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Local land activist goes national for public lands


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Luke Nelson of Pocatello is a local trail runner making a national ruckus for public lands. | Kris Millgate, Tight Line Media

POCATELLO — Luke Nelson is a physician’s assistant in the Gate City. He has a wife. Three kids. Nothing radical. At least until he runs — up to 90 miles a week. While he runs, he talks.

“Your place has significant value to you,” he says. “It’s a place that if someone said it was going to go away, you would make a ruckus.”

Nelson is making a ruckus by becoming the poster boy for the national public lands debate. He’s in Patagonia’s new video series about the recently designated and highly debated Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah.

He’s also sponsored by GU Energy Labs, the makers of nutrition for endurance athletes. GU, Patagonia and other companies pulled out of the largest outdoor sports show, Outdoor Retailer, hosted by the Beehive State, when Utah politicians pushed back on Obama’s 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument designation in December 2016.

“We took issue with that,” says Adam Chamberlain, GU vice president of marketing. “We really believe we need to take a stand for our public lands.”

RELATED: Watch the entire Bears Ears Video Series here.

The red rock country of southern Utah’s Bears Ears is federally protected as a national monument just like the black rock of Idaho’s Craters of the Moon is. | Kris Millgate, Tight Line Media

Nelson, who regularly runs Mink Creek and rafts the Portneuf on his way to work, is taking a stand too. He discovered Bears Ears a month before it was designated a monument. He’s returned six times since November, running on public land and talking about that land with every step. Activist is a new role for him.

“I think at times it’s uncomfortable, but not difficult,” he says. “I’m willing to call myself an activist and I’m about as Idaho as it gets.”

President Trump ordered review of national monuments created or expanded since 1996. That review includes Utah’s Bears Ears and Idaho’s Craters of the Moon. The review process is open for public comment until July 10 and Nelson is making sure the public knows about it.

“If you ask people why they live in Idaho, it’s because of places like Craters,” Nelson says. “What’s at stake here is our ability to go outside without trespassing so this issue means a lot more than we’re giving it credit for.”

Outdoor journalist Kris Millgate is based in Idaho Falls, Idaho. See more of her work at