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Wyoming projects outdoor tourism to continue to grow

A man backcountry skiing in western Wyoming.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
Backcountry skiing is a growing sport in outdoor recreation in Wyoming.

Outdoor recreation remains a steady part of Wyoming’s economy, according to a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, and some speculate it will continue to grow.

Outdoor recreation like hiking, biking or skiing accounted for 3.5 percent of Wyoming’s gross domestic product in 2021, which is more than recreation havens like Colorado and Utah, which were less than 3 percent.

Patrick Harrington, the manager of Wyoming’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, said the state has what it takes to build the industry.

“We got big mountains and trout rivers and all the good stuff that it takes,” Harrington said. “And maybe more important than anything, we've got solitude in Wyoming. And I think those are just the makings of a big and robust outdoor recreation economy.”

Harrington said his goal is to grow the industry thoughtfully across the state, while still taking into account what each community wants. He added that preserving solitude is key.

“If we sweep out the feet of this solitude, and every time you park at your favorite fishing access, there's a dozen cars with out-of-state plates in the parking lot, I don't think we've done our job well,” Harrington said.

In order to do the job well, Harrington said he follows ‘EDC’ which stands for educate, disperse and concentrate.

“We educate users to disperse them across areas of the state that may not have visitation in a way that is the Yellowstone, Grand Teton extreme levels of visitation,” he said. “ And then we concentrate them, and that concentration is a really important piece of this because that's putting people into landscapes and outdoor recreation opportunities that can handle an increase in visitation.”

His office recently created seven outdoor recreation collaboratives across the state to identify what growth is best for each region.

In southwest Wyoming, Harrington said the Off-road Trails project is a good example. It connects towns through ATV trails that can be used by locals, but also by tourists.

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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