They're baaack. Sellers of all kinds of outdoor-recreation equipment are back in Salt Lake City, and, as always, they're not only enticing customers to buy their products, they're spending money on hotel rooms, meals, coffee, and everything else lots of money.
It's not only the twice-yearly Outdoor Retailer Show and its 27,000 participants that bring a boost to Utah's economy. The burgeoning outdoor-recreation industry rivals all the extraction of finite minerals and petroleum products as a mainstay of the state's economic health. And there are no limits to how much steady money outdoor recreation can bring to the Beehive State, unlike the boom-and-bust cycles of carbon-energy production.
Still, Utah elected leaders, nearly all Republicans, have a difficult time embracing the conservation-minded folks who make a living off of and participate in skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountaineering, backpacking, kayaking, rock climbing, river rafting, camping and mountain biking. It's just not in their DNA the way oil and gas drilling and the mining of coal and tar sands are.
But that has to change, and perhaps Gov. Gary Herbert's appointment of Brad Petersen as the nation's first state outdoor recreation director and adoption of his Outdoor Recreation Vision plan are signs that change is in the air. After a year of tension between state government and the outdoor industry, in which the Legislature demanded Washington turn over federal lands to the state and some Utah officials loudly protested the mention of another national monument in the state, everybody is now speaking nicely to one another.
Whether or not Utah leaders feel a kinship to outdoor retailers and recreationists and the environmental groups that try to protect the public lands they use and value, it behooves the state's economic development to pay attention to them.
According to a report published by the Outdoor Industry Association in March, outdoor recreation generates $12 billion in spending in Utah. It supports 122,400 jobs, produces $856 million in tax revenue and accounts for about 5 percent of the state's gross domestic product.
Petersen, a former CEO of an outdoor-gear company, vows to keep the outdoor recreation economy growing, boost outdoor recreation among tourists and locals and facilitate dialogue among industry, recreationists and local government. So far, he's been communicating, but Herbert's "vision" also should include action.
Black Diamond Inc.'s Peter Metcalf was more specific: The state should drop lawsuits over roads on public land; quit demanding that federal lands be turned over to the state and support a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
Now that would be a vision worth pursuing.