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Outdoor recreation is booming in Wyoming so the state is planning accordingly 

A pair of skis stand upright in the snow with a stormy sky and mountain range in the distance.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media

Wyoming’s outdoor recreation industry is the fourth fastest growing in the country, and the state is grappling with how to continue it thoughtfully.

The outdoor recreation economy was a two billion dollar industry in Wyoming last year, according to the new report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The year before it was half a billion less.

Patrick Harrington, manager of Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, said the growth is really exciting.

“If you remember back, 2022 was the year of the catastrophic flooding in Yellowstone,” Harrington said. “I don't know that we expected to see such high (recreation) numbers. And so we were very pleasantly surprised.”

Some of the top activities included RVing, hunting, skiing, ATVing, but Harrington said there were newer additions too.

“Things like the Backcountry Discovery Route that goes out across Wyoming for dual sport motorcycles,” he said. “That was a new addition during this timeframe and into Wyoming's recreation scene.”

Harrington said he’s aware that many Wyomingites have their secret outdoor spots that they don’t want to see blown up – he does too.

“I grew up in the state,” he said. “There have been Fourth of July's where I've fished the North Platte River and not seen another person. And I think there's a fear that that's going away.”

Harrington said his office has local collaboratives spread out throughout the state that work on tackling how to develop outdoor recreation mindfully in their communities.

To help with that, something his office emphasizes is “educate, disperse and concentrate.” So, Harrington said that can mean educating users on how to take care of the outdoors, “whether that means lowering their impact or being prepared, so that they don't need search and rescue.” The dispersed component means bringing outdoor users to communities that could economically benefit from visitors. And the concentrating visitors part is about putting them on land that can sustain higher traffic.

“Maybe it's a trail system 10 minutes from town that really pulls both visitors and community members – those every day run of the mill hikers or families pushing strollers, it really pulls those in,” Harrington said. “But if you want that super fast mountain bike lane, that exists just maybe a few more miles into the woods. And so there's opportunities for everyone.”

Based on the growth of the industry, Harrington said people are coming to the state one way or another. So, it’s important to get ahead of it and plan accordingly, like some of the local collaboratives are already doing. He added that during the upcoming legislative session more funding might be provided for more of these types of projects.

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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