Sara Domek walks in the Oregon Buttes Wilderness Study Area in Sweetwater County. A new study looks at the economic impact of non-motorized activities like hiking, on BLM land. (Nick Dobric)

Quiet, non-motorized recreation such as climbing, hiking and biking on federal Bureau of Land Management property, supports more than 1,000 jobs and brings in more than $112 million annually to Wyoming, according to a new peer-reviewed study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The report, produced by the economic consulting firm ECONorthwest, looked at non-motorized recreation on BLM land in 11 western states, including Wyoming. The study didn’t exclude visits using motorized access to and from the recreation site, but did try to eliminate mixed-use visits, like hunting trips, where people drove instead of hiked.

The study is the first to look specifically at “quiet” recreation, said Ken Rait, director of the U.S. Public Lands Initiative at Pew.

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The BLM manages almost 250 million acres of land ranging from arboreal forests to desert. These lands are “treasure troves” for those wanting to drill, mine and graze, Rait said. “But very little thought and attention has been given to the other values that these lands contain.”

The goal of the study was first to find out what impact non-motorized activities have on the economy, and use that information to make sure those land values are adequately represented in how the agency manages the land. It’s not about eliminating other uses, but making sure options for quiet activities exist, Rait said, by protecting wilderness or backcountry characteristics in some areas.

The study looked at how many dollars were spent within 50 miles of recreation sites.

“These types of lands are generally far enough from towns that the connection between their visitors and local businesses hasn’t always been obvious,” said Julia Stuble, a public lands advocate with the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “If a tourist comes to Wyoming to mountain bike and climb, are they stopping and shopping? This demonstrates, yes they are stopping and getting groceries and fuel and supplies.”

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According to the report, in 2014, visitors making such trips spent about $102 million in Wyoming. “That really hits home for Lander,” said Stuble. People travel to her hometown’s area to mountain bike at Johnny Behind the Rocks and to hike the Oregon Trail.

In recent years the BLM has started factoring in soundscapes and views of the night sky, when managing for different types of recreation. (Josh Milek)
In recent years the BLM has started factoring in soundscapes and views of the night sky, when managing for different types of recreation. (Josh Milek)

Stuble doesn’t discount the importance of motorized recreation on BLM land. This study is just a granular look at specific types of recreation, she said. The data didn’t surprise her. She suspected non-motorized recreation had a big impact on the economy, the survey now provides the data to prove it.

The BLM should manage for multi-use, in Stuble’s opinion, but she hopes the report is a reminder that quiet recreation is important and sometimes not compatible with other uses. “You can’t have every use on every acre.”

She pointed to the Lander BLM field office as an example of managing effectively for different recreation interests. It recognized non-motorized recreation’s value and built infrastructure, such as trails for mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding, she said.

These types of peer-reviewed studies can influence land management, said Rick Vander Voet, field manager at the Lander BLM office. Vander Voet said he is interested in the findings because the data doesn’t exist elsewhere.

“While the economic benefits are important, it’s also important for us to look at the social and psychological benefits of recreation on public land as well,” he said.

Only in the last couple of decades has the agency started considering things such as soundscapes and the view of the night sky, and the role they play in certain types of recreation experiences.

“We want every opportunity to be quality,” Vander Voet said.

Managing land for different recreational interests is not new for the BLM. It frequently must try to balance motorized and non-motorized uses. It’s not always about separating activities. Sometimes managing expectations and letting visitors know who they will share an area with is all that’s necessary. But it’s also important to offer options for people who want an experience in a wild viewshed or soundscape, he said.

More than half of visitors to BLM land seek quiet recreation, according to the study. In Wyoming, 64 percent of the total visitor days in 2014 on BLM lands were for quiet recreation.

BLM land lures people who want a more primitive experience, said John Sterling, executive director of the Conservation Alliance, a consortium of outdoor businesses prioritizing conservation.

“They are the last lands to be explored,” he said. “They represent the future of outdoor recreation on our federal lands.”

 new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows the value of quiet recreation, like camping in the Ferris Mountains in Carbon County, on local economies. (Josh Milek)
A new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows the value of quiet recreation, like camping in the Ferris Mountains in Carbon County, on local economies. (Josh Milek)

Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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  1. Kind of ironic this article comes up with the wolverine issue as this report will be mute if the wolverine is listed as threatened as all land the quite wolverine romps in will get REALLY quite as NO man will ever be able to tread quietly due to the wolverines habitat as we are all told the two cannot inhabit the same area at the same time.

    So there goes the 112 million the tourists bring as all land will be posted “NO Trespassing” !

  2. The BLM Wilderness Study Areas and lands with wilderness characteristics, at most just 4% of Wyoming’s BLM surface acres, represent the last vestige of our truly quiet landscapes. Quiet and the accompanying opportunity from solitude can provide a unique experience for the Wildlands visitor.

    The absence of unexpected noise in the unexpected moment Is enormously beneficial a while for their security and communication. Finding a mate or young has to be much harder and lessen survivability with high background noise and harmonics that can mimic audible normal communication.

    I wonder how many readers had to put their skin-suit back on after having their sagebrush peace torn by the bark of a Gasso motor firing off to power a pump jack near a remote oilfield? Oddly the memory of the experience staking uranium claims many years ago still brings a smile on my face. The shots were either mistaken for everything to a vehicle breakdown to early season Pronghorn hunters in the Powder Basin. The experience of having a long stalk during a hunt or photo shoot broken up by an ATV off road with some aftermarket howler of an exhaust pipe is not so humorous. Quiet sells and Wyoming can have much to offer if we can be good stewards.