By Mike Childers
Iowa Public Radio’s sound booth sits just inside the station’s front doors. An enormous window allows those passing through the lounge outside to watch whoever is inside the sound proof boxes. In an adjacent room, two guys were working with equipment that looked like it belonged in a starship recording Leisl and my conversation with out×LAND×ish podcast co-host Rachel Layman about road trips and public lands.
A partnership among the U.S. Forest Service, the Salmon Valley Stewardship, and More than Just Parks, out×LAND×ish is part travel narrative and part a history lesson. All hailing from Solomon Idaho, co-hosts Liz Townley, Mindy Crowell, and Rachel Layman, take listeners on rousing fun romp through the West’s public lands discussing topics as varied as mushroom hunting, ultra-marathoning, and witnessing last summer’s eclipse. Along the way they introduce listeners to wilderness planners, outdoor guides, and even an odd historian or two.
By far my favorite episode is the podcast’s first, “Ajax, Pinchot, and a Marching Band.” Featuring historian and Gifford Pinchot biographer Char Miller, the hour-long show wanders from the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness to a public lands rally in Boise, Idaho, exploring the meaning of public lands. Miller steals the show, masterfully telling the history of the U.S. Forest Service while weaving in stories of Gifford Pinchot and explaining deeply felt connection we have to these lands. It is a must listen if you are at all interested in western public lands. By the end you will join Crowell in having a little crush on Miller.
In its first year, the podcast covered a diverse number of topics including the total lunar eclipse and mushroom hunting in the national forests. Not your typical public land stories, but that seems to be by design. A part of the Forest Service’s Your Forests Your Future national campaign to get American’s more involved in managing their national forests, out×LAND×ish steers away from more controversial topics such as fire and condensing national monuments. Instead, its co-hosts focus on how people enjoy their public lands, seeking to boost awareness of the Forest Service and its stewardship of 193 million acres across the country asking people to join the conversation on how these lands should be managed. After all, as the Your Forests Your Future notes, they’re our forests.
It is laudable goal, but one that does steer away from the messy politics often involved in public lands management. By focusing primarily on recreation, both out×LAND×ish and Your Forests Your Future miss a very real opportunity delve deeper into contemporary land management issues such as fire policy, the push to transfer federal lands to states, access rights, and exurban growth, to name just a few. All of these issues lurk in the background of stories on mushroom hunting, through hiking, and yes, road tripping. By avoiding controversy, out×LAND×ish does miss an opportunity to involve listeners in broader conversations over public lands.
Back in sound booth, we finished up our conversation with Rachel. She assures both Leisl and I that we were awesome, and that she will drop us a line once the episode is done and up. A couple weeks later out×LAND×ish episode 7, “The Great American Road Trip, Part 1” is up. Certainly, I am bit biased, but it is a rather fun listen. Historian, H. Russell Smith Foundation Curator of Western American History at the Huntington Library, and all around good guy Peter Blodgett opens the episode telling the early history of road trips in American West. Like Miller in episode 1, Blodgett steals the show. Later on in the cast, Leisl adds to Peter’s explanation of the power of road trips to public lands. By the episode’s end, you are ready to load up the car, and hit the open road to your favorite hiking, biking, fishing, or camping spot. And that, is what it is really all about.