Dozens of Colorado-based businesses explain why their state is unparalleled in its commitment to public lands.
Colorado has no interest in being shy about its pursuit of Outdoor Retailer.
In a full-page advertisement in the Denver Post on Sunday, dozens of Colorado-based gear and apparel companies and non-profit organizations showed their support for the outdoor recreation economy. The message began: “Pride. Where does it come from? How do we recognize the moments that define it? Often these moments occur when we are outside. Standing on a chilly stream getting ready to cast a line, peering down a snowy mountain ready to make the first turns of the day, or unloading our bikes excited to hit the trail.”
While the message stated that Colorado is the “natural home for the outdoor recreation industry’s national trade shows,” the message didn’t explicitly mention Outdoor Retailer.
“We wanted the average citizen in Colorado to know what a moment of gravity this really is,” said Luis Benitez, director of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, which spearheaded the advertisement and sought signatories. “It was less about the trade shows and much more about how this industry is a collective voice for a number of things.”
Colorado wasn’t the first state to establish an office of outdoor recreation—that was Utah, whose administration has drawn ire for its lack of support for the monument status of Bears Ears—but its outdoor recreation economy is booming. It also enjoys strong support from Gov. John Hickenlooper, himself an outdoorist, his administration, and the state’s Congressional delegation. A few years ago, for example, Senator Michael Bennet and Rep. Doug Lamborn ushered legislation through the House and Senate to legalize hiking and trail running on the Manitou Incline, in Manitou Springs. Previously, recreation on this vertical mile, made from the remains of a cog railway that climbed through both public and private land, was prohibited. Scores of locals and tourists climbed it anyway (it's a heck of a workout), and it was badly in need of repairs. Legalizing its use for recreation allowed state and local organizations to finally fix it up, make it safer, and market it as a tourist attraction.
Colorado is full of stories like that. Its strong commitment to protecting public lands and investing in the outdoor recreation economy is what draws locally-based businesses, like Exxel Outdoors, to push for rewarding Colorado with a multi-million-dollar economic boost.
“What it comes down to is wanting to do the right thing,” said Eric Greene, division VP and general manager of Exxel Outdoors, which is based in Boulder and owns Kelty, Sierra Designs, Slumberjack, Wenzel, Ultimate Direction, and several other brands. Colorado has shown that it is dedicated to the same mission the outdoor industry is fighting for, he said, and that’s what motivated Exxel Outdoors brands to sign on to the advertisement.
There has been no shortage of discussion among industry insiders about the debate over where to hold the trade show, whether to attend, and how to wield the outdoor industry's power. It's a constant topic of conversation, Greene said, even among gear companies that are competitors.
“We want to do business and throw support behind people who, in action and in philosophy, support us,” he said.
Conservation Colorado was one of the many outdoor non-profits that signed the ad.
Outdoor Retailer could bring more attention to the state, which already derives a significant amount of money from tourists visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, its ski areas, and its rivers. But landing the show could also set an example for other states, said Jessica Goad, a spokeswoman for Conservation Colorado.
“We want to be able to show that Colorado is leading the nation when it comes to protecting our public lands,” she said. “We want to send an important political signal across the West and across the nation that the outdoor industry is using its economic power to make important policy decisions.”