Crafting a Vision for Outdoor Recreation
What might you be reading if it includes quotes from Ronald Reagan, Jack Kerouac, Edward Abbey, Brigham Young, Thomas Jefferson, and Devon Williams (former basketball player)?
Hmmmm, let’s think about it. Young and Williams might clue you into Utah. Toss in Kerouac and Abbey and you’ve got creative minds who care deeply about the landscape—and have a maverick streak. Jefferson was a founding father, so he represents a forward-thinker dedicated to what’s best for our country. And Reagan is remembered as “the great communicator.” But most important, they’re all Americans who recognize the value of outdoor recreation.
Did you figure it out yet? Okay, I’ll tell you: It’s “The State of Utah Outdoor Recreation Vision,” a brand-spanking-new 60-page document that outlines a plan for how to optimize outdoor recreation in Utah. This week, Governor Herbert and Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) held a joint press conference to unveil this plan, which is the culmination of a ton of hard work by the governor, his staff, the outdoor industry, and Utah’s Balanced Resources Council.
This is a really big deal. It represents significant collaboration among the outdoor industry, Utah state leadership, and local businesses. Utah has been an epicenter of public land debate for decades. Sticky points have been who gets access where, what lands will be developed for energy extraction, and even whether the state of Utah should take control of federal lands in something akin to a Sagebrush Rebellion. Let’s just say conservation, outdoor recreation, energy development, and the State of Utah haven’t always seen eye to eye.
Now, two sides have come together to pursue a balanced approach to natural resource management and chart a course that takes into account many competing interests.
Governor Herbert deserves huge props for this vision, which his office cranked out in six short months following discussion with OIA’s board of directors and other representatives from the outdoor industry.
This plan is groundbreaking—the first of its kind in the country. It came about because outdoor recreation is key to Utah. The state is world-renowned for its iconic landscapes and outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities. And Governor Herbert seems to get it. He recognizes the importance of protecting the integrity of outdoor recreation because attracts tourists, residents and businesses; supports jobs; creates healthy, happy people; and generally makes Utah the awesome place that it is.
Outdoor recreation is a key economic driver in Utah. It:
- Contributes $4 billion annually in retail sales and services to the state
- Supports 65,000 jobs
- Generates nearly $300 million in annual state tax revenues
The governor’s plan outlines many thoughtful recommendations for how Utah can protect its amazing outdoor experiences. Some of the highlights are:
- Create an Office of Outdoor Recreation within the Office of Economic Development
- Appoint a Director of Outdoor Recreation
- Hold an annual outdoor recreation summit to make sure the vision becomes reality
- Incorporate outdoor recreation into regional and local planning processes
This is a major milestone and has the potential for ripple effects across the country. Utah has just set a nationwide standard, acknowledging that outdoor recreation is essential to the state’s economy and quality of life, and that the state’s natural areas and recreational lands are foundational to Utah’s future.
The same could be true of just about any state in the nation. Our hope is that other states follow Utah’s lead and create their own outdoor recreation visions. This would be good news for the 140 million Americans who love to get outside and play.
This plan is a great first step toward finding solutions to long-standing conflicts. Now Utah has its work cut out to ensure the state’s vast public lands can sustain economic and quality-of-life dividends for years to come. Governor Herbert seems committed to making this happen. You can bet we’ll be keeping close tabs to make sure he turns this vision into reality.