Ken Burns: "The National Parks" can help outdoor retail | ParkRecord.com

Ken Burns: "The National Parks" can help outdoor retail

by Andrew Kirk, OF THE RECORD STAFF

The start of the Obama administration was the beginning of the third act of America, said documentary filmmaker Ken Burns in Salt Lake City on Thursday.

"After the birth of my three daughters, it was the greatest moment of my life," he said.

That’s because his career has been dedicated to understanding who we are as Americans, he said. And you can’t scratch the surface of America without dealing with race.

But as a source in one of his past documentaries explained, the founders of America are unique from their European cousins because they were constantly confronted with two major and defining issues: race and space.

The inauguration of President Barack Obama is not only the beginning of a new era in race relations, he said, but the new president is supportive of many hoped-for changes in the treatment of America’s great spaces.

This should be good news to outdoor retailers, Burns told his audience at the kick-off breakfast of the 2009 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. The recession will likely turn many thoughts to visiting America’s national parks, he said.

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Public spaces thrived during the Great Depression. People not only look for inexpensive ways to spend quality time with their family, but they need the beauty, peace and excitement that visits to national parks provide, he said.

The airing of his new documentary, "The National Parks: America’s Best Idea," comes at an opportune time for outdoor retailers, he said.

"I think it’s the best film we’ve done," he said.

The Outdoor Industry Association and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) have teamed up to give retailers ideas on how to "leverage the awareness and excitement about the national park system that the film will generate to engage your community and customers around the joys and benefits of the outdoors," explained a media toolkit.

PBS and the outdoor recreation industry share a quintessential goal, he said: improving quality of life and building human happiness.

Burns said there’s an opportunity available for the industry, PBS and his film to benefit one another.

Michael Winfield, president of the Outdoor Industry Association agreed the recession might actually be good for the industry.

Winfield told the market attendees that he heard an economic expert say she’d only invest in two kinds of stocks right now: soup and camping gear.

Kenji Haroutunian, director of the Winter Market, admitted that reserved floor space was down 5 percent this year and they were expecting a few hundred fewer attendees. But Winfield pointed out how many other industries are down 10, 15 and even 20 percent. Typically, the only industries that do as well as outdoor retail is during a recession are guns and alcohol.

Creating opportunities for partnerships with PBS affiliates is only one of the programs the association is working on to help its members, he said. The association sponsors research and educational seminars to give helpful tools to retailers as they reexamine budgets and make plans for dealing with the next several months, he said.