Another day, another batch of statements released from outdoor brands concerning their continued participation or withdrawal from Outdoor Retailer events in light of Utah state politician’s efforts to rescind the designation of Bear’s Ear National Monument in Southeastern Utah and the fight for more local state control of public lands.
All in the industry agree that public lands need to be protected and most would argue that access to recreation should be included. Two distinct camps, however, appear to be forming on how to handle the fight in Utah.
On one side, there are those who believe our economic might should be mustered by pulling marketing and recreation dollars away from the state of Utah until concerns are addressed. Brands including Patagonia and Arc’teryx last week announced decisions to pull out of OR in Salt Lake, while show organizers announced plans to consider other venues. This week, we also heard that Polartec, Metolius and Peak Designs would be joining the boycott of Salt Lake City.
On the other hand, a contingent of outdoor brands have publically announced their intentions to continue involvement in the Salt Lake shows, arguing that the OR events are a place to show unity and be heard. Here, the basic idea is that it’s better to be “at the table.” Brands including Ibex, Smartwool, REI, The North Face and Vasque have made this case, while generally supporting OR’s intentions to eventually find another home.
“Now, it’s more important than ever for outdoor brands and retailers to come together and find a unified voice to defend our public lands. Outdoor Retailer is an important time and place for us to join forces for the greater good. Vasque is committed to the continued support of this practice, contributing to the discussion,” said George Curleigh, vice president of Vasque. “No single brand is large enough to rally enough support for our public lands. Large companies and small ones must work together to make a singular statement that will rise above the heavy political noise. Vasque wants to be a part of that movement.”
“We agree OR should leave Utah, but we’re going to help the OIA and Outdoor Retailer search for a new, better location,” added Travis Campbell, president of Smartwool. “In the meantime, we’re going to let Utah know how we feel. We are working on this right now and when we arrive in July, we will not leave without making our values and concerns heard – that public lands need to remain public.”
Mountain Khakis director of creative development Jen Taylor, speaking for herself and not necessarily the company, took a more combative tone in her plea to stay and fight rather than flee. Stating in an open letter to Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard and Black Diamond Founder Peter Metcalf on the subject of Outdoor Retailer’s future in Utah, Taylor said:
“When I read your threats of Outdoor Retailer abandoning its basecamp in Utah if Gov. Herbert, his politicos and policies don’t start protecting public lands, it feels to me like we’d be rolling over. Bending over. Instead of threatening to pull out, shouldn’t we be threatening to STAY? Shouldn’t we take a stance and kick up so much dust that they threaten to KICK US OUT? That is a real story of having effect. That, to me, has the ring of revolutionary promise.
“We should be such a burr in their saddle that the state of Utah makes every effort to ban the Outdoor Retailer trade show from their grounds,” she continued.
The Outdoor Industry Association, for its part, is asking the industry to support the show in a call for unity. That’s probably not surprising considering OIA receives funding from Outdoor Retailer, including a slice of the revenue from the OR shows.
All the while, Utah Governor Gary Herbert penned a letter for the Salt Lake Tribune last week attempting to clarify his position on public lands, while defending the state’s conservation efforts and promising to partner more closely with the outdoor industry. Could this signal a shift in policy at the state capitol? Is it enough to alleviate concerns within the industry? Stay tuned.