Sold-Out Inaugural Outdoor Recreation Summit Draws Attention to Utah’s Recreation Economy and Unique Natural Assets

While the 60,000-acre land exchange in Eastern Utah got most of the national publicity during the Governor’s first Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit last week in Salt Lake City, the sold-out event proved to be an unprecedented gathering of outdoor-related stakeholders ready to explore new opportunities, share best practices and promote the numerous economic, physical and social benefits of outdoor recreation in Utah.


“Recreation can be the difference between surviving and thriving,” said Brad Petersen, director of the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). “I’m not talking simply about the health benefits for individuals, but also the numerous economic and social benefits for communities and businesses.” All told, outdoor recreation adds billions of dollars per year to Utah’s economy, employs thousands and is the main driver of the state’s fast-growing $7.4 billion tourism industry.

The summit’s key speakers included Gov. Gary R. Herbert, Office of Tourism Director Vicki Varela, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, Senior Environmental Advisor Alan Matheson and Outdoor Industry Association President Frank Hugelmeyer. Collectively they were bullish about the path that Utah has chosen to pursue with respect to the state’s desire to further promote and capitalize on its unique natural assets. Utah is at the crossroads of understanding how to maximize the benefits of recreational and commercial recreation.

“One of the best ways for individuals to thrive in today’s society is by investing in recreational experiences,” said Petersen. “To some, recreating might be as simple as riding a bike, or riding a horse or playing on a playground at school. To others, it means riding their ATVs around the Little Sahara sand dunes or looking for rare birds or rafting the San Juan River. Utah’s recreational opportunities are numerous. They enhance our quality of life and our fundamental sense of identity.”

Petersen cited a recent nationwide Gallup poll that ranked future livability, and Utah took top honors based on 13 different criteria. Additionally, Utah is third in the nation for the best places to live as ranked by its citizens.

“Most of us [Utahns] know we have a good thing going,” he added, referring to the governor’s relentless push to keep Utah’s tax rates low and the government efficient, while guaranteeing that Utah is living within its means and developing a skilled workforce. “More companies and people are moving here every day for key reasons, including access to our natural assets. Gov. Herbert’s focus on executing the fundamentals has provided the basis for Utah’s economy to thrive. Recreation is the icing.”

In his address at the Outdoor Recreation Summit, Gov. Herbert cited Chris and Karen Mogridge’s recent decision to move their company, Mercury Cycling, from Mississippi to Utah. “They had looked at relocating in Colorado and Oregon, but found moving to Utah to be much more advantageous,” said Herbert. “In fact, they are so impressed with Utah they are interested in eventually reshoring their manufacturing facilities from Taiwan to Utah. We are working with Chris and Karen to find the most effective location for their new plant.”

Herbert then focused on Salt Lake City-based Hoyt Archery as another example of the many outdoor recreation companies that are making Utah home, saying the presence of major businesses in the Beehive State is turning Utah into a destination for outdoor recreation. Companies like Petzl USA, Black Diamond, Goal Zero, Suunto, Rossignol, Salomon, ENVE Composites, Barnes Bullets, Easton, Voile, Kings Camo and other firms are “acting as magnets” to attract even more companies to Utah. Under Herbert’s direction, GOED is striving to make Utah the core of the outdoor recreation industry not only nationally but internationally as well.

For its part, the Office of Outdoor Recreation is using Utah’s unique natural assets to inspire people, communities and businesses to thrive. “We accomplish that by working with the Utah Office of Tourism, EDCUtah, Utah Tourism Industry Coalition (UTIC), Utah State Parks, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, local community leaders and businesses. And it’s working,” Petersen adds, acknowledging at the same time that his office has “only scratched the surface of what is possible.”

Petersen said his office has laid out four major goals:

  1. Grow and foster a vibrant recreation economy.
    A significant part of growing the recreation economy means working with many of Utah’s counties to develop recreation business plans. “We are learning how to monetize Utah’s recreational opportunities in exactly the same way as energy and real estate development,” said Petersen. For example, Daggett County is planning a new mountain biking system that would traverse the mountains around Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Thanks to collaboration between the county, the Office of Outdoor Recreation and many other stakeholders, the first 35 miles of trail should be completed over the next two years.
  2. Plan for the future.
    Change is inevitable. As the state’s population continues to grow and diversify, there will be ongoing climate changes and the recreational needs will evolve. The Office of Outdoor Recreation is involved in numerous state planning initiatives that will affect recreation.
  3. Enhance our quality of life and economic vibrancy through balanced plans and policies.
    The Office of Outdoor Recreation will participate in creating land, water and air plans and policies that strike a sensitive balance between general development, motorized use, human-powered activities and preservation of the unique natural assets that people seek in Utah.
  4. Utah: An active life state.
    Participate in developing a private-public partnership to focus on motivating individuals, communities and businesses to incorporate recreation into their core strategies.

Promoting recreational opportunities on Utah’s public lands, encouraging more outdoor recreation companies to locate or expand their operations in Utah–that’s all in a day’s work for Petersen and the office’s coordinator, Tara McKee. The fact that Utah is already a national hub for outdoor recreation means that we have a significant head start, Petersen noted.

“Utah has the formula to thrive,” Petersen said. “We have the leadership under Gov. Herbert and the legislature. We have excellent economic conditions. We have the natural assets and willing public land managers. We have the motivation and now the office to use as the basis for growing our recreation economy, for improving our communities and the lives of our citizens. There is no better place to live, work and play than Utah.”