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Wyoming is creating a trust fund to support a growing outdoor sector 

A horse and rider look at the mountains in western Wyoming.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media

Wyoming is eyeing outdoor recreation as a valuable asset to its economy, as a new law creates a trust fund for growing the industry.

In recent years, the outdoor recreation industry has blossomed in Wyoming. It accounts for 3.6 percent of the state’s economy – even higher than Colorado.

So to help meet that demand, Gov. Mark Gordon signed the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Trust Fund into law last week. It will start with $6 million that can go toward projects like new biking and hiking trails, campgrounds and even shooting ranges.

“We have seen a hunger for visitors to experience Wyoming’s mountains, rivers and trails. This trust fund has the potential to create new opportunities for small businesses, focus visitation towards appropriate locations and enhance the quality of life for all Wyoming residents,” Gordon said in a press release.

Representative Cyrus Western (R-Sheridan) helped craft the bill and said it will benefit locals too, not just tourists. He remembered when new trails were being built in Sheridan and he was skeptical.

“And I kind of said, “I don’t know how I feel about this, kind of want to keep the outsiders out,” and we built them anyway and I was really surprised they got a lot of resident use, a lot of local use,” Western said.

He added that drawing in younger people to live in communities is important to the state. Between 2014 and 2020 there was a six percent decrease in millennials living in the state, according to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. Western said that young people want access to trails and other outdoor opportunities.

“Those I think are things that can draw those folks in and really enhance that livability factor of our communities,” he said.

It is undeniable that the money will help build projects that will benefit tourists too. Through the hours of testimony about the bill during the session, there was concern about overcrowding Wyoming’s lands, as during COVID, the state saw a record number of visitors to its public lands.

Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, pointed out that building designated trails or facilities for visitors will minimize their environmental impact.

“There are plenty of opportunities to disperse visitors to lesser known areas, but you have to have something for them to do,” she said.

The specifics of how the money will be awarded are still being ironed out by lawmakers. Receiving the $6 million will likely be a very competitive process, as the Wyoming Office of Tourism had 117 groups apply for project funding just last year, totaling more than $71 million in requests. The applications were for $12 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding that came from federal pandemic-related funds. Notably, the department will receive another $12 million this year, too – that is on top of the $6 million in the new trust fund.

Some have noted that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department needs to be involved in the early stages of outdoor recreation projects to serve as a voice for wildlife.

The trust fund will be effective July 1.

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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