Utah tourism promotes new national monument despite state opposition

(Bears Ears National Monument Facebook photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah tourism officials said Monday they are promoting the new Bears Ears National Monument on a state website despite a push by the governor and other leaders to have the designation rescinded.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution earlier this month from the Legislature calling on President Donald Trump to repeal the designation by President Barack Obama during his final weeks in office.

Utah’s congressional delegation, led by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, is also pressuring Trump on the matter.

Herbert and others say they want to ensure the lands in southeastern Utah are used for a mix of purposes, including development, drilling and mining.

The outdoors industry sees that as a threat to the state’s majestic outdoor areas and is pushing back.

The state had already been promoting some of the natural features of the area online, Utah Office of Tourism managing director Vicki Varela said.

“We’ve always had information about some of the sites there, but certainly now there’s more attention to it so we’ve been more clear on our website,” Varela said.

The tourism office has a full webpage dedicated to the 1.35-million-acre national monument, along with subpages highlighting its various features.

The website calls the monument’s landscape breathtaking while warning that it is rugged, wild and remote without the services or facilities found at national parks in the state.

Varela said officials aren’t sure yet how they’ll promote the area since it’s now more of a destination for serious outdoor enthusiasts.

Varela said later Monday afternoon that the tourism office is not promoting the monument on any social media accounts or launching any kind of paid marketing campaign for it. The office promoted Utah’s national parks with the Mighty 5 advertising campaign.

Varela and Herbert spoke to reporters Monday after the release of a new University of Utah report that shows tourism spending in Utah hit a record of $8.17 billion in 2015.

That marked a 2 percent increase from the year before, putting tourism among the largest industries in the state, according to the report by the university’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

The governor didn’t know the state was promoting Bears Ears National Monument to tourists. Herbert said he and some Native Americans are concerned about attracting visitors who will trample on sacred lands.

“It’s not like they want to put a neon sign out there saying, ‘Come here and camp,”’ Herbert said of the tribes.

The new tourism spending report comes amid heated debate over the state’s role in management of Utah’s iconic public lands. The discussions escalated after the designation of the Bears Ears monument in December despite staunch opposition from Herbert, the state’s congressional delegation and other top leaders.

In protest over calls to rescind the designation, outdoor industry giant Patagonia and several other companies are vowing to boycott the semiannual Outdoor Retailer show, which brings $45 million in annual spending to Utah.

REI and The North Face, however, are among companies saying they’ll still attend shows in Utah.

Show organizers last week announced they are considering moving the event after two decades in Utah, in part because of the push to rescind Bears Ears.

Varela said the Outdoor Retailer show is “a big part of Utah’s brand,” and a longstanding, important part of the state’s economy that they would love to keep.

Herbert said he hopes a Thursday meeting with outdoor retailers will allow all sides to try to understand each other, reiterating his belief that Utah is the best place for the show.

“We need to just calm down,” Herbert said. “Let’s see if we can find a common way to get to a goal we all want to share.”

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