If the state of Utah doesn’t do a better job of protecting its wilderness, Salt Lake City could lose millions of dollars in convention business, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

At stake for Salt Lake County is the twice-a-year Outdoor Retailer trade show, which draws approximately 15,000 outdoor merchandise retailers, distributors, and manufacturers. The biennial event accounts for 20 percent of all revenue brought into the county by the Salt Palace Convention Center. The association does not stage the Outdoor Retailer trade shows, but the majority of exhibitors and attendees are members of the Outdoor Industry Association.

"When the Department of Environmental Protection relaxed the wilderness distinction on 6 million acres of land in Utah, and some of the most pristine land left was exposed to potential development, we felt enough was enough," explains Outdoor Industry Association president Fred Hugelmeyer. "We want to spend our money with those who understand the concerns of our industry."

Started with an Editorial
The action by the Department of Environmental Protection had prompted a newspaper editorial by association member Peter Metcalf, president of equipment maker Black Diamond Equipment Ltd. In the editorial, Metcalf suggested that the association look for a new location for the show, which is booked for Salt Lake City until 2005. Response to the editorial from members was immediate, strong, and clear, Hugelmeyer says.

"Ninety-two percent of our members are supportive of protecting wilderness areas," he says. "Eighty percent feel it is essential to establish new wilderness areas. We felt that Utah has had a poor track record, and that’s why we took our stand."

Hugelmeyer says members want to see a clear vision of how Utah plans to protect current wilderness areas and how it plans to preserve and expand them in the future. And if they don’t see a serious change in attitude by August, association members are ready to have the Outdoor Retailer shows moved elsewhere, Hugelmeyer says.

Dianne Binger, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City Convention and Visitors Bureau, has arranged a series of meetings between Hugelmeyer and Utah state officials. Binger says she is very encouraged that both sides are talking and that wilderness issues are being brought to the forefront of public attention.

"From our community standpoint," Binger says, "The situation raises policy-makers’ awareness of how important the convention business is to our community—how many people benefit from the direct spending from these conventions."

Binger is betting heavily that the appeal of the Salt Lake City region is far too important to sacrifice by moving the Outdoor Retailer shows elsewhere. "One of the reasons the convention came to Salt Lake was the easy access to recreation around the city," she says. "These people are passionate about the outdoors, and always tack on a couple of extra days when they come out here. Where else would [they] want to have it?"