On July 6, Governor John Hickenlooper, Denver mayor Michael Hancock, numerous other officials and businesspeople and the Outdoor Retailer trade show made an announcement that will make Colorado the epicenter of outdoor recreation and public lands conservation. The massive, twice-annual OR Show chose Denver as its new home. This is a big deal for the state on many levels, and, hopefully, it’s also an important step in the fight to protect the wild lands and public recreation areas that mean everything to this community.
The show brings a big economic payoff with it: Its 45,000 attendees contribute roughly $45 million dollars to the local economy. It also should have a gravity that draws more outdoor gear manufacturers and advocacy groups to the state. But the big win here is not connected to the hotel rooms and bar tabs all those flannel-clad faithful will run up. The state of Colorado won the show because it is committed to promoting outdoor recreation as an economic driver, and that includes standing up for public lands and conservation policies that defend the outdoors.
The state of Utah lost the OR show, which flourished and grew in Salt Lake City for over 20 years, because it is purposefully seeking to dismantle public lands and run rampant over conservation and environmental protections. It’s a long story, but, in short, over the winter, prominent outdoor brands led by Patagonia decided they were done with Utah. For many years, Black Diamond founder Peter Metcalf had been saying that his home state did not deserve the benefit of the show since it’s politicians sought to subvert the places the industry not only relies on for business but also sees as spiritually vital. After the Utah legislature and governor Gary Herbert passed a bill laying claim to 31.2 million acres of federal lands in the state in 2012, the animosity between the outdoor industry and Utah increased. When they called for President Trump to wipe out the newly created 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, Patagonia had enough. The iconic brand decided to boycott the trade show as long as it was in Utah and called for other brands to follow suit. The show and the Outdoor Industry Association called a meeting with Herbert to discuss the issue. The governor’s response was so callous that the show and industry also decided it was over, too. Utah kissed it all goodbye to hang on to coal mining and outdated notions of how we all use our public lands.
The end result will be better for everyone long-term. Colorado and its legislature and governor want to promote recreation and they see the wild places and open spaces of the fast-growing state as its biggest resource, one that will draw high-paying jobs and creative people. And they see the necessity in protecting it as well as coming up with innovative solutions when faced with growing populations and diverse user groups. Utah, quite simply, does not.
That’s sad for Utah. I will be attending the last OR show in the state (I have been to every one since 2002) next week. It will be distressing to see so many restaurant owners and rickshaw drivers who will be losing a major part of their livelihood. It will be tough to swallow that if we really want to fight for public lands in Utah, we will have to fight even harder now. Because as great as Colorado is, the fight for public lands knows no borders.