Utahns Look To Future Of Outdoor Recreation; Governor's Report
The state of Utah now has a formal “vision” of how to keep outdoor recreation – and the wild lands it relies upon – at the forefront of the state’s economy.
Gov. Gary R. Herbert’s Outdoor Recreation Vision sought to quell criticism from the outdoor recreation world about the Republican governor’s level of commitment to protecting public lands in the face of development and access pressures.
It was no coincidence that white paper came out as this year’s Outdoor Retail Show convened in Salt Lake City. The 4,000-member Outdoor Industry Association, which sponsors the convention, has threatened to take the show to another state if Utah didn't change its direction on environmental issues. A central point of contention was a bill signed by Gov. Herbert that demands the federal government relinquish control of public lands in Utah by 2014.
The association also opposes Utah's effort to open thousands of dirt paths across public lands to motor vehicles.
Also influencing the timing of the report’s release may be the state’s bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics. The 2002 Winter Olympics gave the state’s winter resorts unprecedented worldwide exposure and help create a 67 percent increase in the industry’s contributions to the state’s economy since then, according to the report.
Resorts See Benefits
Found among the broad statements of purpose and objective in the vision statement are a number of proposals that may affect the longevity and viability of the ski and snowboard resort industry in the Beehive State. They include:
• A new Office of Outdoor Recreation to oversee the effort and coordinate among agencies and interests.
• More state-federal partnerships to increase funding for recreation administration on federal lands (where many Utah resorts lie) and a stronger voice for the state in land-management decisions.
• A stronger state role in planning for the protection of the Wasatch Canyons -- where four of the state’s ski and snowboard resorts reside, and heavy traffic and backcountry use have taken environmental tolls.
• Efforts for cleaner air quality through a public education campaign directed at changing personal behaviors and installing more emission-control equipment all to begin to address the unsightly “inversion” problem that plagues the Salt Lake Basin in the winter months.
Utah resort officials appear pleased but cautious about the future efficacy of the plan from the governor, whose past policies often clashed with environmental-quality advocates.
Alta Ski Area is pleased with the vision laid out by Governor Herbert for Utah's outdoor recreation,” spokesperson Connie Marshall told SnoCountry.com “A thoughtful blend of protecting and promoting recreational opportunities in Utah defines the quality of life residents and visitors can enjoy.
"While a work in progress, the governor recognizes that we need to plan, collaborate and work with real data to continue on this path of balancing how we will share our outdoor spaces for generations to come,” she said.
Along with supporting the proposal for an Office of Outdoor Recreation, Dave de Seelhorst at Solitude believes the governor’s vision statement is only the start of a long process: “The balance of wildland, commercial and non-commercial recreation will always be at the forefront of planning and economic development within our beautiful state,” de Seelhorst told SnoCountry.com. “Tourism will continue to be our number-one economic and job creator in this state.”
A number of ski resort and tourism officials told us that it was too early to comment on the potential impact of the proposal on winter recreation.
Balancing Conflicts Key
The governor’s 60-page report tilts more toward summertime issues than those of winter recreationists. It is during the warmer months that the wildlife and terrain of the Wasatch Mountains come under their most severe pressure from humans.
The report emphasizes the economic importance of the outdoor industry while acknowledging conflicts with mining, agriculture, logging, and oil and gas developments. Part of the equation will be balancing Utah’s pro-business commitment to low taxes and “reasonable” regulation with the need to take control of its natural, outdoor resources. The report also leaves many of the questions about funding for these initiatives unanswered.
Photo: Utah backcountry