Outdoor recreation could help diversify economy

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One of the most effective ways to help Powell and the Big Horn Basin — and Wyoming as a whole — diversify their economies might be right in front of everyone.

That theme was front and center when the Powell Economic Partnership held its monthly meeting Tuesday at the West Campus of Northwest College, as several speakers highlighted outdoor recreation as one way to reduce state and local reliance on oil and mineral revenues.

“I think one of the opportunities for Powell and Park County is definitely outdoor recreation, especially because it goes side-by-side with tourism,” said Christine Bekes, executive director of the Powell Economic Partnership. “Outdoor recreation and visitors and attracting those spending dollars [are important], but growing our businesses that then serve those visitors and our local communities is huge.”

“Of course, agriculture and oil and gas are very big for Park County, but outdoor recreation and tourism are right there with it,” Bekes added. “The attention the state is giving outdoor recreation and tourism right now is awesome.”

The fact that Ike Eastman of Powell chairs the Economically Needed Diversification Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) outdoor recreation committee “is truly representative of its significance here in Powell and the Basin,” Bekes said.

Eastman was one of those who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, along with fellow ENDOW Council member Scott Smith. Others included Keith McCallister, the associate professor of Health, Outdoor, and Physical Education at Northwest College and director of the DELTA Program and Ashley Rooney, supervisor for the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office in Cheyenne, which was created last fall. 

Eastman and Smith spoke on ENDOW’s outdoor-related projects, including plans to back three yet-to-be-announced projects that will be selected in July. The pair also spoke about the necessity of cooperation in joint efforts, or trying to avoid being “silos inside the pillars.”

McCallister spoke about NWC’s outdoor programs. The college offers an associate’s degree in outdoor education and recreation leadership that can transfer to other schools, and an associate’s in outdoor recreation leadership that students can take straight into the job sector. McCallister also highlighted the college’s outdoor-related certificate programs, including certifications in wilderness medicine, wilderness first aid and wilderness first responder.

Rooney highlighted outdoor recreation as a major part of tourism — the second-largest sector of the state’s economy.

“Wyoming has so many amazing spaces and places to offer,” Rooney said. “One of our goals is to make sure that people know that they can come here and [enjoy] all the different types of recreation opportunities that we have and all of the awesome resources we have that are available. We want people to come here to be able to recreate and spend some time in our state and our towns.”

One way that the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office wants to assist outdoor recreation is what it calls the SMAP, or Super Awesome Map — a web application that is a hub for outdoor recreation

“The purpose is to put recreation services, amenities and businesses into the website and have it be a one-stop shop basically to connect recreationists to all outdoor recreation opportunities in Wyoming,” Rooney said. “If somebody wants to go hiking in the northwest part of the state, they can type in ‘hiking’ and it will list all the cities nearby that have those opportunities. Not only does it list where you can go [and] what trailheads you can go to, it talks about the different retail stores like in Cody or Powell, it’ll talk about the different restaurants, the hotels — all those different amenities so that folks know that they can have a place to stay when they are recreating.”

Another method the state recreation office uses to assist the growth of outdoor recreation in Wyoming are collaborative districts. One currently includes Big Horn and Washakie counties — and a district for Powell and Cody could be next.

“At this point, I guess you could say it’s in the on-deck stage,” Rooney said of the Powell-Cody collaborative. “We don’t just come in ... and tell communities what they want. If there’s something that the community wants our help with, they come to us and say, ‘Yes, we would like to do something similar,’ and we’ll absolutely help out. But, it’s not driven by us; it’s driven by the communities.”

Despite being less than a year old, Rooney said that state office is already making headway in its mission.

“There’s a lot of things that we still have to do, but we are making progress and we’re moving forward,” Rooney said. “We’re working with our partners and we’re excited to see where things go.”

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