Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — With the summer recreation season in full swing, a new survey shows the majority of Utah residents love to romp in the outdoors and get out to play once week, if not more.
And while they're out there, they're pretty satisfied, with a whopping 90 percent saying they're happy with what is available in Utah's open-air playgrounds.
"The industry has grown by 30 percent since 2002, and considering the ugly downturn, that's impressive," said Natalie Gochnour, associate dean of the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business. "The industry is growing, diversifying and becoming a mainstay in the Utah economy."
Dan Jones & Associates, in conjunction with the U. business school, conducted the statewide poll of 690 residents last month to determine Utahns’ sentiments regarding outdoor recreation in the state.
Gochnour said the positive views by Utah residents on outdoor recreation are driving some impressive economic numbers.
"We estimate the industry directly employs over 23,000 Utahns and pays $600 million annually in wages," she said.
Taxable sales for the outdoor recreation industry tallied $1.2 billion in 2013, an increase of nearly 14 percent over 2012, Gochnour noted.
While those numbers are significant, she emphasized that a large contribution to Utah's outdoor recreation is not subject to sales taxes — specifically the manufacturing component.
Gochnour pointed to companies such as Black Diamond, Amerspots and Lifetime Products that help propel Utah among the top states in the nation for the number of sporting goods manufacturing jobs. About 10 percent of those jobs are in Utah, she added.
Peter Metcalf, president and chief executive officer of Salt Lake City-based Black Diamond Inc., said there are a number of reasons behind the growing love affair Utah residents are having with the great outdoors.
A lot of sports like river rafting and mountain biking have morphed into the mainstream, growing in popularity from year to year.
"They used to be outsider, unconventional, iconoclastic, rugged activities," Metcalf said.
Technology combined with better know-how is producing higher tech, lighter weight, better performance and ultimately safer equipment, making it so many of the activities regarded as hardcore are more easily accomplished, he added.
Beyond that, Metcalf said he believes recreation gets a huge boost from the proliferation of information on the Web about Utah's outdoors and social media pressure often fuels the "I-can-do-that syndrome."
"There is nothing like the snowballing effect of hearing about somebody doing 'that,' to make someone think they can do 'that,'" he said.
In addition, the rampant growth in the guide services sector throughout the West means people can get out there on any level of adventure they may desire — from two hours on a trail to two weeks on the river.
The survey does note that while 92 percent of Utahns are satisfied with outdoor recreation opportunities in the state, some believe improvements are possible.
Among those improvements:
• More walking paths and building biking trails.
• Adding camping sites.
• Developing more urban parks.
Results, however, show that the suggestion to "do nothing" ranked second highest among those polled, most of whom self-identified as politically conservative, more than moderates or liberals combined.
“The high rate of satisfaction with outdoor recreation in the state aligns with the opinion that state government doesn’t need to improve existing recreation infrastructure,” pollster Dan Jones said.
“On a related note, research shows conservatives tend to want to leave capital improvement projects to private enterprise, which may be another reason for their support of the government abstaining from involvement," he said.
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