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History project records views of the Great Salt Lake, from art to industry

Published May 19, 2014 1:43 pm

Multimedia • Thursday event gives the first glimpse at an oral history of Great Salt Lake.
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When American West Center director Gregory Smoak moved to Utah in the mid-1980s, the Great Salt Lake immediately interested him.

"I became a historian of the Great Basin and the Great Salt Lake," said Smoak, who is also an associate professor of history at the University of Utah. "It is underappreciated and often misunderstood."

Smoak is working on a project called "Saline Stories: An Oral History of the Great Salt Lake."

Some of the first results of that work will be on display Thursday at the Salt Lake City Main Library during what Smoak calls a celebration of the lake and its history.

The event will begin with a showing of the Center for Land Use Interpretation's video of the Great Salt Lake called "Landscan," which was recently on display at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

There will be a panel of lake experts including biologist Don Paul, Friends of the Great Salt Lake's Lynn de Freitas, land art expert Hikmet Loe and geologist Genevieve Atwood.

Smoak said he hopes to complete more than 100 interviews before the project is completed. The first round was funded by an oral-history grant from the Utah Humanities Council and Utah Division of State History. All the work will be deposited at the Utah Research History Center and University of Utah Marriott Library. It will include full transcripts and the original recordings.

The American West Center, the oldest regional-study center in the West, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

"We are trying to document the history of the lake from as many different perspectives as possible," said Smoak. "We are going to hit many of those stakeholder groups including wildlife management, industry, art, advocacy and recreation."

Smoak said he finds native Utahns often take the Great Salt Lake for granted, while those who come from the outside become fascinated by the lake because it is so different and strange. He said he thinks he is one of the few people who have waterskied on the Great Salt Lake. Last Pioneer Day, he and his wife drove around the entire lake in one day.

"What it comes down to is visiting the place and getting an appreciation for the place," said Smoak. "It is sort of this strange thing out on the horizon. It doesn't smell so great, so it is easy to ignore it. When you spend time out there, travel round the lake, go swimming and learn what a fascinating place it is. There are very few places like it on Earth."


Saline Stories: An Oral History of the Great Salt Lake

When • Thursday, 7 p.m.

Where • Salt Lake City Main Library (Nancy Tessman Auditorium), 210 E. 400 South

Tickets • Free