SHERIDAN — A recent scorecard administered by the Center for American Progress, a policy institute based in Washington, D.C., gave Wyoming a D grade for outdoor recreation.
While Wyoming has some work to do when it comes to its recreation economy, some say because the scorecard focused on policy and failed to include efforts made by volunteers and entities not funded by the state, the grade should be much higher.
The scorecard was released in late September and included 11 western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
It scored each state based on public lands recognition, outdoor recreation funding, access and getting youth outdoors. Overall, Montana scored the highest with a score of 19 and grade of A. Wyoming, Arizona and Utah were the three lowest with scores of 5, 0, and -20, respectively.
In the four categories, Wyoming scored the lowest in public lands recognition (-6), which focuses on policy, because of its six public land sell-off bills in the past two years.
State Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said too much emphasis was put on the bills introductions, and not enough was put on whether or not the bills were passed.
The only bill that didn’t die after being introduced was Senate Bill 169, which reduced the size of migratory bird refuge in Lincoln County and was passed in March.
“All it takes to introduce a bill is paper and a couple signatures, doesn’t mean that the idea is going to go anywhere, and in fact it didn’t go anywhere,” Kinskey said. “And so the legislative process worked, that’s what it means.”
Wyoming has also shown initiative in improving its recreation economy through the creation of Gov. Matt Mead’s Outdoor Recreation Task Force in 2016.
Antelope Butte Foundation board president and Outdoor Recreation Task Force representative Mark Weitz said issues the scorecard focused on are exactly what the task force was created to solve.
Weitz said three key issues surfaced to form recommendations around: access, education and state infrastructure.
Access, he said, wasn’t just about making every trailhead accessible or more trailheads accessible, it was about purpose built amenities for the different kinds of access users want. This means having trails specifically for non-motorized and motorized users, for example.
“It’s not like we want to be exclusive to one another, but when you have different user groups trying to overlap there can be conflict,” Weitz said.
Access also includes having one place for information and finding solutions to facilitate access where there might be a private land owner between users and public land. One idea for that is an easement where the state could collect fees and provide a way to a trailhead that would protect the landowner.
Education involves teaching students, educators and business owners the value of outdoor recreation for health, economic or other reasons.
Weitz said infrastructure referred to having the different organizations statewide, like Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources, Office of Tourism, Wyoming Business Council and local entities like Sheridan Travel and Tourism, work together toward a common goal.
“Even though each of them are doing great jobs, it’s not highly integrated,” Weitz said. “So there’s not kind of a one stop shop, one place that you go to.”
The scorecard also doesn’t take into account efforts made outside of state-funded programs and policy, like volunteer groups and local events.
Kinskey said Sheridan is heading in the right direction, creating opportunities to get youth involved, like with hunter safety classes, which are run by volunteers and have an emphasis on young hunters. The Ranch at Ucross also hosts the Women’s Antelope Hunt annually, and then there’s the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail Run, which brings in runners from all over the state and several countries.
The Sport Stop manager Michelle Powers Maneval said while the run itself is at capacity and can’t be expanded, they’re looking to amp up the awareness and impact of the run to make it more of a vacation for the whole family, not just an event for runners.
Maneval said they’re looking at offering guided tours of parts of the course in the weeks before race day, including more social events, partnering with other businesses and incorporating more events and resources for runners’ families.
Expanding the marketing and events in the days surrounding the run could bring in dollars not only for hotels, eateries and downtown shops, but also for health and wellness businesses such as yoga studios and massage parlors.
While report cards like this fail to highlight local efforts, it can serve as a guiding light to where opportunities exist for the state to grow, and Wyoming is already taking those steps.
“I think what we all recognize is there’s a ton of potential,” Weitz said. “And maybe because our canvas is not so cluttered…maybe we can do it a little more on our own terms and do it a little better.”