Dan McCoy, the assistant director of campus recreation at the University of Wyoming, often meets with students and their parents who are considering leaving their home state to attend school in Wyoming.
The biggest appeal for almost all these students is the opportunity for outdoor recreation in Wyoming.
“I can tell you it’s an incredibly useful and powerful tool to recruit students,” he said.
That’s why McCoy applied to serve on Gov. Matt Mead’s new Outdoor Recreation Task Force.
More than 150 people had already applied to serve before the application period closed Nov. 4, said Domenic Bravo, an administrator for Wyoming State Parks. The Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources is in charge of the task force, which Mead announced Oct. 13. The group will meet for the first time in December and hopes to have recommendations to the governor within a year.
In Wyoming, recreation translates to big business, McCoy said.
“Recreation, and outdoor recreation in particular, is such a giant field, and it is, with tourism, the second largest industry in the state of Wyoming,” he said.
The Outdoor Industry Association reported in 2013 that outdoor recreation provided 50,000 jobs in Wyoming and $300 million in state and local tax revenue.
McCoy would like to see more data on the industry in the state, and hopes the task force makes what already exists more accessible, or gathers helpful numbers.
“Being at the university, we always love data,” he said. “We like to have data-driven decisions rather than gut feelings.”
What he doesn’t have numbers for, but does know, is that outdoor recreation is important, not just in recruiting students, but also to keep people in the state. More colleges and universities nationwide are emphasizing outdoor recreation, to draw students and staff, he said.
The task force puts Wyoming in the vanguard of a new trend of states working to better understand, foster and promote recreation, according to Bravo, the Wyoming State Parks administrator. Colorado and Utah have offices dedicated to promoting recreation and other states have created types of committees or task forces, but many states will look to Wyoming to see how it runs and utilizes its working group, Bravo said.
“We have a great test model with our amazing outdoor amenities and then our low population,” he said. “Anything we put into practice you’ll be able to see almost immediate results. You’ll be able to measure success just by the way Wyoming is set up.”
Bravo and parks staff will winnow the applicant pool down to about 20 people to make it a reasonable working group. But each time someone applies for the task force, they also complete a survey and the data from that survey will help guide the task force, Bravo said. The goal will be to select people who represent a variety of recreation enthusiasts, businesses and organizations.
So far applicants have run the gamut in representing Wyoming’s outdoor recreation.“The great thing is, our applicants already represent everything you can think of when it comes to recreation in Wyoming,” Bravo said.
The task force will evaluate what Wyoming is doing well, but also what it needs to work on in terms of supporting and promoting recreation.
Ron Hansen, a Lander resident and owner of Wind River Outdoor Company and the fishing guide business Wind River Troutfitters, wants to see recreation prioritized as an industry the state can count on for years to come.
“I’m a born-and-raised Wyoming kid,” he said. “I’ve experienced the boom-bust. If Wyoming is going to get left behind on the coal and oil and gas, we need to have something to fall back on and in Wyoming, the obvious thing is outdoor recreation and everything it offers.”
Most people live in the state because of the outdoors and more come to visit the area because of the recreation, Hansen said. Recreation could draw more outdoor companies, and also jobs, as well as continued growth in tourism, he believes.
He hopes the task force, whether he’s on it or not, considers long-term planning. He doesn’t want recreation to go the way other resources have in the state–utilized until exhausted.
“This is a chance for thoughtful discussions on what Wyoming wants to become, but we need to do it right because we only have one chance to do it correctly” he said.