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Wyo expected to create Office of Outdoor Recreation

Update Nov. 16 — Wyoming is developing an Office of Outdoor Recreation, Gov. Matt Mead said Wednesday in a prepared statement.

Mead announced the development after receiving the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Task Force report, a year in the making. In 2016 he announced creation of the task force, which represented industry, resource managers, conservation groups and others at the SHIFT festival for conservation and outdoor recreation in Jackson. The office would not be a new state agency.

Mead expects the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources to convene a sub-cabinet of state agencies to analyze task force recommendations and frame plans, he said in his statement. Tourism, Transportation, State Parks, Work Force Services, Game and Fish, State Lands, Business Council and others would be in the sub-cabinet.

The state parks department and Cultural Resources Commission have the responsibility for outdoor recreation, a news release said, and the department is developing the new office. Domenic Bravo, the administrator of the agency’s division of parks, will direct development of the office.

“We have the tools and opportunity — we need to lead the charge in outdoor recreation,” Mead said in the statement. “I will review these recommendations and with the help of the Task Force and sub-cabinet work forward.”

Bravo also issued a statement in the release, acknowledging difficult budget times in Wyoming and the need to avoid redundant bureaucracies.

“Outdoor recreation falls within our area of expertise,” his statement said. “We recognize the importance of the industry. We also know that because of budgets this is a difficult time to embrace this challenge.

“The Task Force asked the state to find a way to do this by emphasizing existing strengths within agencies — they specifically suggested the state avoid creating a new agency. I am confident we have the means to do this and I believe we are up to the challenge.”

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Nov. 2 — Wyoming is expected to announce the creation of an Office of Outdoor Recreation at a legislative committee meeting Monday, WyoFile has learned.

Sources close to and familiar with the Governor’s Outdoor Recreation Task Force anticipate the announcement will be made in front of the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee that meets Monday and Tuesday in Cheyenne.  A state official would not confirm any announcement, saying confirmation would be premature and improper before the lawmakers’ committee is briefed.

But a 46-page report from the governor’s task force recommends rebranding the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources to prioritize statewide outdoor recreation. The report is posted on the department’s website and was unveiled Thursday at the SHIFT outdoor recreation conference in Jackson.

Either Gov. Mead or the Legislature could rename the department, expand its charter and direct it to prioritize outdoor recreation as recommended, said Domenic Bravo, administrator of the state parks division of the Parks and Cultural Resources department. He and department director Darin Westbay are on the TRW committee’s Monday agenda to deliver the report, that has been a year in the making.

“We’re just going to present [to the committee] what the different recommendations, options are,” he told WyoFile. “We’ll see what the committee is feeling. The biggest thing is including everybody from all different leaderships.

“I think making sure we elevate outdoor recreation into some form within our department is critical — we are primed for that.”

Regarding a potential announcement, “It would be premature to have anything come out before [the committee meeting,]” Bravo said. “I’d hate to preempt anything.”  

In addition to restructuring the parks and cultural resources department, the report recommends directing the Wyoming Business Council to focus on recreation as it does with agriculture and industry. The council should prioritize outdoor recreation as a growth target industry, the report says.

In all, the report makes 11 recommendations, including attracting and retaining outdoor recreation businesses and improving, expanding and maintaining digital and physical infrastructure that connects communities and local businesses. Gov. Mead announced the creation of the task force a year ago at the SHIFT festival. The report comes at a time the state is struggling with faltering mineral revenues and seeking alternatives to replace those losses.

Time for a Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation?

Is it time for Wyoming to have an office of Outdoor Recreation? “It’s time for every state to have one,” said Brett Prettyman, Intermountain communications director for Trout Unlimited. “It is important to recognize the value of recreation.

“So often that’s the only thing that matters to the powers that be,” he said. “They want to know the monetary value of that experience, that place.”

Wyoming’s outdoor recreation economy generates $5.6 billion in consumer spending annually, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. A state Office of Outdoor Recreation could take advantage of Wyoming’s wide-open spaces — such as this spot in the Wind River Range — by promoting and enhancing the industry. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

Wyoming’s outdoor recreation industry generates $5.6 billion in consumer spending annually and employs 50,000 persons, the Outdoor Industry Association says. That’s more than oil and gas and mining combined, according to the group. Outdoor recreation generates $1.6 billion in annual wages and $514 million a year in state and local taxes, the group says. Tourism is the second largest segment of the state’s economy and outdoor recreation is a significant part of that, the governor’s task force reports.

Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor Tricia O’Connor, a member of the governor’s task force, said Wyoming must decide for itself, but ought to elevate outdoor recreation in the state hierarchy. The 3.4-million-acre reserve she manages is often touted for its unparalleled wildlife and recreation opportunities.

“There has to be some substance at a high enough level so this lasts,” beyond the tenure of a single governor, she said.

Black Diamond, Utah led the way

For a statewide outdoor recreation department to be effective, it must have authority and autonomy said Peter Metcalf, founder and former president of Black Diamond Equipment. Many credit him with convincing Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to create the first such state office in the nation.

Black Diamond and others involved with the lucrative Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City threatened to move the annual event from Utah if the state continued policies seen as detrimental to public lands, the environment and recreation. After years of back and forth, Outdoor Retailer announced this year it would leave for Colorado.

Despite Utah being a model for other states — Metcalf pointed to Colorado and Montana — Herbert’s new office was “a bone thrown to protesters,” Metcalf said.

Despite some original autonomy, the department is “as much window dressing as it is substantive,” he told WyoFile. Today, it is “pretty tightly muzzled” and operates within “guardrails.”

“Having the office is better than not,” Metcalf said. “But giving it authority allows the person to push…to find a better policy,” even if that is not aligned with as state Legislature.

“Creating the role is the first step toward starting to change,” he said.

Bravo said there could be some low-hanging fruit the Legislature could grab to recognize the value of outdoor recreation and begin to fund it. Tim Young of Wilson, chairman of the state Bicycle-Pedestrian Task Force, suggested one —  a non-motorized user fee that would entirely benefit public land trails.

“I’m going to make that point to the TRW committee,” he said.

SHIFT festival founder and director Christian Beckwith said the task force and the state are on the right track. “We’re encouraged by Wyoming’s commitment to a blended economy and its investments in outdoor recreation as a vehicle to get there.”

The 11 recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Outdoor Recreation:

Attract and retain outdoor recreation businesses.

Explore and implement innovative funding strategies to enhance the outdoor recreation economic sector

Develop tools and partnerships to enhance state and local economies, infrastructure, and planning.

Improve access to recreation opportunities.

Incorporate the concepts of conservation, sustainability, and stewardship into all outdoor recreation planning, development, and implementation.

Maintain and expand funding mechanisms that support access, infrastructure, and conservation.

Use governance tools to enhance outdoor recreation in Wyoming, including legislation, funding, and cooperation.

Dedicate resources and funding at the state government level to provide continuity and accountability, and to ensure that the Task Force’s recommendations are implemented.

Support collaboration efforts through a fund, like the Forest Collaborative Assistance Program, offering financial and technical support to outdoor recreation collaborative groups.

Improve, expand, and maintain digital and physical infrastructure that connects communities and local businesses

Promote, increase, enhance, and support inclusive outdoor recreation programs and train a qualified and diverse outdoor recreation workforce.

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About the Author

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Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at [email protected] or (307) 690-5586. Follow Angus on Twitter at @AngusThuermer

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3 Responses to Wyo expected to create Office of Outdoor Recreation

  1. Bern Hinckley November 24, 2017 at 3:56 pm #

    This discussion seems to focus on outdoor recreation as an industry, i.e. a way to capture more dollars from tourists and other visitors, and to provide direct Wyoming employment. These are important, but equally so is the availability of outdoor recreation to us, the permanent residents of Wyoming. Public-lands access, recreational trails, hunting and fishing opportunities, etc. belong right there alongside communications and transportation infrastructure and public education as community amenities that distinguish Wyoming when it comes to attracting and retaining the businesses and employees upon which the future of Wyoming depends. In addition to State Parks, we should be looking to agencies like the Business Council to become involved in these initiatives. For too long, Wyoming has assumed we can attract business with low taxes, tax-breaks, and “favorable” environmental regulation, when we should be looking at what makes our communities desirable places to live, work, and raise children.

    Laramie, Wyoming

  2. Chris Beisheim November 22, 2017 at 8:43 am #

    As an RV Park owner I look forward to improvements in the states involvement in the recreation industry but hope they don’t put in hook up sites and compete with our private (non-goverment subsidize funding) RV parks and campgrounds. It would be like the state opening grocery stores, selling rv supplies or propane as far as it effects my business.and give the state an unfair advantage over privately owned parks. It would be good to have a department that oversee commercial RV Parks that are not up to the original standards that were set but now no department is overseeing these rules. The standards need to be to the health and safety for the travelers.

    Lander, Wyoming

  3. Michele Irwin November 7, 2017 at 11:02 am #

    I am absolutely a supporter of outdoor recreation, but wonder if a focus on this aspect will alter the larger scope of the current Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources, which includes other aspects of not only the tourism and outdoor recreation industries, but the non economic benefits of our natural resources. I hope the legislature and Governor will proceed cautiously on any institutional changes, while acknowledging the benefit paying more attention to outdoor recreation.

    Green River, Wyoming

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