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State looks to invest in outdoor recreation


Aedan Hannon with the Casper Star-Tribune, via the Wyoming News Exchange

CASPER —Outdoor recreation and tourism are critical economic drivers for many Wyoming communities. In 2021, the outdoor recreation industry contributed $1.5 billion to Wyoming’s economy, accounting for 3.6% of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation.

Both figures continue to grow, leading lawmakers to look for ways to support the industry. Now, they have seemingly found a lasting and sustainable solution.

The Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee advanced a bill Tuesday morning that would create a trust fund to permanently finance the maintenance and creation of outdoor recreation infrastructure.

The new trust fund would form the backbone for investment in outdoor recreation in Wyoming, using state and federal money and private donations to award grants to local governments and other organizations to improve and develop trails, recreation facilities and even purchase public access easements.

The trust fund will now go before the Senate in what could be its final step before heading to Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk.

Lawmakers and those who spoke at Tuesday’s committee hearing on the bill said the trust fund stands to benefit Wyoming residents for generations.

“Our young people – our Millennials and Gen Xers – they like this kind of stuff,” said Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, the chairwoman of the Senate committee. “If they’re going to go to small town Wyoming because this is where a job is, they want to be able to recreate.

“Whether it’s bike trails, ATVs, horse trails or whatever it is, they want these amenities,” Schuler said. “I think that’s an important thing to talk about. [It’s] not just our locals that have lived here all our whole lives, but to try and get our young folks back in the state and make them a part of what we’re doing.”

The trust fund would support outdoor recreation projects using the income it generates.

An earlier version of the bill called for 5% of the state sales and use tax allocated to the general fund to go to the new trust fund until it reached $50 million or until July 2026.

The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee sponsored the bill.

The goal was to have the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources Commission award $2 million to projects each year with another $500,000 supporting the administration of the fund, Darin Westby, the director of the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources, told the committee.

However, the House cut the use of state sales and use taxes. In its place, lawmakers earmarked $6 million every two years from Wyoming tourism reserves to support the fund. With the changes, Westby said it would take time for the trust fund to build income, and in the meantime, the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources would distribute what it could toward outdoor recreation projects.

“We won’t be granting $2 million a year. We’ll be granting what we can,” he said.

The Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources Commission would oversee the trust fund and report to the governor and Legislature. Any projects costing more than $250,000 would require approval from the Legislature.

Those who receive the grants must also consult with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The bill broadly defines outdoor infrastructure as “facilities and installations needed for the public to access and enjoy Wyoming’s outdoors.” Those who helped to draft the bill did so on purpose, said Dave Glenn, deputy director of Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails and the head of the Outdoor Recreation Office.

“A lot of times people think, ‘Oh, we’re just going to build more mountain bike trails or more trails,” Glenn said. “That’s part of it, but I would throw out [that] if the community of Rock Springs wants to build an off-road vehicle park, it could be funded through this.”

Expanding campgrounds or developing shooting ranges could also fall under the program, he said.

“We made it as broad as possible so communities could build what they would like in their area,” Glenn said.

All of those who spoke before the committee supported the creation of an outdoor recreation trust. They highlighted the economic benefits, the importance of partnering with local communities and the significance of permanent and sustainable funding for outdoor recreation in Wyoming.

Glenn said that the trust fund would not only benefit the residents of the state, but also wildlife.

“We have the ability to control our outdoor recreation in the state of Wyoming right now,” he said. “We can do that through educating people, dispersing them in certain places and then concentrating them at times. When we talk about critical deer winter range or sage grouse habitat or migration corridors, this is exactly what this trust fund will help us do.

“That’s the whole idea of this, is steering these people to the places we want them versus just letting them parachute in and go where they want to,” Glenn said.

Though everyone at the hearing spoke in support, Sen. Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer, said the committee had received emails opposing the trust fund and questioning government spending.

But he argued that creating the trust fund would be money well spent.

“It’s an investment in the state, and I think that’s important,” Baldwin said. “We shouldn’t just spend money anywhere and everywhere, but we need to invest in our state because it’s going to make a difference to what’s here for us, for our kids and for our grandkids.”

This story was published on Feb. 22, 2023.

The Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee advanced a bill Tuesday morning that would create a trust fund to permanently finance the maintenance and creation of outdoor recreation infrastructure.


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Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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