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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