Well, That’s It: Outdoor Retailer Is Leaving Utah

Industry leaders pull the plug after unproductive call with Gov. Gary Herbert

It was real, Salt Lake. The Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in 2018 will be the last major adventure trade show to take place in Utah, at least for the foreseeable future. Industry leaders from the show itself, the Outdoor Industry Association, The North Face, Patagonia, and REI spoke with Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, in a conference call today and came to the conclusion that the state is not serious about abandoning its efforts to diminish, sell, or attack public lands.

“Unfortunately, what we heard from Governor Herbert was more of the same,” the group said in a release. “It is clear that the governor indeed has a different perspective on the protections of public lands from that of our members and the majority of Western state voters, both Republicans and Democrats – that’s bad for our American heritage, and it’s bad for our businesses. We are therefore continuing our search for a new home as soon as possible.”

Utah will lose approximately $45 million that attendees spend at the twice-annual shows, most of which goes to Salt Lake hotels, restaurants, and other local businesses. For many small shops, the OR boom makes or breaks their year. But the industry has been working with—pushing—the state for more than a decade to adopt a friendlier approach to public lands stewardship.

The state was the first in the country to create an Office of Outdoor Recreation, in 2013, but despite a 56-page plan that promised new energy devoted to outdoor rec, that effort was contradicted by vocal officials who argued for federal lands to be turned over the state.

Utah’s elected representatives have a long history of grievances toward the feds and public lands, with the 1996 establishment of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by Bill Clinton one of the highest profile issues. The state established a multi-million dollar fund to sue the U.S. government over the lands, despite warning that the effort was unconstitutional and would not succeed. Studies also showed that Utah—and other states throughout the West—don’t have the resources to manage lands effectively.

That didn’t stop the state. It has been a leader of the new Sagebrush Rebellion over the last half decade or so, and its antagonism toward public lands increased dramatically after the election of Donald Trump to president, as the all-Republican delegation saw an opening to make the changes that were closed to it during the Obama years. Shortly after the new Congress was sworn in, Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill that would have given 3.3 million acres of western lands to states to do with as they wish. Public opinion polls show that Americans overwhelmingly want more land protected, not less, and after a major outcry Chaffetz said he would retract the bill. However, he still has a bill pending that would strip law enforcement duties from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Congress is also trying eliminate a new public lands planning rule that gives the public more say on management, to gut the Endangered Species Act, and the eliminate or severely impact the Environmental Protection Agency. Today, Trump signed a law making it easier for coal companies to pollute streams and other waterways.

Within Utah, the state legislature passed a bill asking Trump to rescind the newly created 1.3-million acre Bears Ears National Monument and Herbert signed it on February 3.

A little over a week ago, the industry announced it was considering taking OR away from the state. The next day, Patagonia announced it was pulling out of Outdoor Retailer as long as it was in Utah. It was joined shortly afterward by Arc’teryx, Polartec, Metolius, Peak Design, Bedrock Sandals, and a few other brands. REI and The North Face then announced they were staying with OR in solidarity, and for the last week the industry has been roiled with division. Governor Herbert offered an olive branch through a conciliatory but ultimately empty opinion piece in the Salt Lake Tribune, and the conference call was arranged. It did not go well.

The industry pushed Herbert to take four actions:

• To stop trying to take federal lands.

• To cease efforts to gut or repeal the Antiquities Act, through which presidents create national monuments.

• To give up efforts to rescind Bears Ears National Monument.

• To work with the industry instead of against it.

They got nowhere with the governor, despite the fact that outdoor recreation is responsible for 122,000 jobs in Utah, $12 billion in direct spending, $3.6 billion in salaries and wages, and $856 million in local and state taxes. His spokesman, Paul Edwards, Herbert’s deputy chief of staff, complained to the Tribune that the call was “frustrating.”

“We had sort of a curt finish to the conversation after it was clear that they were not eager to accept the governor’s invitation for further dialogue,” he said.

So, after 20 years in Salt Lake, the show is moving on. As the release put it, OR is seeking requests for proposals for hosting the show and “Outdoor Retailer will not include the state of Utah in the RFP process for future show locations.” The bike industry trade show, Interbike, is looking for a new home after years in Vegas but has now rules out Utah.

The summer 2018 OR show will be the last.

“We are doing the work necessary to procure an alternative location for Outdoor Retailer,” said Marisa Nicholson, show director for Outdoor Retailer. “Though we may wish it different, this is far from a snap of the fingers thing to make happen. Convention centers and hotels are not sitting idle. In every instance at every potential venue, there are hurdles that have to be cleared and that simply cannot be done overnight. We expect that our current proposal process, which we initiated before any of the company withdrawal announcements last week, will take between 60 and 90 days. Salt Lake City has been hospitable to Outdoor Retailer and our industry for the past 20 years, but we are in lockstep with the outdoor community and are working on finding our new home.”

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Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal. Follow him on Instagram at @stevecasimiro.
Showing 26 comments
  • Steven

    Good work. Crazy that the Governor is still siding with the minority or Utah’s residents who want to privatize public lands.

  • Brian Governale

    That settles it. I was going to spend a week with the family in Moab for Spring Break……..not anymore. Hello, Grand Junction! #publiclandsinpublichands

    • Javier

      Moab will miss you!

  • Jay J

    To back This decision up – Now the actual Outdoor users: rock climbers, mountain bikers, skiers and Many others need to boycott UT, all together. Really make their wallets Hurt !!
    Sorry to say, a lot of small business’ will be hurt – This IS a War for the Land… it started in 1515 and the Final remains are what WE the Outdoor PEOPLE are fighting for Now !!

    • Javier

      Do you know how many times I have been irritated by out of towners taking up our incredible powder. Wage your war, and I will shred my way down the slopes.

  • Bob

    Do you really think pitting yourself against the actual people and business owners of Utah and trying to ruin the local economy will get everyone to align with you and vote for different representatives? Fighting good people who probably agree with you with hate and anger? You all sound very Trump-ish now. Why don’t you seal the deal by calling us “fat pigs”?

    • Nick

      I’m with you. I fully support Federal land protection and would love it if we lived in a world without any extractive industries. But look at the voting map of Utah in the last election. Residents there, outside SLC, clearly prefer conservative candidates, who are making a strong call for state control of lands and their industrial development. Pulling OR out of SLC only impacts a city whose residents largely support land protection. And boycotting Wasatch ski trips and Moab bike trips? Same thing.
      I think a smarter approach would be for these outdoor retail giants to connect w/ rural chambers of commerce and talk about how land protection and its recreational opportunity could positively impact their community. Spending your bike and ski money elsewhere in a state w/ billions of dollars in potential natural gas and mining? The Governor doesn’t care.

      On an tangential note, remember that bill introduced this summer to open Wilderness areas to bikes? Its Senate authors are from, you guessed it, Utah. Careful what you wish for.

  • Nicholas

    Brian and Jay, I’m with both of you. Will be spending my dollars in GJ/Fruita for future mtb trips. Shorter drive from Denver as well. #peaceoututah

  • Ted Vandell

    LDS Church sets the policy and they have their eyes on acquiring much of those lands for their sprawling cattle operations.

  • Scott

    Maybe the exact opposite happened here. Maybe the governor and the state of Utah actually pushed out OR because they realized the entire event is a waste of time and money and actually have another event in mind that generates even more money for them. I seriously find it hard to believe that having OR leave the state is even putting a dent in utahs budget.

    • Carson Stanwood

      The Salt Palace Convention Center doesn’t have another event that is remotely the size of OR.

  • Rick

    Bob, I agree with you. Active outdoorspeople can demonstrate the value of Utah’s public lands by showing up and enjoying them. We can add our voices to those of the majority of Utahns who favor preserving public lands. Perhaps the state’s leaders will take note—OR’s departure has certainly got their attention. The OR show, on the other hand, has the freedom to move elsewhere. It’s not tied to the land, and is free to relocate in a city that shares OR’s love of public lands.

  • Will

    “Utah’s elected representatives have a long history of grievances toward the feds and public lands, with the 1996 establishment of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by Bill Clinton one of the highest profile issues.”

    I visited Utah several times right after this monument was declared. Other than the beauty of the area, you know what I remember most? Federal employees complaining how now there was now this giant, unfunded chunk of land they had to manage with absolutely no resources. I have heard this more times that I can count from similar areas. No matter your politics, if you don’t recognize, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” is not usually good from the feds, think you might be a bit naive. Perhaps the locals (Utahns) may feel they know better for their land. So basically they want to move the show to a state where the population is apathetic and just lets the federal government do what they want (i.e. set aside land, don’t manage it, and do what they think is good).

    Good luck with that.

  • Justin

    I like that when you click the “Trump signed a law” link, regarding the bill loosening protections on the dumping of pollutants into waterways, it brings you to a blank page on the White House website. That’s about right.

  • John Slider

    I to am sadden by the Mormons’ and Republicans approach to a land grab to increase their bank accounts, I also agree that the LDS Church sets the policy and they have their eyes on acquiring as much land and money as they can, I am a former member of the LDS movement and as a young member it was pounded in to my head the mantra ‘whats in for me”.
    I hope someone in the Utah Legislature will use the brain they were given and stop their Governor from making a “HUGH” mistake.
    Maybe the show will take a look at Western Nevada and the Sierra’s. that would be nice.

  • Bryan Simmons

    Its really unfortunate that both sides are not willing to find a compromise that works. Feels like watching two petulant kids fight over on what is the correct way to play with toys.

  • PCM

    Some unpopular things to consider:

    -Land management costs tax dollars whether it is Federal or State. Sometimes Federal funds seem unlimited and inexhaustible, which is comforting but untrue.
    -Public ownership is easy to support by those who don’t bear the cost burden.
    -Transfer from Federal to State control is not *necessarily* the privatization of the land. State control is still public- it’s just not Federal. Of course, the sale of land to private entities is privatization, but that’s different.
    -The economic analysis of the transfer is unclear- would the state of Utah be able to manage the lands effectively?

    Irrationally, people seem to trust the Federal government, an entity further removed from individual people, more than their state or local governments.

    Personally, I want Utah to preserve this land as wild and free places. But I am one person with one set of opinions and a person who disagrees with me has just as much right. So we have to work together.

  • Jim

    Conservation and recreation are not toys. They are important economic engines in addition to the immense and varietal benefits they bring to ourselves and our progeny. Dollars are the only things that seem to talk to short sighted politicians. We should prefer to stand in the shadow of Teddy Roosevelt rather than William Howard Taft. OR has got it right. Resistance to the opponents of sound environmental and recreational policies must remain aggressive, consistent and multifaceted. Thanks to Yvon Chouinard and others in the industry for pushing back. The rest of us need to join them shoulder to shoulder with a “hell no” rally cry. Lets get out in the midterms and send a clear message.

  • Kevin McAllister

    Boston would love to have you. White Mountains, National Seashore-we have it al.

    • Carson

      All except a convention center large enough for the show.

  • Jesse

    To everyone saying you’ve changed your mind and won’t be coming to Utah;


    Part of what makes this state great is the ability to get away. Too many visitors diminishes that opportunity. Besides, businesses from outside the state should not be telling Utah how it should operate. And really, aren’t most outdoor enthusiasts generally considered anti-big business? Yet here they seem to be supporting the big businesses who are trying to bully an entire state into doing things their way?

  • Matt

    It is incredibly naive to think that public land transferred to state control will remain public. Has anyone seen a proposal from the representatives of Utah about all of the amazing State parks they are going to create with all of this land they are trying to seize?

    Here’s to hoping that OR comes to San Diego!

  • Lynn

    I love that they’re making this statement, but I don’t think it will change Utah policies, because oil and gas bring in way more money than rec/outdoor industry ever could. The only way to change Utah policies is by voting in new representation, people who actually care about the environment.

  • Kurt Gray

    Will the Outdoor Retailer show collapse because of participants boycott the remaining 3 shows in Utah?

  • Oskar

    Is there any sign of Utah’s leadership softening on their drive to take Federal lands and then give/lease/sell to mining/oil and ranchers?

    I live in Utah, and still what I see is the Utah leaders working to help the minority of Utah’s population, knowing that they have the LDS vote in their pocket, so can’t lose. It’s so disappointing. Utah has amazing wild places, which are often owned by all Americans (and managed by the Federal Government). All American’s pay for their running, and we locals get to recreate in them regularly … that is a sweet deal!! It’s like going in on a cabin with your extended family who live out of State. They pay their share of the mortgage on the cabin, but only come to use it every few years … and you’re free to use it every weekend!

    @Patagonia – Any updates? I registered at the SLC Patagonia store, but never heard anything about what I can be doing locally to protect public lands.

  • jane hall

    It’s always and forever about the $. Beautiful wilderness be damned…..I’m proud that Patagonia takes a stand for the future of our children. Maybe this boycott won’t make a difference but it’s a start. I love hiking in Utah but I have other choices.

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