An outdoor business owner from back East called Dave Glenn recently, explaining his hopes to relocate here.
The owner had pretty specific site requests: a boatable class II river, blue ribbon trout fishery and close proximity to an interstate.
Glenn, the deputy administrator of Wyoming’s new Outdoor Recreation office, listed some towns off the top of his head that fit the bill: Rock Springs, Green River, Saratoga, Casper.
“And then I said, ‘I have one more question: Do you want rainbow or brown (trout)?’” Glenn said, as a way to show Wyoming not only has outdoor amenities, but understands their greater importance to the economy.
That’s the niche the new office hopes to fill. Its charter is to help build and improve Wyoming’s outdoor recreation economy and infrastructure and promote Wyoming’s outdoor recreation inside and outside of the state.
Since it was formed by then-Gov. Matt Mead in November 2017, the new office has worked with communities across the state from Evanston to Sundance to help them more fully embrace Wyoming’s second-largest industry.
Leaders of the outdoor recreation office admit it is still in its infancy. It doesn’t have much for formal funding and functions under the umbrella of State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails, Glenn said.
“One of the recommendations was not to grow government,” Glenn said. “Gov. Mead looked at it and said, ‘This is a great idea. I appreciate it and will put it in state parks.’ It’s a really good place to have it because we have good resources, and we are outdoor recreation.”
Wyoming then became the sixth state to recognize the importance of outdoor recreation through a designated office. Utah is the oldest office, and it was formed in 2012.
The reason for a singular focus on improving Wyoming’s outdoor recreation economy is most often explained through numbers.
Outdoor recreation contributes $5.6 billion to the state each year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. It creates 50,000 direct jobs, supports $1.6 billion in wages and salaries and contributes $514 million in state and local tax revenue.
Promoting outdoor recreation outside of Wyoming, and helping communities build infrastructure they want, will create a snowball effect of more and more visitors, said Domenic Bravo, administrator of the Outdoor Recreation Office and State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails.
The office is also focused on improving access to public land, collaborating with local communities and building an outdoor recreation app that will create a one-stop shop for visitors and residents. The app will have specific information for activities from bird hunting to mountain biking, restaurants and camping. It should launch by 2020.
For Kristi Robison, the state office has been a guide to navigating the fuzzy complexities of creating outdoor infrastructure on public lands.
Robison is co-chair of the Big Horn Basin Outdoor Recreation Collaborative, a group of about 40 representatives from Big Horn Basin communities including Thermopolis, Shell, Ten Sleep and Worland. The group formed in October as a pilot project for the office — a way to see how the state could help communities outside of Wyoming’s classic tourist destinations like Jackson and even Cody.
While the group is still developing future projects, they have already made some progress, Robison said. The Hot City Alliance, the brainchild of the larger collaborative, will hold an outdoor day June 8. The inaugural event will be a celebration of all things Thermopolis including rock climbing, kayaking and fly fishing. The event will be a celebration of all things Thermopolis including hot springs, river rafting and dinosaur digs. The Hot City Alliance, a collaboration between the local chamber of commerce, city council, hotel and motel owners, and state and federal agencies that formed as part of the Big Horn Basin group.
But mostly representatives from the state have helped facilitate conversations between locals in the area and government land managers.
“It’s interesting to learn you can’t just grab a bunch of volunteers who want to play in the dirt and just go rehab a trail or build a new trail,” she said. “There may need to be cultural or environmental assessments. Our thinking has shifted from, ‘let’s go make new trails’ to ‘let’s see what’s on deck and maybe help get some things accomplished.’”
While Glenn and Bravo are quick to tout the office’s early successes, they also admit the limitations without additional funding. Utah’s office receives 30 cents from every $100 in lodging tax, for example. Colorado’s office receives a portion of proceeds from the state lottery.
The Wyoming Legislature considered earlier this year and ultimately voted down a bill to create a 5 percent lodging tax to promote tourism in the state.
“We are still working toward that, so when the community of Sundance wants to build a mountain bike trail, maybe there’s a pool of money brought in to help meet matching grants,” Glenn said. “We can continue to build outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the state.”
Once people are here, he said, the opportunities they find could help them stay longer.
“My mantra … is one more cheeseburger, one more night.”