The state says more funding is needed for trails, but lawmakers say the price tag is too high
Outdoor recreation is booming in Wyoming and requests to build new trails often supersede available funds. A proposed bill would have put millions of dollars toward the effort, but lawmakers voted it down for fear of it being too much money.
House Bill 48 would have put $40 million from the state’s general fund into the accounts of the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the Department of Parks and Cultural Resources. The money was intended to build new pathways, including town sidewalks and biking trails. Ultimately, the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources committee narrowly voted down the proposed bill 5-4.
“I really dislike doing this but I will be a no vote on this bill – $40 million is a lot of money,” said Rep. Donald Burkhart (R-Rawlins).
Burkhart added that there are no user fees that could replenish the funds.
“There's no fees on bicycles or cross country skis, like there is on snowmobiles off road vehicles that pay for the maintenance and building of those trails,” he said. “Even hunting equipment, sporting goods equipment pays an 11 percent excise tax.”
But, those in support of the bill said trails promote tourism, which leads to dollars spent in communities. Just in 2021, outdoor recreation accounted for 3.5 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, which is more than other recreation havens like Colorado and Utah.
“In 2008, we had a visitation of 50,000 people at Curt Gowdy,” David Glenn, the Wyoming State Parks deputy director, said. “We started building trails there, and people came for the trails. We had 518,000 people [visit] last year – 60 percent of those people came for the trails.”
Aside from recreation, town pathways, like sidewalks, are in desperate need of updates and additions across the state, said Michael Kusiek, the executive director for Wyoming Pathways, which is a nonprofit that helps develop trails in Wyoming.
“A lot of that need – and a lot of towns have this problem – are incomplete sidewalks in neighborhoods,” Kusiek said. “We have a lot of kids who are going to school, they're walking on a sidewalk and they're jumping out in the snow lanes to finish their walk because we need to complete our sidewalks.”
Nevertheless, the majority of the lawmakers on the committee still felt reluctant because of the $40 million price tag on the bill. Rep. Cyrus Western (R-Big Horn) said it made him “nervous,” although he did express appreciation for the new trail system near Sheridan.
“They get heavily used by residents, by non residents. And it has been just a great impact and those kinds of aesthetic options for folks in my community,” Western said.
Before voting ‘no,’ Western suggested an amendment to put the $40 million in a state agency pool where it could generate a return of six percent. He ultimately did not offer up the amendment, as committee members suggested another proposed bill to create a state outdoor trust fund could fulfill a similar purpose. That bill will be introduced onto the House floor this week.