SALT LAKE CITY — The often tense and troubled relationship between Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the Outdoor Industry Association appears to be embracing a new tone — one of praise and respect — evidenced in the joint Wednesday announcement of "Utah's Outdoor Recreation Vision."
Frank Hugelmeyer, the association's president and chief executive officer, said the document represents a monumental public policy commitment untried elsewhere in the nation.
"We know (outdoor recreation) is in the DNA of this community and always will be," he said.
Hugelmeyer had harsh criticism for Herbert last year following a 90-minute closed door session, and the association has threatened to pull its lucrative Outdoor Retailer market from Salt Lake City over public lands issues and lack of convention space.
On Tuesday, convention organizers announced they are staying in Salt Lake City through at least 2016, another indication that the rift has been put on ice for now.
Herbert said the idea for the outdoor recreation initiative grew out of that closed-door session, where association leaders called into question his office's commitment to preserving and promoting the recreation industry as a key cornerstone of Utah's economic vitality.
Herbert said the association noted that he had a 10-year energy plan but no similar blueprint for outdoor recreation.
"The 'Outdoor Recreation Vision' will give us a pathway forward," the governor said. "It is work in progress but provides good structure."
Hugelmeyer said it makes sense for Utah — and every other state in the nation — to acknowledge, support and promote outdoor recreation, because at a time when the country was in the clutches of an economic crisis, the industry was growing at 5 percent a year.
"Why? Because we are in the business of meaningful experiences," whether it be backpacking, skiing, golf, or fishing, he said.
The governor's plan, unveiled at a news conference at the Visit Salt Lake visitors center, includes 40 key recommendations Herbert said emerged from planning sessions spearheaded by the Governor's Council on Balanced Resources.
Chief among them is the creation of the Office of Outdoor Recreation and the appointment of a director. That director will lead a team of representatives from state agencies to implement an outdoor recreation plan within the first year of the office's existence and organize an annual summit.
Other recommendations include finding ways to increase funding for Utah's beleaguered system of state parks, which have had to endure significant financial cutbacks, layoffs and threats of closure. The plan also calls for restoration of funding to the LeRay McAllister Fund, which has set aside about 80,000 acres in Utah for recreation, agriculture or cultural value.
Herbert's plan also calls for a more aggressive water conservation strategy, bumping up a self-imposed goal of reducing per-capita consumption by 25 percent to 2025, rather than 2050 as had been previously outlined.
Hugelmeyer said he believes the lands issues that are so divisive in Utah — federal land ownership, stream access and rights of way for disputed RS2477 roads or routes — now have a chance to be resolved.
"The way to resolve those contentious issues is contained in this vision," Hugelmeyer said.
Herbert agreed, pointing out that the biggest issue Utah faces in the public lands arena is a "lack of discussion and dialogue. I have every bit of optimism that we will find better ways to do things."
The governor did not go so far as to say the state would abandon its litigation over claims to Civil War-era roads, but his plan calls for resolving the disputes as "expeditiously as possible."
Stephen Bloch, attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the organization will be watching closely to see how state intends to resolve the matter.
"If the governor wants to expedite the (roads) litigation it has brought, it can certainly do that by narrowing the scope of the routes it is claiming title to," Bloch said. "We will have to see if that happens. They are the captains of their own ship in that regard."
Bloch added that the group is pleased Herbert released the "Outdoor Recreation Vision."
"We appreciate that the governor has confirmed that outdoor recreation is important to Utah's economy," he said. "We will have to wait and see how this vision translates into support of Utah's red rock wilderness."
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