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Podcast: Outdoor Recreation Opportunities

Pete CodellaBusiness Elevated Podcast


Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 10)

This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. This episode includes a conversation between Tom Adams, director, and Rose Smith, program specialist for the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation.

The Business Elevated podcast is also available on Apple PodcastsSpotify and Stitcher.



Welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.

Tom Adams
Rose Smith


Tom Adams (0:23): Hey everybody, you’re listening to the Business Elevated Podcast. My name is Tom Adams, I’m the director of Utah’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, and we are here with the wonderful Rose Smith.

Rose Smith (0:35): Hi everyone, I’m Rose Smith, the program specialist here at the Office of Outdoor Recreation. So we have a lot of exciting things happening with outdoor recreation in Utah, and we just wanted to take some time and share those with you.

Tom Adams (0:47): Probably the most recent thing that we’re excited about is the Every Kid Outdoors initiative, and we just celebrated this when?

Rose Smith (0:54): We got to celebrate this last Friday. So we’ve been working pretty hard on this initiative the last year, and we’ve seen it from beginning to end, and it’s been a really fun process for us to be a part of. So the event was our Every Kid Outdoors initiative summer kickoff, and that was a really fun gathering, bringing together kids and families. We had really great partners from Walmart and Lifetime, to Bike Utah, the Utah Society for Environmental Education, The Stonefly Society, and the Boys and Girls Club. So it was a really rockin’ event. We had tons of kids come out and try tons of activities and get excited about our passport.

Tom Adams (1:41): I thought it was wonderful. So we brought our three little boys, and my wife came out, and it’s really hard to get my wife to work events, so I was really thrilled to have her there. She’s thinks it’s work, but this was really fun. The kids had a blast. All of those brands were phenomenal. What I thought was really cool and kind of symbolic is, it’s Every Kind Outdoors initiative, and we did it in the heart of Salt Lake County. I mean, Walmart seemed to be a phenomenal sponsor, along with Lifetime and the Boys and Girls Club.

Rose Smith (2:08): Yeah, it was really great. So the reason for the event, and we’re challenging Tom and his family and everybody out there to do this, is we created our EKO activity passport to really inspire you to get out, explore new places in Utah, and to check off the 10 activities that we have put in place for EKO. So we can dive into what those are.

Tom Adams (2:39): What are the top 10? My favorite one that I want to do with the boys, which is easy for us, is to stare or to gaze at a starry sky, and my boys, they want to go camping, but they could go camping on the back deck. I mean, that’s the beauty about some of these 10 things. You don’t have to go all the way down to Zion National Park. Right?

Rose Smith (2:59): Right. Kind of one of the huge inspirations for me helping create this, starting as my master’s project at the University of Utah, was to try and find something that kids and families could do no matter their background or ability or where they could get to. So the 10 activities we really hope you can do, as Tom said, in your backyard, a city park. We have such amazing state parks here. 65 percent of Utah is public land, so we have so much national forest and BLM land out there, and not to mention our Mighty Five national parks.

So, the 10 activities are:

  1. Observe nature and wildlife in Utah;
  2. Explore Utah’s parks, public land, and wild places;
  3. Experience the greatest snow on earth;
  4. Gaze at the starry sky, as Tom mentioned;
  5. Bring along a friend to discover nearby nature;
  6. Splash in Utah’s rivers, lakes, and streams;
  7. Follow a trail;
  8. Plant a seed;
  9. Play on Utah’s rocks and mountains; and
  10. Be a steward to take care of Utah’s outdoor places.

So, you kind of notice that we didn’t pick certain activities, we didn’t want to limit it to just learn how to ride a bike or learn how to fish, even though those activities can be part of these. We really wanted to let you be creative and invite you to follow these in a creative way.

Tom Adams (4:30): And Rose, the activities are phenomenal and they’re definitely, they kind of bridge that social-economic class and gaps that might be out there. I mean, they’re really things that everyone can do, and that’s what’s inspiring to me is, it is, it’s the Every Kid Outdoors initiative, and these activities are fairly easy for kids to check-off. So say some kids go through the program and they check-off all 10 of them. What do they do after that?

Rose Smith (4:55): So we’re pretty excited about this. You can mail it back to our office, and our passport is available for download on our website, which is business.utah.gov/outdoor/eko. So you go on there, you download it, you check these off, and then you can mail it back to us and we are going to send you a little surprise, yeah, that we’re still finalizing.

Tom Adams (5:23): All right, parents out there. Make sure you download that. Again, it’s business.utah.gov/outdoor/eko. So go to the website and make sure you download this passport and get your kids out and give them an excuse to recreate this summer. And you know, Rose, it’s a little bit sobering, but I think we should talk about it. I mean, what was some of the motivational things to get behind this and to get kids outdoors? Because there’s some stats out there that are kind of staggering.

Rose Smith (5:51): Yeah. So I spent some time researching the health benefits of nature for kids and kind of the health problems we’re facing today, and the numbers are pretty staggering. So one recent study has shown that kids between the age of eight to eighteen, they spend only seven minutes a day outside, and on the flip side, about seven-and-a-half hours a day on average in front of a screen.

Tom Adams (6:21): And is that every screen, right? It’s not just a TV.

Rose Smith (6:24): Yeah. Right, it could be your mobile device, computers. And if you think about that, that really leads to indoor sedentary time, sitting down alone, and we’re losing a lot of the benefits of social play outside, the physical benefits, mental benefits, emotional benefits. So the research about nature, nature’s effect on kids, and adults as well, is pretty amazing. There’s a lot of research that shows that just getting outside for 15 minutes in a green area can have huge benefits on decreasing stress, decreasing those actual cortisol levels, as well as decreasing behavioral problems, and it really leads to more of a flourishing for kids.

Tom Adams (7:13): Yeah, and our own Dr. Strayer at University of Utah, he’s also said that this has helped with creativity too, right? You go spend a few minutes outside and you just come back so much more creative, and we know that’s what we want from our kids, is to come back and to be engaged in what they’re doing, whether it’s art class or math class or PE, whatever. They come out back from recess, which I think is really important. There’s been debates out there if recess should or shouldn’t be in schools, and I think this evidence really shows that, hey, we need to have this for our kids for lots of reasons.

And I mean, I’ll call this out myself. I was at the outdoor retailer trade show this last week, and of course on Sunday my phone comes up and gives me alarm, says, “Tom, your screen time has been up 30% this week,” you know? And it said I’ve been on my screen time for four hours a day. I mean, that’s me personally away from the computer. I know I don’t want my kids to be engaged that much in a cell phone because it’s usually a game or something like this or texting friends. Right?

Rose Smith (8:06): Yeah. And I mean, not all technology’s bad. It’s not this or that. I think it’s just important to remember to press pause, because technology is part of our everyday. I mean, in school, kids have computers, kids are learning through games, through screens. There’s no way that we will never have screens, but the point is that we need to press pause, and as parents, our kids can’t get out alone. They can’t learn these activities on their own necessarily, so I think it’s really important for us to take a look at our behavior and say, “Hey, instead of watching a movie this weekend, can we go out as a family and gaze at the stars?”

Tom Adams (8:48): Yup. I think for the parents out there, starting with the Apple IIc back in the day, which was the first computer we had in our class to the iPhone now, definitely screens, like you said, they’re not going away, but we just need to use them properly and engage them where appropriate. I think that’s well said. Anything else to add on the Every Kind Outdoor initiative, Rose?

Rose Smith (9:09): I think just reiterating, no matter where you are in Utah, you can download that passport, you can do these near your home. It’s such a fun way to learn the close to home recreation areas. I mean, just pulling up Google Maps and looking for those green spots can be a really fun way to explore some new areas. We’ve also tried to provide some resources on our website, so we have a lot of good partner websites on there. We’ve got some programs. If you as a parent want to sign up your kid for some programming, there’s some really amazing opportunities out there for a pretty low cost.

Tom Adams (9:48): That’s great to remember. I think one thing that I want to capture, it’s maybe a story within a story, and Rose, you alluded to it a little while ago. This was your master’s project. I mean, what out there as a youth, or maybe what did your parents do, or what happened to really inspire you to create this, what was a master’s project and actually became a concurrent resolution? I mean, what a great story. What was the inspiration behind that?

Rose Smith (10:13): Well, I think for me, getting outside has always been something not only fun, it was a thing for me and my dad to do, go hiking, go camping. But as a young adult, I really learned self-efficacy through recreation, learning new things, trying new things, and for me, it’s been a really healthy experience to de-stress, get physically active, and it’s fun. I mean, bringing friends out to nature on a walk is one of my favorite things. And so I think just knowing how … I mean, really, how good it makes me feel has always been a motivator, so this is why I’m in the outdoor recreation industry, is this is an amazing career where you can both work with people and the outdoors.

So that was kind of the backbone, and then working here at the office, I wanted to find a way that we as a state agency could inspire kids and families to get out. And so exploring what other states had done was a real motivator. So there’s actually quite a few states that have kind of similar initiatives. Everyone has their own style, and we wanted to make it very Utah’s own. And so finding this Every Kid Outdoors initiative with these 10 items, we chose them because they represent Utah. You know, you can’t play on rocks and mountains in every state, and we’re really lucky to have such amazing public lands and wild places here. So it was kind of a connection of my own experience and what has motivated me, and then realizing, doing that research on the negative health benefits of indoor sedentary time, it was kind of a wake up call, like we should be doing something as the Office of Outdoor Recreation.

Tom Adams (12:13): Yeah, and for those of you out there, I mean, the Office of Outdoor Recreation, we were created just about six years ago. And you know, there’s four things that are really in our wheelhouse. One of them is corporate recruitment. Another one is helping to create policy. Another one is to build recreation infrastructure. The last one is to inspire and motivate Utahans to get out and recreate, especially youth, and that especially youth part is verbatim in statute that created our office.

So Rose, as the director, I want to give you a shout-out, like thanks for all your hard work, and the inspiration you put behind this concurrent resolution is phenomenal, and we couldn’t have done it for sure without great support from, what, 35 roughly other entities, which you mentioned some of them, and Danielle Haddad and Tara McKee on our team. Just phenomenal people really trying to meet those goals that our legislators put before us, and this did it. This really hit that especially youth part, so well done.

Rose Smith (13:08): Thanks. So not only was the EKO initiative a success on its own, but this also led to another awesome initiative that we’ve been working on. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Utah Children’s Outdoor Recreation and Education Grant, Tom?

Tom Adams (13:24): Yeah, Rose. So the Utah Every Kid Outdoors initiative really became the foundation for UCORE, as we call it in our office, or as you said, Utah Children’s Outdoor Recreation and Education Grant, and a lot of people, especially some skeptics out there, were like, “Okay, the Every Kid Outdoors initiative is great. It’s kind of a feel good piece, but where’s the real financial support?” And our legislators really stepped up to the plate this year and they said, “We’re going to create the Utah Children’s Outdoor Recreation and Education Grant, and we’re going to give the Office of Outdoor Recreation (so our office) $100,000 this year to put towards education programs that get kids out recreating,” doing these 10 things that we just listed with EKO, but ideally, getting them out, doing them responsibly, right? Teaching kids how to recreate, to do it safely.

But when we look at our state, I mean, you look at Zion National Park, you look at the Wasatch Front, just Big, Little Cottonwood and Millcreek, both places respectively see 5 million visitors a year, and the impact is great. We want to make sure our kids that are getting out there recreating, UCORE is going to get them healthy, right? It’s going to let them build a good foundation to live a healthy, active lifestyle hopefully through the rest of their life. But hopefully, and ideally, they become good stewards so they’re out there protecting and preserving some of these great places, because as we’ve seen it, some of these areas are getting beat up a little bit in our public lands, as well as in our city parks and state parks.

Rose Smith (14:55): So we did have a successful pilot grant program similar to UCORE in 2016.

Tom Adams (15:02): Yeah.

Rose Smith (15:03): Can you tell us a little bit of those success stories and who got the grant and all that?

Tom Adams (15:08): Yeah, so UCORE, part of the reason it passed is because we had a pilot program in the past, and it was quite successful. We had roughly the same amount, about a hundred thousand dollars back then, and we awarded 16 different groups around the state funding. So some of those folks, we had the Chill Foundation, which gets underprivileged youth out snowboarding actually. It’s basically a bus ride from their community all the way up. The pass is provided, and kids get to get out and recreate. And I mean, a lot of the kids that they work with have never even touched snow, right? They’ve never slid on snow. Maybe they’ve been on a sleigh ride or something, but they haven’t skied or snowboarded, so that was one. Ski Utah was another one, but maybe one of my favorite stories was from the Utah High School Mountain Biking League.

So they came to us and they said, hey, we have a lot of kids that can’t participate because mountain biking, truth be told, is definitely cost prohibitive for a lot of people. Bikes can be really expensive, and they wanted to make sure more kids could do it. So they came to us and said, “If you buy 10 bikes, we’ll buy 10 bikes, and so we matched them I think roughly with a $10,000 grant, and so now they have 20 bikes in the program. Right? Kids are excited. All the bikes go out. And Brighton High School, fairly affluent school in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, lots of great athletes, good kids, great coaches, and many of them have great bikes. Well, they had one student that needed to borrow a loaner bike. So the loaner bike they got, I believe, I can’t remember what brand they got it from, but pretty decent spikes.

Well, that team went on to win the state championship that year. So this child that couldn’t afford a bike, really wanted a bike, got a loaner program, and not only got to compete but got to be on a state championship team. And I mean, if that’s not grab your tissues type kind of story. I was really inspired by that, and I was thrilled to see the program being successful right out of the gate. And you know, we had some other programs too, like the Bike Collective, which again, biking, but the Bike Collective, and Rose, you know a lot about this. I mean, all of us, kids, dads, families, moms, grandmas, grandpas, whomever, can go out and learn not only to build bikes but to get spare parts for their bikes or buy bikes at a really affordable price. So a number of different groups, again, receive those grants, and we’re thrilled to go forward with it this year. Rose, we’re going to start roughly… When does funding start for this?

Rose Smith (17:35): We’re hoping to have it completed and open for applications in the fall.

Tom Adams (17:41): Cool. So we’ll have a fall launch date for this program. And again, for those of you that are excited about EKO, now you know there’s financial funding to get your kids and members in your community out recreating and doing it with great groups of people. I mean, we have Youth Works that have applied in the past. Again, that was another one. We had Chill Foundation. We had the High School Mountain Bike League, we had Ski Utah, again, the Bike Collective, and there was roughly 10 or 11 more winners out there, and we fund lots of different activities. I mean, with our infrastructure grant, how many activities do you remember we’ve funded?

Rose Smith (18:14): I think over a hundred.

Tom Adams (18:16): Yeah, we’ve funded I think over a hundred different grants, and I want to say it’s 19 different activity types. So if there is an activity out there and your child’s interested in it, that’s based in the outdoors, this grant, the UCORE, could fund it. That’s pretty exciting.

Rose Smith (18:29): Yeah. So we’ve been working on a lot here at the office, as you can tell. Tom keeps us busy. Where can people find out more information about what we’re up to?

Tom Adams (18:41): You know, the website’s great, so business.utah.gov/outdoor. That has a lot of things about our office, but one of the best places to get engaged — and I encourage everybody in state, local, government, outdoor industry, land managers — is really look into the Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit, and that’s being held this year in St. George. As far as an outdoor rec based conference, it is the largest state-based recreation conference in the country, hands-down. And Rose, you’ve been putting, again, a lot of heart and soul into this effort. Tell us a little bit about what’s going to happen down at the event.

Rose Smith (19:18): Yeah, so it should be really fun. I’m pretty excited about this year’s. We’re doing it in the fall in St. George, so just imagine the chance to recreate down there when it’s starting to get cold up near Salt Lake.

So the Summit is three days, and we pack it full of activities you can participate in, really amazing workshops with a lot of speakers. We have some special pre-summit workshops on the Tuesday of the event that are four hours, so for example, trail building or marketing. If you really want to deep dive into that, then make sure to come to that first day. Then the next two days are breakout sessions. We’ve got some amazing keynote speakers, some dinners and awards to give out, and yeah, we’re really excited. We’ve been working hard already, and we hope to see you guys there.

Tom Adams (20:09): Yeah, and the event over the last couple of years, it’s definitely grown. We’re in our sixth year of doing these events. You know, we always see anywhere from 350 to 500 people, so it is a really big gathering of pretty much strictly Utah-based outdoor industry folks. We couldn’t do it without phenomenal sponsors. So we have Ballard Spahr, REI, OIA Industry, and of course, our… and Zions Bank, don’t let me forget Zions Bank, and then our presenting sponsor, Intermountain Healthcare. Intermountain is such a phenomenal sponsor because they have their full-on Live Well campaign, and that’s what we’re about.

We’re trying to fulfill our mission as an office, and that mission is to ensure Utahans can live a healthy, active lifestyle through outdoor recreation. We want those things to be in your community, we want you to be able to be active, to take advantage of those things, and really to eliminate everybody’s excuse of, “Oh, I don’t have enough time. I can’t get out. I can’t do that.” You know, if these activities are in your backyard and they’re as world-class as our activities are here right now in Utah, we’ll continue to be one of the healthiest states, if not the healthiest state in the nation, and we’re excited about it. You can do all of that stuff and stay fit. Probably the best conference. It’s definitely the most fun conference I know of in Utah, is that Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit, so hopefully see everybody there.

Rose Smith (21:21): So thanks so much for listening to the Business Elevated Podcast, and please join us next time and make sure to follow us on social or at business.utah.gov.


Thanks for listening to the Business Elevated podcast, a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Listen to other episodes where you get your podcasts or at business.utah.gov.