Stewardship is part of the Ibex manifesto and we believe deeply in environmental conservation and protecting our wild places. Being outside exploring the natural world is engrained in who we are as people as well as what we are as a company. The ability to wander a wide-open landscape is not something we take for granted and it is the reason that Ibex stands up for public lands protection.
We recently opened a new store in Colorado, the only state in the nation that has a designated Public Lands Day, coming up on May 20. It’s also one of only a handful of states that has an office in place to act as a liaison between the outdoor recreation economy, public lands protection and the communities of people who live there.
We were fortunate enough to speak with Luis Benitez, the director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Office to learn more about lands protection, how it relates to the outdoor recreation industry, and how participation in important economic and environmental conversations can affect positive outcomes for all of us.
Can you tell us what you do in your role with the State of Colorado?
I work for the office of outdoor industry for the state; it’s one of three states that have this role, (Utah and Washington state are the other two.) There are six others that are considering the inclusion of this role. Ultimately the reason my office exists is that it’s a direct reflection of just how much the outdoor recreation industry brings to our economy, our culture and our communities. We focus on economic development, conservation and stewardship, and education and workforce training.
What happens on Public Lands Day in Colorado?
Well, it’s a campaign to really make sure people are getting out and recreating on public lands. We’re going to be focusing on that, so admissions (to parks and monuments) will be either discounted or free of charge, then ultimately trying to get kids outside. Really, it’s a concerted effort to make sure people understand what our state public lands are and how to utilize and recreate on them.
Why does it make sense for a brand like Ibex that is passionate about public lands protection and environmental issues to be in Colorado vs. another state?
My goal is to grow the overall outdoor recreation economy. When it comes to locating in a state like Colorado, I think we’re kind of at the forefront of the conversation for the outdoor industry, for their stances on public lands, to innovation and entrepreneurship, to having the kind of community and population that’s deeply invested in and connected to the outdoor recreation industry. We want anybody who would look at our state and say, “gosh, if we’re involved in this industry, we’d like to be on the leading edge of what’s possible and we should really consider going there.”
The Outdoor Industry Association recently released some impressive numbers relating to the outdoor recreation economy. How do you reconcile these with historic economic drivers and enter the conversation of the economic, environmental and social impacts that industries are creating?
I think what we’re asserting here in Colorado is a blended economy. I think the reality is that we’ve drawn too many hard, fast lines in the sand for too long…I think that’s myopic.
I believe the responsible approach is to say this (the outdoor recreation industry) is a significant portion of our economy. It drives a lot more than just GDP; it drives health and wellness, it drives manufacturing, and it drives talent development. It drives all of these things, so I think the important thing is that all the different economies talk and figure out what’s best for their state.
States in the West have the most public land, so it makes sense that the issues of outdoor recreation and lands protection are top-of-mind talking points in states like Colorado. Do you get the sense that this is a conversation that resonates across the country, not just the intermountain West?
I think it’s being focused on a little bit more and will continue to be, just because of the fact that people are paying attention to the numbers that are coming out and want to know what it’s about. So, right now the Outdoor Industry Association is releasing those numbers, but ultimately what you’re going to have is the Department of Commerce researching those numbers. And when that happens, there’s going to be a different story. That will be a deeper understanding of what goes on.
Is there a closing message for those who are in tune with this debate of lands protection and outdoor recreation, trying not to frame it as outdoor vs. other industries? How do we take the momentum that so many voices have gained in the last year and move it forward?
I think you really hit the nail on the head. The big piece of this will be what happened with the outdoor industry tradeshow. People will start voting with their feet and start moving things around in the interest of the communities that are most important to them. That will be something that people will continue to pay attention to and continue to look for.