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After Public Land Clash, Colorado Governor Courts Massive Outdoor Trade Show

Courtesy Visit Salt Lake
Salt Lake City's Salt Palace Convention Center has been home to the Outdoor Retailer expo for years.

Colorado’s top elected officials are attempting to woo the country’s largest gathering of outdoor retailers.

Outdoor Retailer, organized and run by Emerald Expositions, has called Salt Lake City home for 20 years. But a recent dust-up over public land conservation in Utah pitted some influential outdoor brands against the state’s Republican lawmakers, putting the honor of host city up for grabs.

The show draws outdoor industry titans like Patagonia, The North Face, Black Diamond, Under Armour -- and tens of thousands of attendees -- for two events each year. The trade expo brings roughly $45 million in economic impact to Utah each year.

Before leaving office, President Barack Obama designated 1.3 million acres in southeastern Utah as Bears Ears National Monument, earning the praise of outdoor recreation groups and Native American tribal leaders, while simultaneously angering small government advocates and public land critics, who characterized the move as a last minute federal land grab.

When Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a resolution asking President Donald Trump to rescind the national monument designation, outdoor companies flexed their muscle and started using their participation in Outdoor Retailer as a bargaining chip to force Republican policymakers to stand down.

They didn’t, and in mid-February Outdoor Retailer organizers said they were looking for new locations.

That opportunity brought together Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and senators Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican. The three of them sent a letter to Emerald Expositions executives expressing a commitment to public land and a strong desire to host the show.

They’ll have competition though. With the promise of tens of thousands of visitors and recognition as an outdoor hub, governors and tourism offices from across the Western U.S. are lining up to bid. The governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, sent a letter pitching Portland as the ideal host city. Officials in Reno, Nevada are gauging whether their convention space can accommodate the massive trade show. Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, has said he’s interested in hosting the gathering.

While owned and operated by Emerald Expositions, the event’s main sponsor is the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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