Wyoming’s natural landscapes, scenic vistas, pristine waters and abundant wildlife are second to none. Home to the world’s first national park, first national forest and first national monument, Wyoming has long been a pioneer of both conservation and recreation. The wonders of Yellowstone National Park are world renowned, but to confine yourself to national parks in Wyoming is to hardly scratch the surface of all that this wonderful state has to offer.
Of course, those of us blessed enough to call Wyoming home know this. More than 70 percent of Wyoming citizens recreate outdoors on a regular basis, with many newcomers migrating to the Cowboy State just to explore our mountains, waters and trails. Be it biking or boating, hunting or fishing, snowmobiling or skiing, the opportunities to enjoy Wyoming’s great outdoors know no bounds.
As you may know, last year Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, with support from the state Legislature, established the ENDOW initiative. ENDOW, which stands for Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming, is a public sector-supported, private sector-driven initiative to foster lasting economic growth and opportunity. ENDOW is an opportunity for Wyoming people to take the reins and realize a future where the state can prosper no matter the economic climate or the status of commodity prices.
This August, ENDOW will submit a comprehensive, 20-year economic diversification strategy that details next-generation opportunities, technologies or regulatory policies that could advance key economic subsectors including energy, agriculture, manufacturing, knowledge and creative, and tourism. While tourism is already the second biggest industry in Wyoming, the opportunities to grow this sector and create an even larger, more sustainable revenue source, job creator and quality of life enhancer are endless.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), outdoor recreation in Wyoming generates approximately $5.6 billion in annual consumer spending, $1.6 billion in wages and salaries, $514 million in state and local tax revenue and approximately 50,000 jobs. For every dollar spent directly on outdoor products, four dollars are spent on food, lodging and transportation.
While these numbers are encouraging, Wyoming can and should do more. Outdoor recreation generates roughly $887 billion in consumer spending in the United States annually. Wyoming’s share of this nearly trillion-dollar pie is a little over half of one percent. What’s more, Wyoming’s outdoor economy trails many of its neighboring states. With four full seasons of outdoor recreation opportunities, Wyoming is leaving potentially billions of dollars on the table.
In recent years, Wyoming has pushed forward several initiatives to examine how we can grow this segment of our economy. Last year, the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Task Force, a coalition assembled by Governor Matt Mead made up of 26 leaders from industry, conservation, user groups and local government, released a report detailing a variety of recommendations to strengthen the outdoor recreation economy. These include better coordinating the efforts of state agencies that play a role in outdoor recreation; incorporating the concepts of conservation, sustainability, and stewardship into all outdoor recreation planning and development; maintaining and improving access on private, public and state lands; and improving digital and physical infrastructure that connects Wyoming communities and local businesses.
In November of 2017, the Outdoor Recreation Office (ORO) was added to the Wyoming Division of State Parks and Historic Sites & Trails (WSPH&T), which works to provide exceptional cultural and natural resources to both citizens and visitors alike. This year they have set a mission for ORO to enhance and expand the outdoor recreation industry and improve outdoor recreation infrastructure and access within Wyoming. The ORO is focusing on collaborative efforts to allow for information sharing and locally based decision-making, special use permitting on public lands, and the ‘Super Awesome App/Map’—a one-stop-shop digital platform for everything outdoor recreation in Wyoming. There is currently an update to the State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) which should be released near the first of the year.
The benefits of growing our outdoor recreation industry go far beyond growing our local economies and creating jobs. Robust outdoor recreation opportunities help attract and retain people and businesses to our state; create livable communities and connect residents to the outdoors and each other; and engage citizens and visitors in conserving natural landscapes and resources. Outdoor opportunities are particularly appealing to young people, both our kids and grandkids we want to keep in Wyoming and the young workforce we want to attract.
When it comes to growing the outdoor recreation economy in Wyoming, the sky isn’t even a limit. ENDOW, together with the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation, is working to chart a bold course forward for our outdoor industry that taps into the resources, opportunities and active culture we are so fortunate to have. While there is no silver bullet for diversifying Wyoming’s economy for the long term, tourism and outdoor recreation present a natural opportunity to capitalize on our assets to pioneer new industries and technologies, create jobs and increase local and state revenues.