Crowdfunded project aims to document rural Utah from the sky

This aerial image of Manti City taken by Messenger editor Robert Stevens shows the Manti temple and skyline glowing on a clear, still night. This image attracted thousands of likes and hundreds of positive comments on social media in less than one week. Stevens is now seeking funding to document a broad range of scenes in Sanpete County and throughout the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area with drone photography


Crowdfunded project aims to document rural Utah from the sky


Sanpete Messenger Managing Editor Robert Stevens preparing to shoot aerial documentary footage for Discovery Road, the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area TV series.

A Sanpete Messenger journalist has launched a crowdfunded project to document the changing townscapes and landscapes of rural Utah using drone photography. But he needs more help to make it happen.

Robert Stevens of Manti moved from California to Sanpete County more than a decade ago and has been working at the Messenger since 2014. He says his involvement with community journalism helped him develop a strong connection to his new home.

Working with the newspaper also reignited an interest in photography that dated back to earning his photography merit badge at Scout camp.

A couple of years ago, the Messenger won a camera drone as a door prize at a Utah Press Association convention. Stevens studied to become licensed by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration as a commercial drone operator.

“Before long I became obsessed with the old aerial photographs I saw hanging in city halls all over the county,” Stevens says. “Many were taken from old planes or helicopters with old film cameras.  It was easy to see how much the county has changed when viewed from above.

“Even in the couple of years I have been flying drones, I have seen changes appear on the landscape, sometimes over just a few months.”

Stevens decided he wanted to create aerial documentation of his new home in rural Utah before unstoppable progress changed the landscape forever.

After his aerial photography began getting thousands of likes and hundreds of positive comments on social media, he took the plunge to launch a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo.com, a website that takes donations to fund projects such as journalism and art.

He turned to crowdfunding to secure money for a better drone camera—one capable of taking pictures from higher up, covering greater territory and producing higher resolution images.

Stevens also plans to use some of the funds to launch a website enabling people to enjoy the final collection and print images for display in rural Utah art galleries.

“So many kind people in the local Facebook communities told me how much my work brought back their warm memories of childhood and their ancestral homes in Central Utah,” Stevens says. “They helped me realize this project was not only within my skill set but also a cause worthy of being done properly.”

Within a few days of his campaign launch, he had not only reached 20 percent of his $3,000 funding goal but had also attracted support from the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area (MPNHA).

“The support and encouragement I have received from fellow journalists, historic preservationists, friends, family and even total strangers has been very reaffirming that my vision can be realized,” Stevens says. “I still have a way to go to reach my goal, but I have faith that more people will see this and relate to it.

“There was some early support for the project by people who immediately saw value in my vision,” Stevens says. “I know there is more to come, because I know there are more people out there who will value this record, which is being created for posterity and enjoyment both.”

If you want to help support Stevens’s project to create a public-access aerial photography collection of scenes in rural Utah, while those scenes still exist, call Stevens at (435) 813-2613 or email him at beehiveimagery@gmail.com.

You can also use the built-in, secure donation system to donate with your debit or credit card on the official crowdfunding site at https://igg.me/at/aerialutahheritagenow/x.

To see Stevens’ full photography portfolio, which also includes his portrait work and ground-level landscapes of rural Utah, go to www.beehiveimagerystudios.com.com.