Among friends, butterflies and a wandering deer, actor and activist Robert Redford and his family gathered in a remote part of the Sundance Mountain Resort to celebrate a commitment to conserve 316 acres of land forever.
“We are stewards, we were stewards, we always will be stewards,” Redford’s daughter, Amy Redford, said during a celebration of about 100 people in a meadow in what is now to be called the Redford Family Elk Meadows Preserve, which the family dedicated Thursday.
Robert Redford, who sold the Sundance Resort to a pair of high-end resort developers in December 2019, thanked the friends attending the noon-hour event, noting “how meaningful it is to us, and particularly me, that you’re all here because of what this place represents.”
In the day’s emotional high point, Redford read a letter written “with this occasion in mind,” he said, in 2020 by his son, Jamie, who died in October 2020, at age 58.
“Elk Meadows is a priceless pedestal on which rests one of Utah’s most powerful peaks, Mount Timpanogos,” Jamie Redford wrote in the letter. “To walk those meadows in the summer, or snowshoe and cross-country ski there in the winter, is to enter a sanctuary, a place of safety, peace and contemplation.”
The family has set aside the 316 acres at Elk Meadows, an expanse filled with aspen trees and summer wildflowers, in a conservation easement held by Utah Open Lands, a nonprofit land trust dedicated to preserving and protecting open spaces in Utah. The process to create the easement started in 2020.
In his letter, Jamie Redford wrote that he thought back on “50 years of memories of Elk Meadows,” the half-century his father owned the Sundance resort. “I have seen more and more diverse community come to Elk Meadows — to celebrate, to mourn, or to commemorate life’s inevitable passages,” he wrote.
Jamie Redford wrote about his family’s ability “to protect Elk Meadows as a critical habitat for all kinds of native animal and plant species,” as he urged other land owners to follow their example. “Sadly, as we continue to recklessly alter, consume and degrade the environment that sustains us,” Jamie Redford’s letter said, “it becomes desperately important for those of us who can to embrace our ability to be good stewards of the natural world.”
Amy Redford, speaking after her father read her brother’s later, took a second to compose herself before talking about how Robert Redford’s environmental awareness became a family legacy.
“I have often referred to the choices Dad made as building a nest instead of an empire,” Amy Redford said. She added that “Sundance is a love story of beginnings. It was for my mom and dad, and it will always be for the great love story of Bylle and Dad” — referring to Robert Redford and his first wife, historian Lola van Wagenen, and his current wife, painter Sibylle Szaggars Redford.
Amy Redford also thanked the resort’s current owners, Broadreach Capital Partners and Cedar Capital Partners, for keeping the promises the Redford family first made over the property. She did make one request to the resort’s general manager, Chad Linebaugh: “For the love of Pete, please bring back the fried pickles. I’m counting on you. Please.”
Elk Meadows is not the first parcel of land that Robert Redford has turned over for conservation. In 1997, Redford placed nearly 900 acres of land, at the edge of the Mount Timpanogos wilderness, into an easement with Utah Open Lands; the land is now called the Redford Family Wildlife & Nature Reserve.
Robert Redford is set to turn 86 on August 18. He retired from movies with a starring role in the 2018 crime comedy “The Old Man and the Gun,” and a brief appearance in the 2019 blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame.”
Thursday’s dedication, organized by the nonprofit Sundance Nature Alliance, began with music — three members of the Utah Symphony performing Dvorak — and ended with a Champagne toast and a picnic lunch on the meadow.
After the music, Larry Cesspooch, a spiritual leader of the Ute tribe, offered a prayer — a task he said he has performed for the Sundance Institute’s filmmakers labs since he first attended as a filmmaker in 1994. (A ceremony set for Saturday at the Sundance resort will honor the Utes as the “First People of the Mountain,” the original keepers of the land where the resort now sits.)
“We’ve been here, and we’ll always be here, because we’re connected to this earth,” Cesspooch said as he introduced the song and prayer he gave.
While Cesspooch explained, a deer approached through the aspens, watched the humans for a bit, then loped back into the wilderness. Meanwhile, a couple of painted lady butterflies flitted about the guests, occasionally alighting on a few.
Also speaking Thursday was author Mark Spragg, who compared Elk Meadows to the place he grew up, along the Shoshone River in Wyoming.
Spragg praised Elk Meadows as “this place of silence, these acres of undisturbed land, where if we listen carefully enough, quiet ourselves sufficiently, we might hear the stories the earth whispers, and we might recognize ourselves in these stories, understand that regardless of our differences, we all belong to the same narrative of love and longing, desperate to be understood and valued.”
Spragg has a connection with Redford: His novel “An Unfinished Life” was made into a movie starring Redford and Morgan Freeman in 2005, with Spragg adapting his book into a screenplay.
Spragg said Redford’s decades of environmental activism were an inspiration to him, because it “allowed me to believe that it’s not only possible to live the life of a writer — as he has as an actor and director — but that I might also be able to simultaneously champion the wilderness on which I was raised.”
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