Gov. Gary Herbert’s long-awaited vision for outdoor recreation stands by the desire to take control of federal lands while laying out a broad-stroke plan to preserve the state’s natural jewels and cultivate outdoor recreation as one of the pillars of Utah’s economy.
Herbert unveiled the plan as one of the world’s largest outdoor gear trade shows got under way in Salt Lake City.
The cornerstone of the report calls for the creation of a government office devoted solely to outdoor recreation. Among other goals, the office would be charged with organizing an annual summit where outdoor businesses, recreationalists and other stakeholders gather.
The plan comes on the heels of an announcement by the outdoor show’s organizers that they will keep their biannual conventions in Salt Lake City through 2016. The Outdoor Retailer expos draw more than 20,000 people, and every year pour an estimated $40 million into Utah’s economy.
Organizers had threatened to move future shows if Utah didn’t demonstrate its commitment to preserving public lands and offer more convention floor space and lodging for convention-goers.
The Boulder, Colo.-based Outdoor Industry Association, which sponsors the expo, asked Herbert in August to share his vision for the industry by January.
The organization, which represents companies such as Patagonia and The North Face, opposed a bill signed by Herbert in March that demands the federal government relinquish control of public lands in Utah by 2014. The association also opposes Utah’s effort to open thousands of dirt paths across public lands to motor vehicles.
Officials from Herbert’s office met with members of the organization and others with ties to the outdoors over the past few months to produce more than 40 recommendations listed in the report.
They include plans to improve everything from outdoor education and funding for state parks to air quality and water conservation.
The report also lays out how outdoor recreation fuels the state’s economy.
Sales of outdoor products and sporting goods bring $5.8 billion to Utah’s economy every year and $60 million in state and local sales taxes. Utah’s tourism is driven by visitors enjoying of the state’s canyons, mountains and desert areas, and the state has highest the percentage of outdoor and sporting good jobs in the country.
Alan Matheson, the governor’s environmental adviser, said the state also recognizes that easy access to outdoor activities attracts businesses in other industries, such as high-tech companies.
“Increasingly, in this world where people can live almost anywhere and work, they’re drawn to places with great quality of life,” Matheson said.
He said the governor and the outdoor industry “don’t see eye to eye on everything,” but they’ve always had an open dialogue.
The state’s new outdoors plan is a great first step, but now the details need to be hammered out, said Ashley Korenblat, president of Western Spirit Cycling in Moab, a mountain biking town that draws people from around the world.
Korenblat said upcoming outdoor gear shows offer a chance to check in every six months see if the state is producing results.
“That will prohibit this vision from being another binder on the shelf just gathering dust,” she said.
Though she finds the plan encouraging, she said the “elephant in the room” remains the state’s federal lands grab. There’s still a lot of industry concern with the way those lands would be managed if the state took control, she said.
Matheson said that if the state did control those spaces, it doesn’t mean they’d sell them all off or use all the land for energy development.
“The people of Utah love these lands — love our natural gems. And we’re not going to do anything to lose those treasures,” he said.
The governor, who is a big proponent of energy development, said the state would do a better job than the federal government of juggling the demands of the energy and outdoor industries.
“It should be a balanced approach,” Herbert said. “Not everything should be protected, and not everything should be developed.”