Outdoor Retailers' Show dumps Utah over public lands disputes

leaving Utah
© Pat Bagley

On August 11, 1999, a tornado blew through Salt Lake City and destroyed many of the elaborate tents set up to house exhibitors at the Outdoor Retailers Show, killing one person. It was devastating to the show, that year with 2550 booths and projecting 17,000 visitors.

I showed up the next day as a visitor to learn about the outdoor retailers' market and try and interest people in a backpack I had designed. The show was impressive but much more so was the amazing resilience and strength of the exhibitors and the community. Exhibitors inside scrunched up and shared space with those who lost their booths; everybody pulled together to open the show just a day late. It seemed like the whole city pitched in to help clean everything up and show us all a really good time.

But now, the show is leaving Salt Lake City. We wrote earlier about how the organizers were unhappy with the state for “leading a national all-out assault on the sanctity of Utah and the country's public lands. Together, Utah's political leadership has birthed an anti-public lands political agenda that is the driving force of an existential threat to the vibrancy of Utah and America's outdoor industry, as well as Utah's high quality of life.”

The show organizers then presented the Governor with four demands:

  • End legal efforts or support for congressional action that would facilitate the sale or transfer of federal lands to the states.
  • End efforts to nullify the Antiquities Act.
  • Stop seeking to reverse the designation of Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. Herbert this month signed a resolution from the Utah Legislature asking President Donald Trump to rescind the monument designation.
  • Support other public lands "that provide the backbone of the industries sales"

privatize© Pat Bagley

The Governor said nope to all of it, so the Outdoor Industry pulled out. According to the Tribune, the Governor is not pleased.

The "offensive" decision, said [Governor] Herbert spokesman Paul Edwards, "reflects a gross ingratitude. It perpetuates the false narrative that Utah — a state that derives much of its inspiration and identity from its iconic public lands, a state that invests tens of millions of dollars into the protection of and access to its public lands — is somehow hostile to those public lands," Edwards said in an email Thursday night. "It shows how a political agenda, rather than reason or merit, seems to have captured the decision-making at the Outdoor Industry Association."

The OIA director Amy Roberts responded:

”it is important to our membership, and to our bottom line, that we partner with states and elected officials who share our views on the truly unique American value of public lands for the people and conserving our outdoor heritage for the next generation.”

Meanwhile, Denver and other cities are lining up to grab the show that brings $ 45 million to the state (and probably a lot more from the people who stay a few extra days for the skiing and hiking, like I did).

I feel sorry for Salt Lake City; I would never have gone there otherwise, thinking it a rather dour place where you can’t get a beer. Neither were true, it was a lot of fun and a demonstration of how people can pull together in a crisis.

But as Amy Roberts noted:

Public lands are definitely the infrastructure of our industry … but this isn’t just a business issue for us. We feel it’s our mission as an industry to use our voice to fight for these issues and make sure Americans can access their lands.

Thanks again to Pat Bagley of the Salt Lake Tribune for permission to show his editorial cartoons.

Tags: Camping | Utah

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