In 1965, shortly after Utah’s population exceeded 1 million, the state of Utah published its first comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan. The plan highlighted our natural and recreational assets as foundational to our economy, our future and our quality of life. The average annual wage at the time was $4,000 per year, Interstates 80 and 15 were under construction, Lake Powell and Flaming Gorge were beginning to fill for the first time and we had submitted a bid to host the 1972 Olympics.
Fifty years later, outdoor recreation remains a core component of our sustained economic growth, low unemployment and thriving tourism. More visitors are vacationing, more businesses are relocating and more people are expanding their careers in Utah as a result of what we call Life Elevated®.
Mother Nature played favorites, and both our citizens and economy are the direct beneficiaries. Nature’s blessings include Utah’s Mighty 5® national parks, 43 state parks, 14 ski resorts and over 10,000 miles of mountain biking, running, off-roading and horseback riding trails. All of this generated more than $7.5 billion in tourism dollars last year alone. That’s $1 billion in additional tax receipts, reducing our individual tax burden by close to $1,000 per household.
Utah’s state parks are a tremendous example of how investing in recreational infrastructure can stimulate a community’s economic growth. During the 2009 economic recession, the Utah Legislature notified Utah State Parks that they would be unable to continue to fund a $12.2 million annual operating deficit. Now just five years later the state parks system is predominantly self-reliant, largely thanks to investments in new recreational assets that significantly increase visitation. Most recently, Utah State Parks has added two yurts and seven miles of new mountain bike trails to Goblin Valley State Park, a slack-line course at Huntington State Park, a disk golf course at Green River State Park and a 3,500-foot zip line at Deer Creek State Park. Utah’s state parks are nationwide leaders in creating recreational opportunities that are both profitable and fun. Bike trails in Flaming Gorge, a new ATV park around Eureka — communities statewide are following suit.
Another direct benefit of our unique commitment to public lands and business growth is that Utah has become an international hub for the outdoor products and services industry. We have more outdoor-related companies per capita than any other state in the country, and the number keeps growing.
For example, Vista Outdoors, a multibillion-dollar recreation company with brands from Bushnell to Serengeti, announced it will build its new world headquarters in Farmington, Utah. Armada Skis, Osprey Packs, Mavic Wheels and Black Diamond Equipment have all recently relocated various headquarters, distribution and manufacturing to Utah. In the last year alone, outdoor products companies with revenue totaling more than $2 billion have moved their businesses here, bringing plenty of jobs and international footing with them.
Recognizing the growing importance of outdoor recreation in our state, Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Legislature took an unprecedented step forward in 2013 by creating the first state Office of Outdoor Recreation in the country.
We are outdoor industry advocates. We have traveled extensively to consult with communities, develop infrastructure, promote sustainable use of public land and engage residents in outdoor recreation opportunities. To accomplish this we collaborate with elected officials, public land agencies, user groups and industry leaders. As a result of our successful leadership, states like Colorado and Washington have started creating their own outdoor recreation offices.
We have the opportunity as dedicated stakeholders in Utah’s future to make a difference. Now is the time to collaborate, protect, plan for and grow the recreation economy like never before. Recreation is a renewable resource that yields more than financial benefits — it improves the health of our communities and strengthens our families.
Seize the opportunity this summer to visit somewhere new in Utah. Take a hike, ride your bike — get outside and experience Life Elevated®!
Brad Petersen was appointed by Gov. Herbert in 2013 to create and lead the state's first Office of Outdoor Recreation.