give and what they cannot. They cannot keep building more shelters and funding them. Providing shelters doesn’t fix the problem, it just helps to keep people out of parks and the streets.

While we generally saw a decrease in the homeless population of the nation over the last decades, there has been an uptick in homelessness more recently across all states (Routhier, 2018), and we can see the national numbers in Figure 2.

Figure 3 California Homelessness Statistics (NATEH, 2019)

Still, throughout the last decade, we have been steadily decreasing homelessness. New programs are going in to help reduce that number, and we will see whether they are effective.

Policy Option 1: Increase Supportive and Transitional Housing

California currently has several plans in place to mitigate the homeless crisis, with the largest one being the CalWORKs Housing Support Program. This was established by SB 855 in 2014 to “assist homeless families in quickly obtaining permanent housing.” (CalWORKs, 2014) The budget of the CalWORKs HSP was expanded in 2016-2017 to bring total funding to $47 million (CWDA, 2016), with another expansion in 2018-2019, raising the total to $71.2 million (HSP, 2019). This program finds eligible families or persons who lack a fixed nighttime residence, have resided in a public or private place not designed for sleeping accommodation for human beings, or any person who has been evicted. (CalWORKs, 2019) In their yearly report published in January 2019, the HSP declared they housed over 14,500 families since inception, received over 46,000 requests for assistance from eligible families, and has grown their budget with the latest proposal to $95 million (HSP, 2019). In June 2019, the state of California agreed to allocate $650 million in one-time funding to support local governments to address homelessness by building supportive and affordable housing (LAHSA, 2019).

Supportive housing can be defined as affordable housing for which government provides a long-term, fixed interest loan to the recipient. This helps secure housing for those who cannot afford housing. This policy needs to include transitional housing to support 67% of those who are sleeping outside on the streets affected by mental illness, substance abuse, poor health, or a physical disability (Smith, 2019). Los Angeles County has housed “more people than ever”, but they have seen a 16% increase in homelessness just in Los Angeles City, with a 12% increase over the entire county (LAHSA, 2019). Los Angeles is mainly using supportive housing to combat homelessness, and it does not seem to be doing a great job. This policy alternative is a good idea to fix a problem that has stopped spreading, however, this problem continues to spread with no real decrease in the major, metropolitan areas of California. The state has yet to receive a substantial amount of funds from the Federal government, and I do not believe they will receive those funds until they do more to combat the underlying issues creating more homelessness. This policy overall uses a lot of funds to produce little results. The only way to make this policy work is to combine it with other policy to combat lack of affordable housing and the cost of living associated with living in California. This depends solely on the cities, counties, and state of California to combat. Homeless rates across the nation have been decreasing since 2007 while California’s are increasing (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2018). The Federal government will be able to provide help once the situation can be controlled.

This policy alternative has a low to medium efficiency rating. It would be somewhat cost effective, could be run very optimally, but overall would not fix the problem entirely. Political effectiveness would be very low as it would not solve the homelessness crisis but would assist in getting people off of the streets. Political equity is medium as it takes care of all those who end up on the streets but does not affect those currently at risk of homelessness. Political Feasibility would be rather high as California is a very progressive state and this policy would help cleanup cities.

Policy Option 2: Build More Affordable Housing by Incentivizing Developers

In October of 2019, the State of California Treasurer’s office allocated $1.8 billion bonding authority and $88.2 million in federal tax credit to build affordable housing in California (Ma, 2019). The point of affordable housing is to keep rent prices down as well as decrease the risk of homelessness (Wiblin, 2019). California has seen the advantage of building affordable housing to combat homelessness and climate change and has used the revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program to fund housing closer to jobs in Sacramento (Garber, 2019). Los Angeles estimates that it needs 516,946 new affordable housing units to meet the needs of lower income renters but needs more funding to produce those homes (LAHSA, 2019).

For many years, California has seen a huge deficit in housing supply and demand due to outdated policy and zoning laws (Buyahar, 2019). This caused extreme housing prices, making living in California nearly impossible without a large salary. Because of lost revenue on property taxes, California increases any and all other taxes they can to account for the deficit (Buyahar, 2019). This means cost of living is high because of the government. Now we are at a breaking point in California where the government cannot send enough money to cover the need for affordable housing. This has led tech giants like Facebook and Google to contribute $1 billion each to help solve the housing crisis (Rodrigo, 2019). Apple has also decided to pledge $2.5 billion to help address affordable housing shortages, but their fund will be managed by themselves, with $1 billion going towards affordable housing investments, $1 billion going into a first-time homebuyer mortgage assistance fund, $300 million towards donating Apple-owned and available land for affordable housing, $150 million for Bay Area housing fund, and $50 million to address the homeless population in Silicon Valley (Apple, 2019).

The issue has gotten bad enough that corporations have gotten involved in fixing a state’s problem. I believe this is an all-hands on deck approach. By activating local, county, state, federal, and private sector funds, more housing can be built more quickly to deal with the housing shortage and drive costs down. The goal and theory of this policy options is that by building more housing, specifically affordable housing, rent prices will lower (supply & demand principles). This will then decrease the risk of homelessness as a lower percentage of income will be spent on housing. The best plan would be to use the aforementioned funds to offer development loans as well as tax credits to developers who focus on affordable housing.

The efficiency of this policy option should be medium to high as it can be very efficient in getting more affordable housing built as long as there is sufficient oversight. The political effectiveness would be quite high as it attacks the root problem and would spark economic development. The equity on this option would be medium as it helps solve the root issue of why citizens become homeless but would not have an effect on those currently on the street who need supportive housing. However, the political feasibility would be high as California, again, is a very progressive state, but this would be a bi-partisan issue as it helps stimulate the economy while helping to solve a crisis.

Policy Option 3: Raise Minimum Wage, Introduce Rent Control, Cut Property Tax

This approach is more radical than the others, but it does have a chance to pass in California. The first part of this policy would be to raise minimum wage across the state according to the cost of living in your county. This would increase the amount of money that could come back into the county and state as tax revenue. This causes a greater strain on business and could hurt the economy.

The second part of this policy would be to introduce rent control. California has already passed a rent control law which caps rent hikes at 5% each year plus inflation and bans landlords from evicting tenants for no reason to raise the rent for a new tenant (AP, 2019). This is a good program, however, per a study by Zillow done in 2017, a 5% increase in rent prices would push 2,000 more residents into homelessness in Los Angeles County (Holland, 2017). The only way to combat this rent hike would be to make the rent control cap at the nationwide inflation rate. This would require more policy and a department being assigned to manage the percentage each year, which in turn would increase oversight costs.

The final part of this policy would be to repeal Prop 13 which created an incentive to build commercial development over residential construction (Buhayar, 2019), while also increasing developer fees of up to 18% of the home’s value (Dillon, 2019). “While fees offer a flexible way to finance necessary infrastructure, overly burdensome fee programs can limit growth by impeding or disincentivizing new residential development, facilitate exclusion (gentrification), and increase housing costs across the state.” (Raetz, 2019). Proposition 13, implemented in 1978, also included a measure with limited property-tax increases on homes until they are sold. This means that long-term homeowners are selling their houses to new buyers who have to subsidize their low property tax by paying an enormous increase at time of purchase. (Buhayar, 2019). By repealing this proposition, California would raise up to $11 billion annually for schools and local government (Garofoli, 2019). The local cost of staffing for the increased workload would only amount to $470 million (Garofoli, 2019).

This third and final policy requires only state and local government intervention, however, it would include a dramatic overreach of current powers. This option would have low efficiency however, as it is not the most optimal way to take care of the homeless crisis. Political effectiveness would be medium as it helps to eliminate certain aspects of the root causes of homelessness. The equity of this policy is high as it provides even footing across the board for all residents of California. The political feasibility however is quite low. Even in a progressive state like California, this policy is radical. Only certain key points would pass, and my short analysis would indicate that only eliminating Proposition 13 would pass.

Conclusion

Homelessness is currently a crisis in California. The numbers continue to increase. California needs to not only remove residents from the streets and get them into supportive housing, but also remove the key factors of homelessness, the main one being providing more affordable housing.  Providing supportive and transitional housing would get people off the streets and into programs to allow them to get back to normalcy. Incentivizing affordable housing development would reduce the risk of homelessness and allow lower income families to afford housing.

State, county, and local government will need to take the biggest hand in addressing this crisis. The Federal Government would have to step in and manages this crisis if California cannot control this, however, California is currently enacting huge chunks of legislation to reduce their homeless population. Currently, the goal is to control the rise of homelessness, and then to work on eliminating it. Private companies are also funding construction to build affordable housing because they have realized they might have caused part of the increased housing costs.

By implementing my first two policy options, increasing supportive and transitional housing as well as increasing the incentives towards affordable housing developers, we could see a large decrease in the homeless population. These two options would lower the risk of homelessness as well as remove people from the streets and getting them the help, they need. The government needs to act as this crisis was started by poor legislation planning and high regulation. This would require bi-partisan support and should not have a problem achieving it as these options help to stimulate the economy and lower government public expenditures on caring for the homeless.

By implementing the last portion of my third policy option, which is repealing proposition 13. This measure is already gaining momentum and will most likely pass within this next year. This allows for homebuyers to have a more accurate foresight of costs of homeownership and would allow the state to collect more revenue on currently undervalued properties. Repealing this proposition would also reduce residential developer fees and increase developments.

By taking a no-action alternative, we can assume homelessness rates would continue to rise and public costs in taking care of those who are homeless would also continue to rise. We could assume a drop in tourism if tent cities continue to increase. We could also assume that there would be a high political turnover if no action was taken. Many residents/citizens are already frustrated with the problem of homelessness and lack of affordable housing.

In conclusion, government needs to step in and fix this issue. They can no longer just increase shelters but start to address the underlying problems as well. If left unchecked, homelessness in California will continue to grow.

References

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Alamo, C., & Uhler, B. (2015, March 17). California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences. Retrieved from https://lao.ca.gov/reports/2015/finance/housing-costs/housing-costs.aspx

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Mejia, M. C., & Hsieh, V. (2019, August 13). A Snapshot of Homelessness in California. Retrieved from https://www.ppic.org/blog/a-snapshot-of-homelessness-in-california/.

Murray, K. (2019, September 19). Opinion: Why a one-size solution to L.A.s homelessness crisis is destined to fail. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-09-18/homeless-solutions-housing-shelters-rooms-los-angeles-skid-row.

National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2018). State of Homelessness. Retrieved November 12, 2019, from https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/homelessness-statistics/state-of-homelessness-report/.

National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2019). California Homelessness Statistics. Retrieved from https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/homelessness-statistics/state-of-homelessness-report/california/

Oreskes, B. (2019, August 1). California has the most homeless people of any state. But L.A. is still a national model. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-08-01/california-homeless-people-housing-national-model-conference

Raetz, H., Garcia, D., Decker, N., Kneebone, E., Reid, C., & Galante, C. (2019, August 5). Residential Impact Fees in California. Retrieved from https://ca-times.brightspotcdn.com/da/bf/66e93e2f44e997e8d50bec200e97/impact-fee-study.pdf.

RAND Corporation. (2018, June 27). Supportive Housing Reduces Homelessness-and Lowers Health Care Costs by Millions. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/blog/rand-review/2018/06/supportive-housing-reduces-homelessness-and-lowers.html

Rodrigo, C. M. (2019, November 12). Tech firms face skepticism over California housing response. Retrieved from https://thehill.com/policy/technology/469989-tech-firms-face-skepticism-over-california-housing-response.

Routhier, G. (2018). State of the Homeless 2018. Retrieved from https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/state-of-the-homeless-2018/.

Smith, D., & Oreskes, B. (2019, October 7). Are many homeless people in L.A. mentally ill? New findings back the public’s perception. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-10-07/homeless-population-mental-illness-disability.

  1. S. I. C. H. (2018). California Homelessness Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.usich.gov/homelessness-statistics/ca/

Wiblin, B. (2019, November 13). Affordable housing can ease housing crisis, but needs funding. Retrieved from https://www.dailycal.org/2019/11/12/affordable-housing-can-ease-housing-crisis-but-needs-funding/.

The Disappearance of Botany Degrees

Only roughly 20% of the plants in the world have been identified. Many plants are used as a food source, some of them are used in medicine, but all of them contribute to a healthy ecosystem and the literal air we breathe. This isn’t just an American problem, but an international one4. Botany is an important part of our world, and without it, we might not survive. Botany is the study of plants, how they grow, plant diseases, and identifying new species. Think of the plants you see when hiking through beautiful forests when eating a green salad when sniffing a beautiful rose. All of that is available to you because of botanists. Throughout history, botanists have been the backbone of modern science. What started as a general study of plants, evolved to taxonomy, how the plants work, how to grow plants, uses of plants, microbiology, biotechnology, landscaping, forestation, ecology, and conservationism. Now that we know what botany is and the fields that it influences, we can move on to the problems at hand.

Botany is disappearing. Starting in the 1980’s, universities have focused on technology and medical degrees1. This meant that other programs had to be resized or absorbed by other departments. Botany is one of those departments that has been constantly resized and absorbed by others. According to a study done by the Plant Science Bulletin, the number of universities offering botany and plant science degrees has decreased by over fifty percent over the last 30 years. As of today, only 0.7% of accredited universities and colleges in the United States of America offer a botany or botany related degree. As before stated, this is to make room for technology and medical related programs. In a recent interview with Dr. Robert Robbins8, a professor at Utah Valley University, we explored whether this was occurring. He believes that moving botany to solely upper division classes has affected the degree overall. If botany courses were to be offered as both lower and upper division, the interest in the degree would increase dramatically. This was also outlined in a study conducted by Dr. Marshall D. Sundberg in 20049. The effects of this declination have been felt not only in conservation fields, but in other fields as well. In a 2011 study10, Dr. Marshall Sundberg found the following: STEM degrees have been decreasing just as the need for them has been increasing. After conducting several surveys of government agencies and science industries, they received an outstanding number of 91% of prospective employers have the need for botanically trained staff, but do not have a pool from where to higher them. Without these trained botanists, our future world might be just glass and steel.

Agriculture will especially be affected by this declination, and has been. “An average of nearly 60,000 high-skilled ag and related job openings are expected annually in the United States over the next five years, with only about 35,000 grads in food, ag, renewable resources or the environment graduating each year to fill them, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University.” (CNBC)2 Where will the extra twenty-five thousand job openings go? Will the thirty-five thousand graduates have to shoulder the extra responsibility much like botanists in national parks?  The population steadily increases as medicine and technology help us live longer lives, but what happens when our food sources can’t keep up? This is just one aspect of botany. To identify new plant species that can be used as fuel and food.

We cannot survive without nature. Harvard University7, one of the most respected universities in the world, released a research study in 2010 detailing the benefits of being in the outdoors. Here are just a few benefits listed: Concentration will improve, lowering the adverse effects of ADHD, your vitamin D levels will rise, your happiness will increase, you will exercise more, and you may heal faster from injuries.  Now, I firmly believe, given my own experience, that being in nature is good for us. Not only does it teach us to respect animals and ecosystems, but it betters our mental, emotional, and physical wellness. We cannot just dismiss these claims. Here is another obvious claim for conserving the outdoors: without plants, we do not have oxygen.

Conservation and preservation efforts are directly related to Botanists. Federal Government conservation agencies, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, are suffering from the lack of botanists. Every year since 2014, the National Park Service has set records for recreation and park visits with 2016 shattering every previous record by 23.7 million visits.6 Currently, between the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, there is one botanist per 20 million acres.  Government agencies and private companies both encourage visiting the outdoors, yet there are not enough botanists to take care of the land they want more people to visit. In a recent interview with Lori Makarick5, of the National Park service in the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Department, Biological Resources Division, Branch Chief of Landscape Restoration & Adaptation, Lori stated the following, “they are having a hard time hiring plant scientists and botanists.” For this very reason, they created the Junior Ranger program. They also have an outreach to fourth graders, offering them a free annual park pass. This is all to encourage future careers with the National Park Service. Lori firmly believes that through these outreach programs, and the efforts of those already in botany and plant science careers, we might be able to introduce more conservation related degrees back into universities. Think of a national park you’ve been to recently. Now, imagine that same park, but with sparse vegetation, no campgrounds, and limited staff. Now, that park wouldn’t be there without botanists. A certain gentleman named E.P. Minecky, a plant pathologist/botanist created the layout of campgrounds and trails for the National Park Service. He created the layout to better protect the environment. To restate my opening sentence to this paragraph, Botany is directly related to conservation and preservation efforts.

When considering whether or not botany is relevant anymore, consider the research. We still need the outdoors. We still need Mother Nature. We still need food. We still need alternative fuels. Until there comes a time when we can adapt to not having oxygen, we still need plants. And to keep those plants around, we still need botany.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Bidwell, Allie. “The Academic Decline: How to Train the Next Generation of Botanists.” S. News & World Report. N.p., 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 14 Sept. 2018.

 

Ms. Allie Bidwell shows hard numbers that Botany degrees have decreased by 50 percent since the late 1980’s. She goes in depth to show the importance of Botanists, and the hard facts that we do not have new blood to replace the current, retiring, Botanists. This article also includes a survey from 2010 assessing the state of botanical education and employment prospects in the nation’s top 50 most funded universities. It found that more than half of those universities had eliminated their botany programs. This source includes a plethora of information on the problems facing government and private agencies due to the disappearance of botany programs.

After having vetted several of her sources, I can say that this article is mostly factual. I can use this to further research into the disappearance of botany. It helped me see more into the distinction between botanists and plant scientists currently in the field. This is a little newer than other articles that I have included in this bibliography.

 

  1. Daniels, Jeff. “A Field with 25K More Jobs than Grads Each Year.” CNBC, CNBC, 20 May 2015, http://www.cnbc.com/2015/05/20/agriculture-fertile-ground-for-job-seekers.html.

 

  1. Harris, Jim. “The need for taxonomy trained Botanists” Personal Interview 27 Sept. 2017

 

Dr. Jim Harris has been teaching for several years at Utah Valley University. He has a Ph.D. In Botany from the University of Alberta, and a B.S. in Botany from Brigham Young University (from when they offered that degree). He currently co-directs the UVU Herbarium. He has already mentioned that degrees have turned more towards microbiology, rather than the classification of plants. He pointed out that only 20% of the world’s plants have been classified and identified. According to Dr. Harris, taxonomist botanists are needed to further medical and technological studies.

 

  1. Nex, Sally. “Death knell sounds for botany degrees” The Garden. Jan. 2012. Royal Horticultural Society.

 

Though short, this published piece provides a look into how botany degrees have diminised in the UK. Ms. Sally Nex interviews several chief scientists with the Royal Horticultural Society, as well as the Royal Botanical Gardens. The article points out that the UK has had to hire several botanists from overseas due to the lack of botanists locally. It does point out that some professors in the United Kingdom believe it is a good thing that botany has merged with biology, stating that this could rekindle the interest in botany and possibly ignite the desire to study this dying degree again.

Even though this was written specifically about the United Kingdom, it helps me to gain an insight into my research by showing me that it isn’t just in the United States of America that botany degrees have disappeared, but rather, a worldwide event. This article gives me perspective into the study as a whole, rather than a small piece in our corner of the world.

 

  1. Makarick, Lori. “How Botany Affects the National Parks Service.” Telephone Interview. 20 Sept. 2017.

 

Lori Makarick works for the National Parks Service, specifically in the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Department, Biological Resources Division, as the Branch Chief of Landscape Restoration & Adaptation. She has an interesting insight on how the disappearance of Botany degrees has affected the NPS, and how it will continue to affect it. This will help me answer my second research question, about how this disappearance affects our environment and government agencies.

 

  1. Service, National Parks. “Stats Report Viewer.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1 Jan. 2017, irma.nps.gov/Stats/SSRSReports/National%20Reports/Annual%20Visitation%20Summary%20Report%20(1979%20-%20Last%20Calendar%20Year).

 

 

  1. Publishing, Harvard Health. “Spending Time Outdoors Is Good for You, from the Harvard Health Letter.” Harvard Health, 1 July 2010, health.harvard.edu/press_releases/spending-time-outdoors-is-good-for-you.

 

 

  1. Robbins, Robert. “Declination of Botany Enrollment.” Personal Interview. 20 Sept. 2017

 

Dr. Robbins is a current professor at Utah Valley University. He has a PHD in Botany, and teaches the upper division courses at UVU. Dr. Robbins discusses the disappearance that he has seen over his years of teaching. He believes it stems from a lack of introductory classes, and with the world focusing on technology and medicine, many smaller, but important programs are continually closed.

 

  1. Sundberg, Marshall D. “Where is Botany Going?” Plant Science Bulletin, 50, no. 4

 

This article provides an in-depth analysis of the enrollment in Botany programs in the major universities from each state in 2004. Some key points this article makes is that if Botany is offered to entry level students, they enroll quickly. If, however, Botany is not offered at an entry level, but rather as an upper division class, they see a sharp drop of students interested in enrolling in a Botany major. Dr. Sundberg makes a great case that if universities would offer more botany programs, there would be a higher interest and enrollment in those programs.

Obviously, this does have a slight bias to it due to being published in the Plant Science Bulletin, by a respected Botanist, but the research conducted for the article is sound. They went to 50+ universities to gather data on enrollment. This is going to be a valuable source in my research about botany programs dying out.

 

  1. Sundberg, Marshall D, et al. “Perceptions of Strengths and Deficiencies: Disconnects between Graduate Students and Prospective Employers.” BioScience, vol. 61, no. 2, Feb. 2011.

 

Analytical in their approach, the authors give hard numbers about how STEM degrees have been decreasing just as the need for them has been increasing. The authors conduct several surveys of government agencies and science industries, and received an outstanding number of 91% of prospective employers have the need for botanically trained staff, but do not have a pool from where to higher them. There is no bias in this article, it is pure data and analytics.

Because of the approach to this article, I can use these studies and numbers to back my research. It is clear, concise, and supports my claim that Botany degrees are disappearing, right when they are needed the most. This gives me raw data to include in my paper, and that is something that I need more of, since I can’t visit all the government agencies or science related businesses that they did. This supports the other article by Dr. Sundberg, but it is more up to date.

 

  1. Tryon, Steven, and Christopher McAlear. “Does the Disappearance of Botanists Affect the Bureau of Land Management?” Telephone Interview. 20 Sept. 2017.

 

Steven and Christopher both work for the Bureau of Land Management Utah Office. They both work in the Natural Resources department, and have an interesting take on the disappearance of Botany and whether or not we need Botanists anymore. Now, this could either hurt my argument or make it stronger, but I am willing to face that. I pointed out to them that the number of botanists has been reduced to about one per 20 million acres, and they both agreed with that fact.  They also brought up that many of their botany positions are filled by forestry graduates, which are also declining.

To the Point of Return

When I go hiking alone, I get to a point where I say to myself, “Self, I want to turn around and go back. We’ve gone pretty far. It’s all good.” I like to call this the Point of Return.

First off, I’m an average person, not a professional mountaineer/hiker. I have faults. I don’t always have that laser-like focus on finishing. Sometimes, I like to be lazy.  This doesn’t occur all the time, but mainly on trails I’ve never been on before and are a bit above my level.

Now, to clarify the Point of Return. It’s when you’re exhausted and have reached about halfway. For me, it’s about 3/8s of the way in, just before halfway. I start thinking that I could turn around. This weekend I went on a pretty strenuous hike after not having done a trail that difficult for a while. My Point of Return was when my Fitbit did the whole party on my wrist. I had hit my daily goal! I immediately thought…“Well, I did just hit my goal. I could turn around now. I’m tired as it is, and this is climbing a lot more than what the description said. Besides, you’ve seen one lake, you’ve seen them all.” That’s when it hit me. I do this a lot on hikes. I start to think about turning around. I hit a Point of Return.

When I was in 6th grade, my gym teacher made us run a mile about every two weeks. I absolutely hated it. I was a bookworm kid and I never liked running. He would push and push us. He would always tell me that I had to push through the pain to get my “Second Wind”. Whatever that was. He claimed if I pushed long enough, my body would start to burn my fat reserves to give me more energy. I hated the guy, and I hated running, so I never pushed long enough.  Later on in High School, I learned that this was legitimate, except that my body wasn’t burning my fat reserves, but finding the proper balance of oxygen to fight the lactic acid buildup (baking soda in water helps fight lactic acid too)

Now, back to the Point of Return. When I get tired and my brain tries to convince me that I could turn around and go home, I take a time out. I step to the side of the trail and admire the beauty all around me. There’s nothing quite like being outdoors. You get to see such spectacular views, listen to squirrels fighting and watch chipmunks sneak up to you. Next, I pull an energy bar out of my side pocket. You should always have one handy. I just recently discovered Picky Bars (*see link below).  So, I pull an energy bar out. I munch on that while I’m still on the side, take a few sips of water, enjoy the views some more, say hi to the people who pass me, take a few more sips of water, try to talk to the chipmunks, and then I wait. I wait until my brain stops trying to tell me to go home. I convince myself that onward is the only way to go. This process takes me about five to seven minutes.

After convincing myself to keep going, I start out again. But this time, I’m watching my pace. I take it slower. I try to soak up all the nature around me. It’s not about how fast you get there, but the journey you take. Doing this helps me to keep going. It’s almost like meditation. Now the trick is, you’ll get to another point where you’re thinking to yourself, “I’ve gone pretty far again, I’m good.” , however, you’ve now gone past the halfway mark, and it’d take you longer to get back to your car than it would get to your destination. Now, you can’t quit or it would seem stupid. Ha! You’ve now tricked yourself past the Point of Return. Take that silly brain. Once you hit that point, reward yourself with another energy bar. You’ll reach your goal in no time after this.

In summary, you have to trick your brain into not thinking. You’ll get to experience so many more beautiful sites, have wonderful pictures, and accomplish so much more. It works for me, and I’m sure it’ll work for you.

 

 

*I recently found these bars, and they’re amazing. I’m more of a Clif Bar guy, but after trying these out, I’d recommend these over Clif Bars any day.  pickybars.com

Preparing for the Worst

As we wrap up National Preparedness Month, we’ll go over some simple steps to making sure you stay alive out there.

Emergency preparedness doesn’t need to be expensive. There are many companies out there that charge you an arm and a leg for a 72 hour kit. Have you ever tried purchasing one of those just in case kits from Mountain House? They’re getting close to $100 a piece. I don’t even spend that much on regular food for three-four days. I understand that they’re a one stop shop. You get everything you need in one bucket. I however have a different approach to these kits. 

Don’t use a bucket. Everyone has a bucket in their house with their 72 hour kit in it. How are you supposed to grab a bucket and run? Have you ever tried running with a bucket? Most everyone keeps it in their garage or pantry as well. Why would you do that to yourself? If you’re trying to get out of your house quickly, you’re going to want it somewhere easy to grab.  Instead, keep your backpack in your closet or close to your bed. Keep all your food and essentials in your pack and you’ll be able to sling it on your back and go. 

So what should we put in our packs? First off, essentials. That means water or a way to purify water. You can live without food for more than three weeks, but only 3-5 days without water. I would suggest a water filter instead of bottles of water. I really love the Katadyn filters. They last for a long time, the ceramic filter is easy to clean, and they add a good taste to the water by using charcoal. Keep one of those in your pack as well as a water bladder of choice. I am biased because I’ve used camelback for my whole life, and I don’t really like any other hydration systems. 

Now you need to add food and a way to cook your food. Freeze dried meals are a good approach, but I would also suggest rice and bean packets. Knorrs makes a packet of rice and beans that is just perfect for hiking and fueling those tired muscles. Rice and beans is the perfect mix of carbohydrates and protein. When picking out your food, make sure they are rich in protein, carbohydrates, and sodium. You need these to function. I prefer to eat heavier things for dinner, so I would only pack enough for three or four dinners worth. Breakfast and lunch can be granola and energy bars. Again, make sure your choice is rich in protein and carbs. You need a stove of some sorts. If you don’t have a backpacking stove, don’t worry, you can always use a fire to cook your food. I have the MSR Microrocket, and it’s a good choice, but it relies on canister fuel. I’ve had my eye on the BioLite CookStove. It uses organic material as fuel and can charge your USB devices at the same time. Keep these packed in your emergency pack with plenty of waterproof matches/fire starters. 

The third category you should have in your pack is shelter. Some form, whether you use a tarpaulin shelter, or a tent, or even a hammock system, you’re going to want something to keep you dry and warm. Keep a sleeping bag and an emergency bivvy sack in there as well. I don’t see the need for an air pad except for comfort. Keep a rain jacket, base layer, and mid layer to keep yourself warm as well as a few pairs of wool/wool blend socks. I suggest SmartWool socks, the Mountain Hard Wear Toasty Twill 1/2 zip, an REI rain jacket, and your choice of a base layer (I have several different brands and I can’t tell the difference). 

Finally, keep some odds and ends in there as well. Fishing line and hooks to catch supper if need be. A good compass, I recommend a Silva. Also, the skills to read a compass. A map of your local area. You can’t rely on your phone’s gps all the time. A good knife, maybe a small hatchet as well.  A pen, a small notebook, first aid kit, a flashlight. I recently got a headlamp that came with a small solar panel to recharge it. Throw some paracord in there as well. HuckBerry makes this amazing emergency kit that’s wrapped in paracord. It has a small wire saw, fire starters and quite a few other essentials in it. Check it out if you get a chance at huckberry.com. 

To wrap up, if you keep a pack for each family member near their bed, you’ll never be unprepared in the event of an emergency arising. Plus, your pack will always be ready for an adventure. 

Spending Time Outdoors 

Many times when I go on hikes, it’s all about the end. How far I can go, sticking to the plan, getting there by a certain time. I’m sure a lot of you do the same. So we’re going to focus on how to relax in the outdoors. 

I’ve been an outdoorsman since I was a little boy. My father took us hiking, mountain biking, camping, and fishing almost every weekend in the summer. There was never a dull moment in our house. One thing I always admired about my dad was that he always seemed so relaxed in the mountains. He was of the stock where they teach you once and then expect you to figure it out from there. But in the wilderness, he’d teach you as many times as necessary without getting impatient. It was like he was a whole different person in the woods. 

They say that spending time with nature is beneficial for you. I have no arguments about that. It not only benefits your mental health, but also can help deter depression, boost your immunity, and make you happier! It can also be a spiritual experience, getting to spend time in God’s creations.  I know that if I make it into a trail once a week, I’m generally happier during the other six days. 

Now, you don’t have to go out to the mountains to enjoy nature. Here in Utah, we’re quite blessed to be surrounded by mountains, so it’s not that difficult for us. Go to a park, play some frisbee, or go to the local fishing hole, get some relaxation on. I don’t have a garden right now, but I love doing my own landscaping and gardening. Something about pushing my hands through the dirt. I feel that spending time outside is just as beneficial as going to the gym, doing daily yoga, or drinking a warm cup of tea. 

So get out there, opt outside, and start being even happier than you already are. 

Staying clean in the backcountry

One thing that afflicts us all is our stench after several days backcountry. Time after time I walk past fellow hikers and they smell like fresh laundry. I, on the other hand, smell like week old roadkill. So this week, I decided to go ahead and write about backcountry hygiene.

If you’re like me, you sweat a lot. No matter if I’m skinny or more round, I sweat. And we’re not talking about a glistening sweat. This is a downpour of saline solution. My nether regions and rump tend to sweat the most. I’m soaked down there after about three miles into the hike or so. My pits sweat almost as bad as my lower half. My head sweats like crazy as well, and when it dries, I have salt crystals all over my face. Now, one day of sweat isn’t bad. I normally don’t think it warrants attention. But two days of sweat? That’s when it starts getting bad. If I don’t clean up somehow after about a day and a half of hiking, I start chafing. I get the “chub rub”. And I smell horrendous! Of course, everyone else smells about the same, but still, I don’t want to attract animals to me or repel other human beings.

So what to do? Can’t really bathe in a lake or stream. Here in Utah it’s strictly forbidden to swim in mountain lakes. However, in Montana, it is not. If you’re in an area where you’re allowed to swim in the lakes, by all means go ahead. Get some of that grime off of ya. Just don’t add soap. For the rest of us, however, there are a few solutions.

  1. Wet wipes. I cannot express how many times wet wipes have saved my butt. Literally. They clean off the sweat and oils, and give you a fresh baby scent. The downfall to these is the weight. Moist cloths are heavy. These are better for keeping at your base camp. You can pick these up literally anywhere.
  2. CampSuds. I take CampSuds with me everywhere. It’s great for washing dishes and my face/nether regions. Pair it with a microfiber cloth, and you’re in for a good time. Even though it’s biodegradable, please don’t take a bubble bath in the river. I like to fill up my water bottle or a pot with water and soap and then scrub down. Plus, it’s got a pretty nice pine and citrus scent. Downside is that it’s soap. Without water, there’s no use in it.  Grab a bottle at your local REI or Sports store for around $4-5.00.
  3. Portable shower. Sea to Summit makes an amazing portable shower. Packs down to about the size of a Twinkie yet holds 10 Liters of water when full! Fill that puppy up at a lake or stream, set it in the sun for a few hours and you’ve got yourself a lukewarm shower. Pair it with a microfiber cloth and some CampSuds, and you’ll be fresh as can be. Downside is that you have to be near bodies of water to shower, and  it takes up some pack space you can use for other things. At 5.25oz, you’ve got yourself a pretty lightweight solution. I got mine at REI for $30 more or less.
  4. Mineral Salt Deodorants. I use these when I know I’m not going to be showering for a while. Put some of that on your pits and between your thighs, and you’ll be fresh without being fresh. Best to buy these on Amazon or online. They’re hard to find in stores.
  5. Pack a change of undies. Can’t beat the feeling of clean underwear in the backcountry.  Plus, they don’t smell as bad as the ones you wore the day before.
  6. Toothpaste and brushes. There are many lightweight options to keeping your dental hygiene going. I absolutely hate the taste in my mouth when I wake up if I didn’t brush the night before. So take a small toothbrush and some paste. It’s worth it’s weight.

All of these ideas are great. They’ll all cost you some pack space and weight, but it’s either that or the stench. I’m sure there are other ways out there to stay clean, and I’d love to hear about them, so leave a comment below on how you stay clean in the backwoods.

Day Pack for Backpacking?

For my trip to Glacier National Park, I decided to forgo the traditional 65L pack for a smaller, lighter, hydration day pack. I’ve always been a more traditional type of guy, using a 65/75L pack for all my backpacking trips, but I’ve been reading too many ultralight backpacking blogs. I decided to pass up the bulky bag for a smaller, lighter day pack. I chose the Camelbak Fourteener 24L pack. I learned several things about this bag, one of which was the lack of weight displacement.

My pack contents were as follows: my sleeping bag (the REI Helio Sack 55), my shelter (an ENO ProFly Hammock Rain Tarp), the GSI Halulite Minimalist Cookset, an MSR Microrocket with a 110g fuel container, two Mountain House meals, six Clif Bars, a 3L hydration bladder, a Katadyn Hiker PRO water filter, a pair of socks, and a first aid kit. Plus or minus some small pieces of gear.  Weighing it out, with a full bladder, I was pushing about 20-30 lbs. A little more than I wanted to be carrying. I’m not a complete ultralight backpacker, but I can definitely upgrade some of my gear.

After packing everything into the 24L pack and slipping it on, I realized very quickly that the hip belt they have on the pack wasn’t doing its job. Don’t get me wrong, I love the pack. But, the clips kept on loosening up. Every time I’d tighten them up, the weight displacement would feel amazing, but ten minutes later, it was all on my shoulders again. It might be because of the small hip pads that don’t really wrap around at all, or maybe the clips need to have closer gaps, or maybe I’m just too fat! I can definitely say it wasn’t the best choice for the 27 miles we did.

The breathability was amazing, my back was always sweating, but I was still getting airflow coming up from underneath through the support.  I have no complaints about the durability of the pack. I’ve had it for a little over three months now, and it hasn’t been sitting in the closet. When I read reviews for the pack before checking it out and ultimately buying it, one or two of them mentioned that the mesh on the back support wore off quickly. I have not found this to be the case. Mine is covered in dirt right now, but other than that, no problems with the construction of the pack. There are a few other things that I love about this pack, mainly small aesthetic features, so I won’t mention them here.

After taking this trip with the pack, I realized a few things. A small pack will never replace the comfort of a larger, more supportive pack. I’ll continue to use it as my day pack, but I doubt I’ll be taking this pack on another backpacking adventure. I also could have used more space. The lack of space versus the amount of gear I was packing made my pack very odd-shaped, no matter how many times I repacked. Made my trek pretty uncomfortable. In conclusion, the Camelbak Fourteener 24L is an amazing day pack, maybe even good for a short overnighter, but not for a backpacking trip.

MSR Microrocket

A few weeks ago, a few friends and I were going to go up to Glacier National Park. In the end, it was just one friend and I.  We did a little backcountry camping and were both excited to try out new gear. In this article, however, I want to go over the stove that I’ve been using for several years. I recently bought a new one, and it looks like they’ve dropped the weight a little bit. I’ve used it plenty of times on short day hikes, but I haven’t used it too much while backpacking, so I was excited to give it a go.

Our first day at Glacier, we pitched a base camp in the Two Medicine Lakes campground. This sounds deceiving. There are actually Three “Two” Medicine Lakes, an Upper, a Lower, and one that is just Two Medicine. The first day isn’t too important. I want to focus on the second and third day. We hiked up to the Upper Two Medicine Lake and stayed in a backcountry campground up there. The third day was a crazy long hike over three passes.

While up at Upper Two Med., we cooked on my new MSR Microrocket stove. I’ve used several different stoves over the past year but have ultimately settled on the MSR. The main reason for settling with this stove is the weight and size.  I have used a Jetboil system before, but it takes up a lot of space in my pack. Space and weight I can use for other things. Whereas, the MSR Microrocket is a total of 2.6 oz. I have a GSI Minimalist .6 L “cook set”, which adds 6.3oz. But, it also fits my fuel canister and stove in there, if I don’t use the hard case that the MSR comes with.  So I can fit my whole cooking system in a 4″ x 4″ x 4.5″ cylinder, roughly. It doesn’t take up too much space in my pack, even though I was using a smaller pack, which I will review in my next piece.

Another reason for choosing the MSR was the boil time.  Just over two minutes to boil .5L which is usually more than I need for the freeze-dried meals I take. This equals the JetBoil Minimo and beats the Flash system as well.  The simmer control is amazing as well. I don’t really cook, per se, while backpacking, it’s mostly just adding boiling water to meals, but every once in a while, I like to make a little herbal tea (of my own blend) in the mornings. I like to simmer the guarana seeds before adding in the rest of the blend to steep. The MSR’s simmer control is amazing for this. I can see using it for frying up some trout in the future.

In conclusion, the MSR is a perfect lightweight cooking solution. I have recommended it to my friends and co-workers. At $59, it’s a steal. Not too expensive, but not cheap enough that you would question whether or not it is a quality piece of equipment. Just make sure you find a cooking system light enough to compliment your 2.6 oz stove.