When Canyon Country Partnership was falling apart, Kaaron Jorgen stepped in with a vision: Instead of the projects-based organization it had been before, Jorgen saw the partnership as being a process-based organization, dedicated to networking and communication. The group brings together local and state directors of land management agencies, as well as local county representatives from southeastern Utah. Now, Jorgen has won the Utah Division of State History’s Outstanding Contributions in History award for “for managing, planning and facilitating one of Utah’s longest functioning and most successful voluntary land-use organizations in Utah … since 1995,” according to a statement from the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts.
“What I try to inculcate into this group was a sense of humor and goodwill, the way people could relate to one another without contention, without soap-boxing if you will … it’s much more about relationships than it is about having a particular political viewpoint. So in that regard it lacks the opinionism—that’s a word I made up—of people taking strong political stances on political issues. It’s more about how these agencies run and giving updates on what’s going on and networking from there,” Jorgen told The Times-Independent.
The partnership began as a group focused on restoring the Sand Flats area, Jorgen said. That project was successful, but after a honeymoon period, the organization began to fall victim to internal conflicts and politics. That’s when Jorgen stepped in. As a former therapist and PhD psychologist, Jorgen had a vision of a group that would foster communication and relationships between local land managers, rather than focusing on a specific project.
“This is about process, not about content, so it’s very unusual that it has kept going,” Jorgen said. “It didn’t work because of me. It worked because of the people who were showing up, and that has continued.”
Other members of the group gave Jorgen more credit than she gave herself.
“[Jorgen] deserves real kudos,” said Mike Mower, Gov. Gary Herbert’s deputy chief of staff. “She has been a real uniting force. Often elected political leaders and appointed government officials come and go but this organization continues. As the personalities change it still continues and people are involved because they find a real value in what they’re learning there.”
Chris Wood, regional supervisor for the southeastern region of the Division of Wildlife Resources said, “I’ve had a really good experience with Canyon Country Partnership. I’ve been part of it off and on for 12 years. I’m one of the longer-running participants in the partnership. It’s been a great group, a great partnership. We come together every other month and just share information and get to know each other and build partnerships and connect names with faces and talk about what our ... governments and local communities are doing. We build bridges. And [Jorgen] is really the glue that keeps the group together. A lot of these agencies, leadership changes over time. People come and go. It’s [Jorgen] who really keeps the group together and organizes our meetings and sets the tone for our meetings and provides a venue for our meetings that is comfortable and open and encourages great dialogue.”
Jorgen and four other award winners from throughout Utah will be honored at the annual Utah History Conference on Sept. 28.