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Op-ed: Utah will forge its recreation future through collaboration

First Published      Last Updated Jan 14 2017 03:00 pm

This week wrapped up another successful Outdoor Retailer Winter Market trade show in Salt Lake City. Twice a year, the Outdoor Retailer show attracts thousands of visitors and millions of dollars in economic impact while highlighting Utah.

As Utah's Outdoor Recreation director, I love the chance that this semi-annual trade show gives me, not just to see terrific new gear, but also to interact with a community of adventure-seeking entrepreneurs who love Utah's rivers, ranges and deserts. Because of their interest and expertise, these business leaders understandably have strong and diverse opinions about the policies that govern the public lands they use for recreation. We hear and value the voices of these community members, and we can't ignore the fact that there are competing ideas about the best uses for Utah's vast and iconic public lands.



Utah's support for the outdoor industry and outdoor recreation is a four-season effort that extends well beyond the headline grabbing disputes that sometimes flare up over public lands policy. As a state, Utah is consistently working to improve outdoor recreation in our communities.

For example, in 2013, Gov. Gary Herbert created the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation (OOR). This office is the first of its kind in the country and a model for the nation. Our mission is to ensure Utahns can live a healthy, active lifestyle through outdoor recreation for generations to come. We work in partnership with business and local community leaders to achieve this goal.

OOR offers a unique grant program that supports recreation infrastructure projects as well as youth education programs. In 2016, we awarded approximately $100,000 in matching grant funds to 16 youth programs statewide with a total project value of $390,000. These programs make outdoor recreation more accessible to disadvantaged youth and instill an important sense of stewardship in our children.

In addition to youth programs, OOR also awarded nearly $830,000 in matching grant funds to 15 outdoor recreation infrastructure projects. The Grit Mill project, for example, will preserve access to Little Cottonwood Canyon climbing areas and allow for sustainable recreational hiking. The project — which is being developed in collaboration with the Salt Lake Climber's Alliance, the U.S. Forest Service and private landholders — demonstrates what can be accomplished when diverse stakeholders work together.

As the fastest-growing state in the United States, we have the responsibility to plan and prepare for future generations. That's why, in 2016, we hosted three regional Outdoor Recreation Summits — in Ogden, Moab and Cedar City. More than 550 industry and community leaders attended the summits, where we discussed local challenges and opportunities and collected input for the 10-Year Utah Outdoor Recreation Plan. Responsibility, stewardship and sustainability are guiding themes of this plan. We strive to not only to conserve, but to improve what's in our own backyards for decades to come.

Utah's outdoor recreation meccas would not be what they are today without the hard work and collaboration that has sometimes been forged through initial conflict. Our state emblem, the beehive, represents a community of individuals working together toward a common goal. Collaboration has helped us find solutions in the past. Open dialogue between engaged, proactive partners will maintain the state's thriving outdoor industry, sustainable recreation activities and healthy quality of life — now and in the future.

Tom Adams is director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation.

 

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