SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of outdoor recreation industry representatives rallied Thursday at the Utah state capitol to show support for preserving public lands in an event that sent one final reminder why they’re moving their lucrative trade show next year to Denver.
Wearing hats and holding signs that read, “This is land is our land,” an estimated 3,000 people marched from the convention center where the final show in Utah is being held this week in Salt Lake City to outside the capitol where they listened to speakers who implored the industry to keep flexing its muscle to advocate for lands protections.
“It’s too important for us to be silent,” said Jerry Stritzke, the CEO of REI Corp. “We stand here today united around our shared values, embracing our collective influence and accepting our collective responsibility. It’s easy to make noise; sometimes it’s hard to make a difference.”
The Outdoor Retailer show, which brings an estimated $45 million in annual direct spending, is leaving Salt Lake City after two decades of calling Utah home. Amid threats by several major companies to boycott the expo if it stayed in Utah, show organizers announced earlier this year that they would leave Utah over Republican opposition to the designation of Bears Ears National Monument and the ongoing push to take more control of federal public lands.
The show chose Colorado based on that state’s shared vision for the outdoors.
Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, defended the state’s record of conserving and protecting public lands Thursday in his televised news conference on KUED, while saying he regrets that discussions earlier this year to keep the show didn’t work out.
“Where we tried mightily to find the win-win, what we ended up with is a lose-lose,” Herbert said. “I think this has been mostly about political rhetoric and politics and less about substance and good policy.”
He added: “We need to look more at what we’re doing and less about what is being said by a few shrill voices.”
Outdoor show attendee Bill Ennis said this week at the show that Utah state leaders didn’t do anything wrong. He said show organizers seemed to be trying to find a reason to leave Utah for years and used the Bears Ears debate as justification. Ennis, who owns a paddle sports rental company in southern Utah, said he doesn’t appreciate outdoor industry heavyweights trying to tell Utah leaders how to manage their lands.
“I think somebody just wanted stronger beer,” quipped Bill Ennis, who has attended the show in Utah for nearly a decade. “I think the rationale is nonsense.”
Rally speaker Blake Spalding, owner of the Hell’s Backbone Grill near the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, said it stings to lose the Outdoor Retailer show but that said she’s grateful the industry is sending a message to state leaders.
“Our governor needs strong medicine to understand what it means to not stand up for public lands,” Spalding said.