Outdoor Industry, Herbert Meet Thursday

Feb 15, 2017

There’s a saying that people should think of outdoor fun when they think of Utah the same way they think of wine and California. But that prized brand identity is at risk now, as tension builds for Gov. Gary Herbert’s meeting with outdoor industry officials on Thursday afternoon.

The outdoor companies say Utah politicians are waging an “attack on the sanctity of public lands,” while state leaders accuse the outdoor industry of meddling in Utah’s land policies. Ashley Korenblat, a Moab bike-trip outfitter, who’s observed this sort of conflict before -- twice.

“In the past, we were able to use this to move the recreation economy forward and benefit the entire state,” she says.

Negotiations eventually kept the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Utah. It’s a twice-yearly event that brings $40 million dollars a year and cements the state’s identity as a beautiful place to visit and live. Those past talks also led Herbert to create the nation’s first-ever Office of Outdoor Recreation.

But 30 companies are pushing to move the show from Utah over public-lands policies, like fighting the new Bears Ears National Monument. And now Korenblat’s worried.

“This time it looks like we’ll be losing a really great event,” she says. “We’ll be losing a piece of the recreation economy in Utah, and that’s tragic.”

On Wednesday, ads appeared in Utah newspapers inviting the trade show to Colorado. Scott Braden is with the nonprofit behind the ads, Conservation Colorado. He says the trade show fight is really secondary.

“The real heart of the matter is that there’s this huge debate happening across the West about the proper role of public lands,” he says. “Should they be managed on behalf of all Americans, as they are now, or should they be privatized?

Gov. Herbert has said recently that he thinks compromise is possible, but others remain skeptical.