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Ravell Call, Deseret News
An RV travels through Capitol Reef National Park in Wayne County. Wayne has a relatively high percentage of tourism businesses.

Utah is a state of campers and hikers, but when it comes to recreational activities on public lands, what you like to do depends a lot on where you live.

Preliminary research by Utah State University about socioeconomic "connections" Utahns have with public lands in the state shows that urban Utahns like certain activities more than their rural counterparts and vice versa.

Steve Burr, director of USU's Institute for Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, told an audience Tuesday at the fifth annual Utah Tourism Conference that results of the survey mailed to more than 8,000 Utah households indicate that only 21.1 percent of people along the Wasatch Front said they hunt on public lands, while 57 percent in Beaver, Juab and Millard counties do so.

"The more populated areas of the state (are) not as much interested in hunting, compared to the rural areas," Burr said.

Ditto for fishing, where 71.4 percent of Carbon and Emery County respondents said they like that activity, compared with less than half the respondents in more populated areas.

Divergent figures also surfaced among people who use ATVs on public land. The percentage was as high as 65.5 percent for people living in Beaver, Juab and Millard counties but only 26.6 percent among Wasatch Front residents. People who "drive for pleasure" registered 76.9 percent along the Wasatch Front, but several areas of the state had responses above 85 percent.

Wasatch Front respondents who use public lands to see wildlife totaled 47.7 percent, but in many areas of the state, the figure was nearly 75 percent.

The preliminary study also showed off-road motorized recreation more popular among rural Utahns, and nonmotorized recreation likelier among urbanites.

The urban/rural differences were less dramatic among hikers and campers. Hiking was popular with about 55 percent of Wasatch Front respondents, but it was as high as 74.9 percent in Morgan, Summit and Wasatch counties, Burr said. In Carbon and Emery counties, 76.3 percent of respondents said they camp on public lands, but camping also was a favorite activity of 57.7 percent of Wasatch Front respondents and 54.6 percent of people living in Iron and Washington counties.

"Remember, these are residents, so we could say Utah is a state of campers," Burr said.

In all 11 geographic areas in the study, more than 80 percent of respondents said public lands provide important areas that attract tourism and recreation.

"Obviously, this data is showing that our public lands in our state are very, very important to outdoor recreation and tourism," Burr said.

Some areas of the state have a much larger percentage of its businesses linked to tourism, the study found. Most of the 11 areas were below 10 percent, but the figure was 36 percent in Garfield, Kane and Wayne counties and a mere 2.8 percent along the Wasatch Front — figures that did not surprise Burr.

"Should we be upset about these numbers? Not really, because those (Wasatch Front numbers) are the more-populated areas of the state, and when you think about tourism being part of the economic mix, where a healthy economy is diversified, those numbers appear right," he said.

Whitney Johnston, a Southern Utah University student who has worked with a pair of SUU professors on tourism research for the past two years, presented SUU survey results of visitors to southern Utah that differed with those of a D.K. Shifflet & Associates visitor profile study that she said "was kind of representing more of the Salt Lake City, Park City, snowbirds kind of visitors coming in the winter season to snowboard and to ski."

The SUU study found higher percentages of southern Utah visitors staying more than six nights, visiting national parks more than once, making more than two overnight trips during the past year, traveling without children and having previously been to a Utah destination than was reflected in the DKS study.

Most southern Utah visitors in the SUU surveys had incomes over $70,000, were married, had a college degree and were in a managerial or professional position.

But Whitney said more study is needed so that companies are better able to almost pigeonhole what guests are going to do so that the companies know how to better spend their advertising dollars.

"Basically, we want to be able to say if a white male from Southern California that is 55 years old and married is coming to southern Utah, we'd be able to tell you what he'll see, how much he'll spend, where he'll stay and his length of stay here," she said.


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com