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Herbert's 'recreation vision' plan met with praise, caution

Published February 5, 2013 11:14 am

Outdoors • Utah is creating a new office to strike balance between growth, preservation.
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Utah, a state often criticized for ignoring the benefits of recreating on and protecting its stunning landscapes, set a unique national precedent Wednesday by officially releasing "The State of Utah Outdoor Recreation Vision."

The plan, among other things, calls for creating an Office of Outdoor Recreation to implement the vision and naming a director of outdoor recreation.

"We want Utah to remain beautiful," the vision states. "This means we must care for and protect our natural treasures in appropriate balance with needed development."

The 59-page document also indicates that preserving the natural infrastructure (air and water) that supports outdoor recreation is an important part of future growth as is ensuring balanced and responsible use and development of public lands.

In formally unveiling the plan Wednesday, Gov. Gary Herbert emphasized the value of outdoor recreation to the state's economy and the lifestyle of its residents.

"Outdoor recreation is an essential component of Utah's quality of life and state identity," he said. "Wether it's backpacking in remote areas, skiing on the greatest snow on earth, fishing in a mountain stream, or enjoying a family picnic in a neighborhood park, it's what defines us."

The governor noted, however, that a critical aspect of the vision will be to find a balance between protecting recreational areas and the development of public lands for such things as energy development.

The vision is not just about wilderness, it's also about recreation from the backyard to the backcountry, said Roody Rasmussen, former president and CEO of Petzl America, headquartered in Clearfield, and a member of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Group that set the foundation for the vision.

"We haven't won a battle here, but this is another step in the right direction. It is just great to have the importance of outdoor recreation recognized on so many levels," he said. "This is not just based on a business aspect, but also a community aspect and a health aspect. The importance of all the good that outdoor recreation brings is woven into the fabric of this document."

The idea for the vision was born in August 2012, when the board of the national Outdoor Industry Association, which brings the massive Outdoor Retailer convention to Utah twice a year, asked Herbert if his state had a strategic plan for outdoor recreation like the one the state has for energy development.

The answer was no, Utah did not have a vision for outdoor recreation, but Herbert liked the idea and assigned Alan Matheson, his senior environmental adviser, to get the project on a fast track in time for the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, which opened Wednesday.

"There are a lot of perspectives reflected in this document," Matheson said. "It really gives us a solid foundation in terms of policy in action. The governor was clear that the group needed to find solutions and common ground. We feel that has been accomplished."

Matheson said the vision provides a guiding set of principles relative to outdoor recreation that will help clarify difficult decisions and resolve conflicts. Other key points in the vision, according to Matheson, include details on the economic benefits of outdoor recreation and tourism and the benefits of making it easier for outdoor industry businesses to make Utah home.

The impacts of outdoor recreation on a healthy population were not overlooked. Plans are to create a greater effort to promote healthy lifestyle choices by introducing people to the plethora of activities Utahns can enjoy on the lands of their state.

Finally, Matheson said advancing outdoor recreation in Utah will be an ongoing effort. That is where the position of director of outdoor recreation will be vital.

"The details of the position are still being worked out, but the person would do things like set up an annual outdoor recreation summit , work with user groups, the industry and academics on issues," Matheson said. "The director would gather more data on the value of outdoor recreation and carry on the advisory group."

Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association, was the one who posed the question to the governor regarding the outdoor recreation vision. He is impressed with the outcome.

"Utah has presented a vision of outdoor recreation that, if turned into a reality, we believe presents an economic strategy that can benefit every state in the nation," Hugelmeyer said. "The governor's staff, the Council on Balanced Resources and the committee all deserve real kudos. I commend the governor certainly for outlining the first steps to managing and investing in the public lands of Utah."

Hugelmeyer, however, cautions that the vision will be beneficial only if it is allowed to grow, expand and include more ability to focus on major issues.

"Some of the more problematic and controversial uses occurring in Utah are not addressed," he said. "Stream access is an area of concern. We previously recommended as part of this process that the state abandon RS2477 claims [on rural trails and roads that wilderness advocates want closed].That was omitted and changed to Utah will work as expeditiously as possible to resolve RS2477 claims."

Hugelmeyer does like that the vision includes statements to push Congress to reform the Land and Water Conservation Fund to be "less administratively onerous and to stop diverting royalties authorized for the LWCF to other purposes."

Like Rasmussen, Hugelmeyer is cautiously optimistic about the vision but likes that it appears to be another step in the right direction.

"The vision relies heavily on time-consuming public processes, and it is good to have feedback, but I'm concerned that may be seen as a stall tactic to protect areas," he said. "We want to see a stronger framework that says certain areas of Utah are off limits. Identifying the gems of Utah is something we have been working on since this conversation started with Gov. Mike Leavitt and we are still here."

Rasmussen said he was pleased with the openness the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Group showed during discussions as to what the vision should end up looking like.

"There was a time when local politicians used to joke about a backpacker coming through town with a $20 bill and a pair of dirty underwear and that by the time he left he hadn't changed either one," said Rasmussen, who grew up in Utah. "That just isn't the case anymore. People are realizing the economic value that comes with having wild places."

brettp@sltrib.com

Christopher Smart contributed to this report. —

Outdoor Recreation Vision

Economic impacts to the Utah economy as cited in the plan include:

In 2011, spending by tourists reached $6.87 billion, generating $890 million in direct tourism-related tax revenue. Additionally, tourism employs 124,059 in the state.

The outdoor industry contributes $5.8 billion to Utah's economy, including $4 billion in annual retail sales, representing 5 percent of the state's gross domestic product.

In 2011, businesses associated with outdoor recreation contributed roughly $60 million in state and local sales tax revenue.

Outdoor industries and sporting good firms employ 65,000 Utahns. In fact, Utah ranks first nationally in the concentration of outdoor/sporting goods jobs as a percentage of total state jobs.

Expenditures in Utah on wildlife-related recreation totaled $1.87 billion in 2011.

The ski industry contributes $1.173 billion to Utah's economy, a figure that has increased 67 percent since 2002.

There were 4.8 million visits to Utah's State Parks in 2011, which generated $67 million in the form of day use, camping and golf fees. New entrepreneurial strategies brought in an additional $513,126 of revenue.

Source: The State of Utah Outdoor Recreation Vision Read the plan

To read the outdoor recreation vision plan, go to http://www.utah.gov/governor/docs/OutdoorRecreationVision.pdf.