outdoor recording. Stakeholders are considering options, pending the next legislative action

Outdoor recreation advocates cashed in big this spring when the Legislature created a new $6 million trust fund to generate grants for building trails, camping infrastructure, and other similar developments.

However, legislators did not provide a mechanism for spending the money, leaving the trust fund idle.

House Bill 74 – The Wyoming Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Trust Fund established the fund and identified the source of funding – the Wyoming Tourism Reserve and Projects Account.

But before it passed, lawmakers stripped away the governance structure, meaning no money could be spent until lawmakers acted again.

“At this point, if we don’t pass more legislation, we won’t be able to get that money out,” said Rep. Sandy Newsom (R-Cody). “It just stays in the trust, and we don’t have spending power.”

Meanwhile, the question still looms over how Wyoming will strike a balance between reaping the economic benefits of outdoor recreation and turning to overcrowding and damage to natural resources.

Stakeholders floated ideas for achieving that balance during a recent three-day University of Wyoming forum in Laramie, where they discussed everything from the impacts of recreation on wildlife to community-led planning processes.

Doing it the right way is what Dave Glenn has been trying to crack for years, Wyoming’s acting director of parks and cultural resources told participants. It will likely require inconveniences and compromises as user groups work not only with each other but also with stakeholders such as the oil and gas industry.

He warned people to be what he calls “MONLYs, it’s just me” — or individuals who only focus on one activity and not the entire ecosystem.

“We have to work together,” Glenn said. “Wyoming is big enough that we have the ability to make sure that we can provide all the outdoor recreation that we want to provide, and set it up and design it so that everyone can have their cake and eat it too.”

Is there yet

About 200 people attended the forum, which came on the heels of some major steps forward in the outdoor recreation industry in Wyoming. In March, Governor Mark Gordon signed HB 74 into law. Between 2022 and 2023, the state has also set aside about $26 million in federal incentives and state tourism dollars for projects.

While HB 74’s draft gave the Wyoming Parks and Cultural Resources Committee oversight and required funds were spent on grants for outdoor recreation infrastructure projects and management, the Senate stripped away much of that language with the intent of ironing out those details between legislative sessions.

The Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife, and Cultural Resources Committee will handle the issue. Work is underway on a bill that would model fund governance for the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, a program created to enhance wildlife habitats, committee chair Newsom told WyoFile after the forum.

“What we want to do is model this legislation after theirs, create a board, create spending authority, determine how the money is spent, determine the size of the trust fund,” she said.

Rep. Sandy Newsom (R-Cody) in the 2023 plenary session of the Wyoming Legislature. (Megan Lee Johnson/WyoFile)

She said the travel committee would consider the issue in June. Any draft legislation the committee prepares will have to navigate the 2024 legislative budget cycle, a more difficult process than seeking its passage during a plenary session.

“The challenge in a budget session is to have two-thirds of the vote of the House giving it … so that it is heard,” Newsom said. “And so we need to support our cause and get people to reach out to lawmakers to say, ‘This is really important to us.'”

No money has been disbursed from the state’s other big pot of outside funds, the $26 million earmarked for project grants. Applicants for the first tranche applied last summer — the Office of Outdoor Recreation had $14 million, mostly in American Rescue Act money — but the state has yet to announce the recipients. This is mainly due to the time-consuming work to ensure that projects meet stringent federal funding standards.

“There was a lot of delay,” Glenn said.

“We’re getting pretty close,” Patrick Harrington, director of the Outdoor Recreation Bureau, told WyoFile. He said his office is likely to announce the first batch of recipients soon, followed by the second batch when it is determined that they meet the guidelines. The office is also working on additional resources for applicants to help them meet the criteria for the next round.

“this is the reason”

The three-day forum in Laramie at the end of April was titled “Outdoor Recreation in Wyoming: Building It The Way We Want It.” It’s a topic that Glenn has spent a lot of time chewing on.

He said, “I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent…in a bar, by a campfire, having conversations with entertainment providers…and entertainment users, industry professionals, people who are constantly trying to solve this problem.” attendees.

When he polled the audience on why people love Wyoming, topics came up: empty spaces, wildlife, natural beauty, and public lands.

If that’s the case, “Why are we sitting here talking about building a new outdoor recreation infrastructure if those are our values… big, empty, wild places, no people?” Asked. “We will attract more people. They will spend more time here and this will take away from those values.”

Acting Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources Director Dave Glenn in Laramie in April 2023 (Katie Klingsbourne/WyoFile)

Still, Glenn said, he’s seen initiatives like the Off-Road Vehicle Network near Evanston benefit local communities.

He noted that he was at an early public meeting about that network where skeptics were concerned about issues like trespassing. Then an older educator got up to the microphone.

“If you think we’re going to stop the growth of outdoor recreation and tourism in the community, you’re wrong,” Glenn remembers saying. “This horse has left the barn. We need to find a way to manage it…” or Wyoming will burn.

That’s why, Glenn said.

Work ahead

In 2021, outdoor recreation contributed $1.5 million to the state’s gross domestic product, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The stat is like that buoy advocating outdoor recreation as a way to diversify Wyoming’s fossil fuel-dependent economy.

But skeptics warn that Wyoming must proceed with caution lest it open its doors, harming resources, disrupting wildlife and leading to bad experiences. Discovering this trail was at the heart of the forum, hosted by the Ruckelshaus Institute, the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Initiative, Tourism and Hospitality, and the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office.

It’s not as easy as saying, “Let’s build a corridor,” Glenn told the participants. Completing a project can entail arduous environmental reviews, community meetings, management changes, years of work, and a lot of money.

Trail builder Todd Thibodeau explains how his crew removed large boulders to make room for trails at a trail project near Thermopolis in March 2022. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

Much of that money is currently being paid for by the mechanized community, hunters and fishermen, and the oil and gas industry, Glenn said, in the form of taxes and conservation fees. Glenn has broached the idea of ​​a mountain bike user fee in the past, and told WyoFile his office is still open for conversation if the communities want to get it on board.

After the forum, Harrington said one of the takeaways was participants’ interest in the financing part of the puzzle.

Funding, he said, “is something we’ve been able to really at least start to get the ball rolling in our office, and our office aspires to be able to help bridge that gap.”

That will ultimately be up to the legislature and what it decides to administer the trust fund.

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