Outdoor Retailer takes an important stand on public lands
The Park Record editorial, Feb. 18-21, 2017
The Outdoor Retailer show, a vital part of Utah’s economy for more than 20 years, has threatened to leave Utah before, but this time it is serious. Organizers of the twice-yearly event at the Salt Palace Convention Center announced this week they will not renew their contract with Salt Lake City beyond 2018.
The decision, according to Outdoor Retailer’s leaders, was made in response to the Utah Legislature and Congressional delegation’s overarching opposition to federal management of public lands. The legislators’ most recent call to rescind former President Barack Obama’s Bears Ears National Monument designation in the southern part of the state, they say, runs counter to the environmental ethics cherished by outdoor enthusiasts and the outdoor recreation industry.
Outdoor Retailer and many of the large national brands who threatened to pull out of the show because of Utah’s regressive environmental politics are right. The skyrocketing popularity of Utah’s national parks and steady growth in the recreation segment of Utah’s economy are ample evidence that both residents and visitors crave the adventures they have while exploring Utah’s untrammeled national forests, parks and monuments.
The state should set aside more public lands, not diminish those that have already been established.
Moving the show, which also serves a showcase for the varied summer and winter recreation opportunities available throughout Utah, will be a loss for many local retailers. But it will also be a black eye for state leaders, including one of Utah’s biggest business champions, Gov. Gary Herbert.
The annual summer and winter shows reputedly add $45 million per year to the state’s coffers, not including the peripheral exposure they bring to the state’s tourism industry. With that in mind, in 2013, Herbert made an extensive effort to broker a deal to keep the trade show in Utah, unveiling an outdoor recreation vision plan and establishing an Office of Outdoor Recreation at the capitol, among other initiatives.
But, in the years since, Herbert and a posse of Utah elected representatives have failed to address the outdoor industry’s most critical concerns – the state’s unwillingness to preserve its most valuable asset, its stunning public lands.
When Outdoor Retailer folds up its tent and moves to another city, many local businesses will feel the loss. But an important point will have been made.
Utah’s elected leaders need to listen to their constituents who already understand that the state has more to gain from the public lands it preserves than those it sells off or develops.
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