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State eyes trail development as an opportunity for economic development 

trail work sublette county
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
Sublette Trails Association President Ryan Grove works on updating an old trail in Sublette County. Trails group members said that developing and maintaining trails can help with creating a sense of community.

As Wyoming’s top industry of coal mining declines, the state is looking to diversify its economy, including industries like outdoor recreation tourism.

Patrick Harrington, the manager of the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation, said in the last couple years a record number of visitors have explored Wyoming’s public lands.

“I think my office is sort of coming of age at a really important time in Wyoming history, and that we're looking at development at a grand scale and what the future of our state is going to be,” Harrington said.

His office has created collaboratives with seven communities to help develop outdoor recreation – including things like updating old trails, which are abundant in Wyoming. Places like Park, Natrona and Sweetwater counties are part of the effort.

Harrington said they are hoping to expand into more rural parts of Wyoming too, although he added that it has to be done thoughtfully, as a lot of people live in these rural areas because there is not a lot of tourism.

Members of the Sublette Trails Association (STA), which helps the U.S. Forest Service update old trails in northwest Wyoming, said they would like to see more refurbished trails in the area. However, they added, it is important to them to keep the feel of a local community.

“I think a big thing that we're trying to do, also, is develop that trail based culture in the community,” STA President Ryan Grove said. “Like, a lot of us use the trails in a lot of different ways individually, but we're starting to see now that there's kind of a group of people that are willing to get together and recreate together. It creates a healthier community.”

Some of the work they do involves hosting trail days, where community members come out and help update old trails. This can include things like moving big rocks, creating water drainage and adding in switchbacks. Grove said a lot of the old trails were built very steep, most of the time just the shortest way from point A to point B.

“Lots of people get hurt just coming down trails that are too steep and whether they step on a rock or rocks get loose because the trail’s eroding, so it's more fun, it's more accessible and it's safer for everybody,” Grove said.

Harrington, from the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation, said he is hoping to expand his office’s outreach to support efforts like the STA. He added that he plans to host listening sessions around the state this fall to identify how communities want to develop outdoor recreation.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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