Does Wyoming need a Department of Recreation?
How should the state pay for trail maintenance and development?
These and other questions are addressed in a draft report recently completed by the state’s Outdoor Recreation Task Force, said Nephi Cole, policy advisor to Gov. Matt Mead.
The task force spent six months compiling recommendations on how the state can grow and support the outdoor recreation industry.
Mead saw the draft report in a private meeting yesterday, July 20. The report is not yet public and could be tweaked before it’s released, Cole said. A public release date is not yet set.
While Cole wouldn’t share the specifics of the report before it was made public, he did say it outlines 11 major recommendations for the governor. It also includes suggestions on how to fund and implement each idea.
The task force discussed trail funding models, such as stamps for off-road vehicles that generate revenue for upkeep. The group talked about, and included in the report, how something similar could be expanded to other recreational users like mountain bikers, with the money going to grow the industry by funding trails, trail maps and signs, Cole said.
The report also addresses whether the state needs a department dedicated to recreation and how that could be accomplished without growing the government. Some states with recreation departments don’t have budgets to allow them to actually accomplish anything, Cole said.
“In Wyoming, I think we’re actually doing more — I know we’re doing more — the challenge is how do we message that appropriately to let people know what we’re doing,” Cole said.
Advertising recreation opportunities throughout the state and to visitors from elsewhere is another topic in the report. The task force discussed creating an app with information about trails, recreation and outdoor businesses. There could be a recreation map on the back of the state highway map.
Evan Reimondo, the environmental stewardship coordinator with the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, helped create the recreation task force idea. He also served as an alternate on the task force for his colleague, Claire Smith, and attended several meetings.
NOLS already works with the Legislature on bills to support recreation, he said, and he task force was an efficient way to dive into bigger policy issues. The Ruckelshaus Institute at the University of Wyoming facilitated the meetings and set the agenda. For an item to become a recommendation, everyone in the group had to agree to it, Reimondo said.
“Everyone chosen for the task force represents an interest group,” Reimondo said. “Everything gets a little softened because you are working toward consensus.”
Still, the time given to the task force was worth it, he said. He was happy with the report’s emphasis on attracting and retaining outdoor businesses, as well as supporting communities to develop their own outdoor industries with infrastructure and access.
“Access came out a lot as a really important thing,” he said. “Everyone saw the benefit of having good public-land and open-space access.”
The task force was conscious of the cost of its recommendations. Some cost little or nothing, while others would require big investments, Reimondo said. The report includes ideas on how to fund the suggestions, but some would still need financial support from the state.
“The big concern with the task force and the report is that resources necessary are dedicated to see [the suggestions] through,” he said.
He also is concerned with Mead leaving office in 2018. Some of the ideas are long-term and the next administration will have to continue the work for them to succeed.
A crucial industry
Mead created the Outdoor Recreation Task Force in 2016 to gather baseline information on the recreation economy and determine its needs now and in the future, Cole said. Recreation is important to quality of life for residents, but also vital to the tourism industry. Supporting recreation is a way to diversify the state’s economy, Cole said.
“Americans are looking to reacquaint themselves with the wild, now more than ever, and Wyoming is the perfect place to do that,” he said.
A 2012 Outdoor Industry Association report found recreation generates $4.5 billion annually in consumer spending in Wyoming, $1.4 billion in wages and salaries, and $300 million in state and local tax revenue. It also provides 50,000 Wyoming jobs.
The 26 task force members include agency officials representing Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Forest Service. The outdoor recreation industry is represented by guides and store owners. Conservation groups and the oil and gas industry also have seats.
Cole said he wasn’t sure when the report would be public, but expected it to be ready for the Legislature’s next Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee interim meeting — tentatively set for Aug. 29 and 30. The document is expected to be posted online on the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources website.