Feature: Utah State's Outdoor Recreation Archive

Feature: Utah State's Outdoor Recreation Archive

By Hannah Truby

This story was originally featured in the Mountain Gazette Sunday email — our weekly newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter here

Last week, I got to chat with Chase and Clint over at Utah State University (USU) about a really cool new project: a library archive of all things outdoor recreation. In 2018, USU’s Special Collections and Archives (SCA) and the College of Agriculture and Applied Science's Outdoor Product Design and Development (OPDD) program began collecting historical material documenting the history of outdoor gear.

The idea to start the collection largely came from USU Professor Sean Michaels, who teaches “History of Outdoor Products”, who thought it would be useful to have a collection of gear catalogs through which students could leaf and physically see the evolution of the outdoor history.

The project has grown substantially in its mere five years (the catalog collection has grown to over 2000, a 50% increase from last year’s intake). Along with pieces of basement-bound collectibles dug up by individuals, companies will come to USU’s archive with donations, or to ask for help in tracking down certain materials. Clint, the manuscript curator and fellow history buff, loves getting to sort through the many relics and pieces of memorabilia that come across his desk.

“We've gone from not just collecting catalogs, but also magazines, and collections of documents and photographs from early industry pioneers,” Clint says. “There are other universities that have the papers of some of these important figures in the industry, but no one is making a concerted effort to document the history of the entire industry. Our catalog collection encompasses all, you know, all sorts of activities in the industry so in that way I think it's unique.”

2022 was the sixth year that the federal government included outdoor recreation in their economic measurements, and, unsurprisingly, it continues to grow every year. According to the bureau’s measurement released last month, the industry’s gross output is at $1.1 trillion. (For reference, outdoor rec now is bigger than agriculture and technology industries)

“An industry that is that significant to the country requires a collection like this to be created, I think.”

Chase is the industry relations coordinator, and his work focuses largely on engaging with the industry and community at large, connecting with donors, and exploring partnership opportunities.

“When I connect with brands, I talk about the value that the project provides to not only our students, but to the industry by preserving their materials. That type of impact and legacy and history and importance; we ought to have a place where that story is told from the earliest days to present.”

Since the project has gained more widespread recognition, brands now come to Chase for help in locating materials, and to help with marketing their history.

In recent years, industries across the board have shifted to a new marketing theme: the trend of nostalgia. Where once it was standard to promote one’s newness and modernity, it’s now cool to be old, well-worn, even ragged. (Ragged in the good way, see example: Mountain Gazette).

“A lot of brands right now are wanting to highlight their history and legacy of innovation. Companies like REI, Patagonia are doing a really great job at capturing their history and maintaining that,” Chase explains.

“What we're finding with this project is that there are other companies that maybe have been sold a few times, and they want to track down pieces of their history that might’ve been lost, and use it to promote their legacy and heritage.”

You can explore the Outdoor Recreation Archive’s digital exhibits here – I’d also highly recommend giving their Instagram account a follow! Chase says he’s happy to answer questions or connect with people that way if you’ve got questions about materials or donations.

Photos courtesy of the USU Outdoor Recreation Archive