Utah changes its public land tone in plan for outdoor recreation

On Day 1 of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013, Jan. 23, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the Outdoor Industry Association announced a plan to ensure a solid future for outdoor recreation in the home state of the trade show.
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It may not have seemed possible six months ago, when Utah’s grab for federal land and resulting OIA criticism were hot topics of conversation at Summer Market. But on the first morning of Winter Market, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (photo, left) and Outdoor Industry Association president and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer joined together in announcing an unprecedented and ambitious plan to ensure a solid future for outdoor recreation in Utah that includes access, conservation, tourism promotion and economic development.

During a 40-minute press conference marked by frequent acknowledgment of the collaborative effort required to formulate the plan, known as Utah’s Outdoor Recreation Vision, Herbert and Hugelmeyer both touted its groundbreaking nature and the foundation it sets for constructive dialogue. “This has not been done in other states,” Herbert said. “We are at the forefront in coming up with this vision.” Said Hugelmeyer, “Our goal together is to demonstrate that our industry in Utah can collaborate openly, productively and respectfully to turn this vision into a reality.”

The plan includes a comprehensive overview of Utah’s recreational opportunities, facilities and programs and highlights the economic and lifestyle benefits of outdoor recreation. Notably, it sets forth 10 guiding principles and more than 40 policy recommendations for enhancing the recreation experience and related industries. They range from creating a state office of outdoor recreation and increasing funding for trails and parks to enhancing air quality and water conservation and ensuring balanced resource development.

The plan provides “a pathway forward for what we ought to be doing in our ability to optimize opportunities for outdoor recreation,” said Herbert, who was re-elected in November. “It’s a framework for us to work together in spite of some differences we may have,” he added, calling it a “work in progress.”

Critical issues to address, said the governor, include “the challenge of finding the appropriate balance between protecting recreational areas and the development that needs to happen on public land. Accessing natural resources is something we have to do, but we want to do it in environmentally sensitive ways.”

Herbert will work to support the effort regionally and nationally through the Western Governors’ Association, which he chairs, and the National Governors Association. “Quality of life and economic development are the two main reasons we have to support this vision,” he said.

Hugelmeyer followed Herbert’s remarks by thanking the governor for his “extraordinary leadership in making this happen.” He also noted the plan’s larger implications, given the outdoor industry’s involvement in many economic sectors: “What Gov. Herbert presented is more than just a vision of outdoor recreation in Utah. He presented an economic strategy that’s relevant and can benefit every state in the country.”

He mentioned the plan’s recognition of solid data on public lands as a “big positive,” as well as its commitment to funding recreational opportunities. While acknowledging that the vision leaves issues like river access and federal-land lawsuits unresolved, Hugelmeyer was optimistic that a move toward resolution will occur. “It would be unrealistic for OIA to expect that the state could resolve these contentious issues in only six months,” he said, noting “the mechanisms necessary to address contentious issues in the long term are outlined in the vision. This sets a standard for the country.”

Outdoor industry reaction from at least one stakeholder was cautiously optimistic. “I have to say with full sincerity that I commend the governor and I thank him,” said Peter Metcalf, founder and CEO of Black Diamond. “Anytime somebody puts out a hand, I say reach out and grab that hand.” The outdoor industry in Utah, said Metcalf, “was the one economic sector that had not had any meaningful policies behind it from the governor.” With the new plan outlined, he continued, “Now the real work begins. How do you take a reasonable vision and transform that into a set of policy initiatives [that improve] the long-term viability of outdoor recreation in Utah?”

Though Herbert expressed his appreciation that OR will remain here until at least 2016, he emphasized that the show’s future will not affect the plan. “It’s important to us if the Outdoor Retailer convention stays in Salt Lake City — we want them to stay — but this vision is important and appropriate whether they do or don’t.”

--Cindy Hirschfeld

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