Over 999,000 readers this year!

Advocates hope to clear confusion around outdoor recreation funding bill

Student lobbyists worked to counter confusion about the bill in committee. They hope lawmakers get educated before they consider it on the Senate floor.

Trail crews build a bridge at Curt Gowdy State Park during the construction of trails at the park. (Courtesy Todd Thibodeau)

by Katie Klingsporn, WyoFile

An outdoor recreation funding bill sailed out of a Senate committee Tuesday after lawmakers and residents heaped praise on it. High school students, however, testified that several senators appeared initially confused about the bill — and they hope those lawmakers get up to speed before the full body considers it on the Senate floor. 

That task of educating senators could be the biggest hurdle remaining for House Bill 67 – Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Trust Fund Administration-2.

The bill would establish a nine-person board as well as rules for allocating grants from the trust fund that Gov. Mark Gordon signed into law in 2023. 

That fund already has $6 million to generate grants for trail building, camping infrastructure and other such developments. House Bill 67 would simply create the structure for how those funds get disbursed. 

High school student Sunday Schuh is with Cody Youth for Justice, a student group that travels to the Wyoming Legislature to lobby for bills, usually ones that impact youth. She told the committee she had encountered confusion about the facts around the bill, with senators thinking it would actually create a new trust fund and expand the government.  

“I just thought I’d come up and try and clear up some of the confusion that I encountered when I was talking to some of the senators yesterday,” she said. “I just wanted to address that the fund is already there. The money is already in there. … So I just thought I’d come and say what a great bill this is for diversifying Wyoming’s economy and for definitely increasing our recreation.”

The students hope to talk to every senator to help them understand what House Bill 67 does, she said. 

Sen. Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston) during the 2024 legislative session in Cheyenne. (Ashton Hacke/WyoFile)

“I appreciate you educating some of our senators because unfortunately, I think some of them maybe weren’t up to speed on the fact that [the trust fund] bill had already passed,” committee chair Sen. Wendy Schuler (R-Evanston) said. 

How it got here 

Heading into the session, the Legislature’s Joint Travel Committee sponsored an initial version of the bill, Senate File 40. A committee sponsorship is normally a signal that a bill will be prioritized during the session. Despite that, SF 40 failed introduction. 

However, Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody), the joint travel committee’s co-chair, had sponsored a mirror bill in the House as a backup measure. House Bill 67 passed the House easily and has now crossed over to the Senate for consideration. 

The bill would create a nine-member trust account board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, which would include resident representatives of Wyoming’s judicial districts. Wyoming’s Office of Outdoor Recreation manager would act as secretary. 

The board would consider grant applications, and may award funds under $200,000. Projects exceeding $200,000 would need approval from the Legislature’s Select Committee on Natural Resources. 

Grants could be for planning, design, construction and maintenance of outdoor recreational infrastructure, or for the acquisition of public access easements necessary to enhance outdoor recreational infrastructure. Eligible applicants would include municipalities, tribal governments and nonprofits.

A climber ascends a route in the popular Powers Wall zone of Tensleep Canyon in July 2022. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

The bill also creates a new biennial $6 million appropriation to the trust fund. 

On Wyoming’s terms

More people are coming to Wyoming to recreate, which gives the economy a boost but also creates concern about users trampling resources, disturbing wildlife or crowding favorite spots. 

“Our outdoor recreation economy in the state of Wyoming is the fourth-fastest growing in the country,” said State Parks & Cultural Resources Acting Director Dave Glenn. “The goal of this is to educate our visitors, disperse them in places where need be and concentrate them when need be.”

The program allows communities to tailor projects to their needs, said Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation Manager Patrick Harrington. “I think this is a good opportunity for Wyoming to grow Wyoming’s way,” he said. “It should be able to hit all of our communities big and small, help with those capacity issues in grant writing and really get that money out to the ground and where it’s most impactful.” 

House Bill 67 facilitates economic diversification, said Steff Kessler with the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Business Alliance. 

“We support this bill because it’s a tool for growth and it’s a tool for managing that growth,” she said. “We need investments in infrastructure to responsibly grow our outdoor recreation and to provide more economic opportunities and to support businesses and their growth … We want to ensure that these investments for infrastructure happen on Wyoming’s terms, and that’s what this bill does.”

Rebekah Burns of the Powell Chamber of Commerce said the bill represents a huge economic opportunity for her region. “This is not just a ‘hey, this is for outdoor rec and it’s a big quality of life and it encourages health and well-being.” All of those things are true, she said, but this bill also takes the long view.  

Supporters also included the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, Northern Arapaho Business Council, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Central Wyoming College, Wyoming Wildlife Federation and Brunton, a Riverton business. 

The Travel Committee unanimously advanced the bill. 

Speaking of growth 

A crowd waits with cameras at the ready for Old Faithful to erupt in May 2019. (Arthur T. LaBar/FlickrCC)

New national park visitation numbers show continuing outdoor recreation growth. Yellowstone National Park tallied more than 4.5 million visitations in 2023 — a 37% increase over 2022, according to the National Park Service. That visitation is just shy of the park’s biggest-ever year, 2021, when it recorded 4.8 million visits.

Grand Teton National Park hosted 3.4 million recreation visits in 2023 — a 22% increase from 2022. 

Both national parks saw visitation dip in 2022, a trend attributed to historic floods that temporarily closed much of Yellowstone.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.