With $14M, Wyo prepares to consider outdoor rec proposals

WYOMING -- With more than $14 million in federal stimulus and other monies earmarked for outdoor recreation, Wyoming is preparing to accept grant proposals for trail reroutes, new campsites, boat ramps and more.

The State Parks and Cultural Resources Department will oversee the work of reviewing applications and doling out funds. The flood of cash could have lasting economic impacts as it helps build out infrastructure ranging from trailhead parking lots to campground expansions, Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office Manager Patrick Harrington said. There is a lot of energy in the state for building outdoor recreation products, he said, both for the economic benefit and to handle growing visitation. 

“Everybody that’s in the outdoor recreation world in these communities has a pocket full of ideas,” he said. “All they’re really waiting on is one, the spark and then two, the funding.”

The state has $12 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to use for outdoor recreation purposes, along with $2 million from the Wyoming Office of Tourism. The two pots have different spending deadlines, so the state will employ a rolling application process, Harrington said. It hopes to open the first round in June. 

The general goal is to fund new outdoor recreation projects that respond to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and possess economic potential, Harrington said. A broad range of projects will be eligible, from kayak parks to motorized trails and boat ramps. 

“It could be corrals for equestrian use. Maybe it’s an ATV wash station to reduce impacts of invasive species at a trailhead,” he said.

The funds are open to water-based recreation; motorized, non-motorized and equestrian trails; camping on public lands; climbing infrastructure or area development; shooting ranges and other uses. “Really anything that allows people to access their outdoor opportunities better,” Harrington said. 

The department is not interested in funding planning, wayfinding (signage) without an associated project or purchasing equipment or real estate, Harrington said. Buy-in from local communities will give applicants a leg up, along with matching dollars. Organizations can apply for several projects, he said. 

2020 brought soaring visitation to Wyoming’s public lands as crowds flocked to the relative safety of outdoor destinations. While the influx helped cushion blows to the state’s other economic sectors, crowds also brought management issues as they jostled for camp sites, filled parking areas to capacity and overflowed onto dispersed areas. 

“We saw so many of our outdoor recreation venues, whether it be state parks or federal land, not overrun, but well loved during the pandemic,” Harrington said. 

He pointed to Curt Gowdy State Park, where visitation jumped from 220,000 in 2019 to 622,000 in 2020. 

“It’s extreme visitation,” Harrington said. “I think all land managers across the state, from Yellowstone to Johnny Behind the Rocks, understand that. There’s just an increased use out there.”

In light of the trend, he said, Wyoming can take two approaches.

“We can ostrich this thing and stick our head in the sand and keep saying, ‘we don’t want them here,’” he said. “But the reality is, they’re coming. And so the real solid approach is to get in front of it and build some resilient infrastructure that can not only be sustainable but can manage likely continually increasing visitation on these places.”

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