Last week, Gov. Spencer Cox shared that objections made by companies considering a boycott of the Outdoor Retailer Winter and Summer Markets, if the Markets return to Salt Lake County, should be dropped.
As the mayor overseeing Salt Palace and tourism operations in Salt Lake County, I agree. But state leaders should also listen and seek a new, more productive relationship on environmental issues of concern. That pivot is not only in the best interest of the successful return of OR Markets, it benefits our state’s long-term recreational and reputational standing, as growth and visitor overuse threatens the long-term viability of our natural spaces and resources.
While Utah and our local tourism industry adapted and excelled since the Outdoor Retailer Markets departed the Salt Palace after more than 20 successful years, its return is certainly welcome and would provide an on-going winter and summer anchor to Salt Palace revenue and the many associated businesses that create our county’s vibrant tourism industry.
The predictability and size of the OR Markets provide significant business for hotels, motels, restaurants, and small businesses, not just in Salt Lake City but throughout Salt Lake County and the region. Spending per person is high and attendees of the OR Markets visit places beyond the Salt Lake City center, taking their credit cards with them.
They also venture out, extending their time here to recreate on our trails, in our waterways, and up our canyons. After adding a long weekend in Moab or skiing at one of our state’s exceptional resorts, they share their love of Utah with friends and work colleagues when they return home.
OR Markets’ departure five years ago was at least partially due to a public battle over land use policies, including Bear’s Ears protections, between the Outdoor Industry Association represented by key vendors including Patagonia, REI, and North Face and state and federal elected officials. Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said at the time, “Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a resolution urging the Trump Administration to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument, making it clear that he and other Utah elected officials do not support public lands conservation…”.
While I agree with the vendors’ position on our need to protect Utah’s vital and precious resources, vendors choose to overlook the dedicated work of their allies here along the Wasatch Front, championed by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, myself, committed residents, and environmental organizations.
We are fighting for the preservation of our Cottonwood Canyons, advancing policies to protect our watershed, and investing in cleaning up our air. Our work and our voices are deliberate, and we are making a difference.
In the five years since the OR Markets have been here, we have acquired additional land to increase trail and open space acreage for recreation and preservation purposes and opened new trailheads. In our canyons, we have fought development, infrastructure-dense transportation, and mining efforts. And we are on the verge of completing negotiations to vastly expand trails and open space access in the Oquirrh range on the west side of our valley.
Federal public lands debates often overshadow other key environmental initiatives in our state. While lands in jeopardy are certainly critical, I find it curious that vocal OR Market vendors fail to prioritize the protection of the local terrain impacted by the testing of kayaks, mountain bikes, and skis during the OR Markets.
Our local Salt Lake County natural treasures – countless trails in our Wasatch Canyons; streams and lakes that provide recreation, solitude and drinking water to thousands; and our world-renowned ski resorts – are treasures worthy of recognition, protection, and support.
The environmental community and many local residents have worked for decades to protect them. We are more and more often joined by those who in the early days of the OR Markets were not as willing to partner. A return by the OR Markets would strengthen those partnerships and add to the collective voices seeking to assure these assets remain benefits to all for generations to come.
Jenny Wilson is the mayor of Salt Lake County