At Outdoor Retailer’s Winter Market 2013 show, the state of Utah and its governor, Gary Herbert, presented “The State of Utah Outdoor Recreation Vision” after suggestions from the large trade show and its constituency to plan for and protect outdoor recreation and natural resources in the state of Utah.
As a former Utah resident, taxpayer, and business owner that was part of the state’s outdoor industry, I am pleased to see Governor Herbert’s office acknowledging the financial contribution that outdoor recreation makes to state coffers in the form of tax revenue every year. Although the state is still suspect when it comes to their full commitment to keeping beautiful scenery unmarred so the wild places stay wild, the plan that was presented seems to be a good place to start.
Outdoor Retailer and the State of Utah
The state’s outdoor recreation vision began with nudging from its biggest convention: Outdoor Retailer. The Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Retailer trade shows had grown so much so that Salt Palace was not meeting its space requirements, and with the state’s weak stance on protecting natural resources, the Outdoor Industry Association threatened to leave Utah and began an active search for a new home for its bi-annual conventions.
In the face of pressure from the Outdoor Industry Association to pull its trade shows out of Salt Lake City, the governor’s office took action; grant money appeared for a new tent structure adjacent to the Salt Palace to accommodate much-needed floor show space for the growing convention, and Utah began the write up of the outdoor recreation plan in an attempt to the keep the show (and the $40 million it brings into Salt Lake City every year) in Utah. It must have worked since the OIA announced that they will stay in Utah through 2016 (they coined their decision as a “near-term” location for the shows; now, the ball is in Utah’s court, so to speak).
The State v. The Federal Government
However, as a former guide and outfitter in Escalante, Utah, at one of the most controversial and widely-hated national monuments in recent history, I accept the state’s attempt to meet the Outdoor Industry Association’s pressure with a bit of skepticism–and certainly a “wait-and-see” attitude. The governor’s office presented a mandate in 2012 for federal land management agencies to relinquish their lands in Utah back to the state of Utah, including Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, President Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign trail surprise.
The BLM-managed monument has been widely reviled by conservative Utahns as a “land grab” and an affront by the federal government to take away revenues from coal and uranium mining that could have possibly been an economic engine for the depressed small towns that dot south-central Utah. It has since become a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with some of the most remote and beautiful red rock scenery that backpackers, day hikers, and canyoneers can enjoy in the lower 48. Tourism has brought more money and decent people into south-central Utah than any mining operation ever could–and the governor’s recreation vision does mention the positive attributes of the state’s national monuments. But other parts leave me concerned, especially with language like this:
“The starting point may be the appointment of a Director of Outdoor Recreation who will assemble a team from state agencies involved in outdoor recreation.”
To be fair, the state of Utah is a very progressive place to start a business. Their online services for new businesses seeking to create a corporation, pay taxes, or use other services is a breeze compared to other states. Indeed, it is a state that has kept up with the internet boom and provides everything needed to own a business at the fingertips of business owners with a computer and internet access. So if you’re interested in moving to Utah to start an outdoor business–whether it’s guiding services or gear manufacturing–the state really does want your business.
For now, the governor’s office has assuaged the OIA’s demands; I sincerely hope Utah is able to keep their end of the bargain and protect the state’s magnificent scenery and wild places for all outdoor recreation enthusiasts to enjoy.