Tom Wharton: Outdoor Retailers get no respect from Utah’s leaders

The event survived a tornado, the lack of a convention hotel, the limitations of the Salt Palace Convention Center and challenges from other cities.

Vendors and retailers generally seemed to like Salt Lake City. They enjoyed its proximity to ski hills and lakes and to national parks and forests. They even managed to figure out Utah’s quirky and hard-to-understand liquor laws.

What the event could not survive is the short sighted anti-public lands stances by Utah’s politicians. It seems that if it can’t be drilled, dug, grazed or paved, our anti-tourism politicians aren’t interested.

For some reason, tourism in general and public lands outdoor recreation in particular get little respect from Utah’s political leaders. They seem to take our national parks, forests, deserts and wildlife refuges for granted.

In fact, some rural legislators even seem to resent those of us who travel to places such Springdale, Torrey, Kanab, Tropic, Moab and Blanding and spend hundreds of dollars to enjoy Utah’s incredible scenery.

It does not seem to matter to rural politicians that those towns are booming because of tourism and outdoor recreation. They want more drilling and mining and less conservation.

In the end, Utah’s politicians’ tilting at windmills battle to have the state take over management of public lands in general and their fight against Bears Ears National Monument in particular eventually cost Salt Lake City its most important conventions.

The sad part of this is that many Salt Lake County and Park City residents and politicians are not on board with the anti-public lands orgy in the Legislature. Yet, these cities will lose millions of dollars due to the short-sighted actions of the more conservative politicians in other parts of Utah.

So, goodbye to the Outdoor Retailers. Most of us who live in Salt Lake County will miss not only the economic benefits you brought to our city but the wonderful vibe. Good luck in Colorado, a state that seems to recognize the value of public lands and tourism.

Tom Wharton is a retired staff writer and outdoors editor for The Salt Lake Tribune.