Photographers set up equipment in the Honeycomb Buttes. The buttes are on land managed by the BLM’s Rock Springs Field Office which is currently revising its resource management plan. (Kathy Lichtendahl)

Hikers, bikers, campers and others participating in quiet, or non-motorized recreation, spent more than $27 million in southwest Wyoming in 2015, according to a new study conducted by ECONorthwest and commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Quiet recreation also provided 285 jobs and $12.4 million in personal income like wages, salaries and benefits.

The report looked specifically at Bureau of Land Management land in the Rock Springs district, which includes 3.6 million acres and crosses Fremont, Lincoln, Sublette, Sweetwater and Uinta counties. The area is home to the Northern Red Desert with its famous features like the Honeycomb Buttes and Killpecker Sand Dunes, as well as Adobe Town with its unusual geological formations. The study focused on types of recreation that don’t rely on motorized equipment such as snowmobiles or off-road vehicles.

The study is the first to look at quiet recreation on a local level, said Ken Rait, director of The Pew Charitable Trust’s western lands initiative. A similar study on quiet recreation was conducted on the national and statewide levels. Field offices have had information on recreation in general, but nothing specifically on non-motorized activity, Rait said.

The Rock Springs BLM field office is revising its resource management plan and Rait said he hopes the agency will use the data and consider the value of quiet recreation as it makes management decisions that will endure the next 15 to 20 years.

“In the past, it’s safe to say, these quiet recreationists have not been properly considered as the BLM has gone through its planning process,” Rait said. “These are important uses that a lot of people benefit from and economies benefit from in the local communities.”

Pew wants the agency to create a plan that balances conservation and development, he said.

The report showed that of 840,000 visits to land managed by the Rock Springs BLM field office in 2016, 483,000 were people participating in quiet recreation. Forty-eight percent of people recreating on the land camped, while 18 percent of people came to hunt, the second most popular activity. The next most popular recreation activities were off-road vehicles and driving.

Sara Domek hikes to the top of the Oregon Buttes. According to a new study, quiet recreation, like hiking, is an important economic driver for communities near public land in southwest Wyoming. (Nick Dobric)

Dave Hanks, CEO of the Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce, said the report provides important data and raises awareness about quiet recreation. He’s seen sports like stand-up paddleboarding growing, particularly at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, which was not part of the study, but illustrates the need for local businesses to rent gear like paddleboards or mountain bikes. These are services lacking in the area, Hanks said.

“A lot of travelers that come here aren’t prepared to access the hidden treasures of the area,” he said. “They don’t pack the equipment to do it. That’s the biggest gap out there I see in terms of expanding tourism and business.”

Hanks said he wished the study was larger and included all recreation. For example, he often rides his ATV to a spot where he then hikes. People often combine motorized and quiet recreation like this.

“Our public lands are multi-use,” he said. “One sport should not be exclusive of other activities. We should not be to the point where we are pitting quiet sports against all other activities out there.”

Julia Stuble, public lands advocate with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said she thought the study wasn’t meant to be exclusive, but instead provide previously unknown data on a specific type of recreation.

“Anybody recreating on public lands in any form is an important economic driver,” she said. “Getting granulated on this study only indicates that we didn’t know the exact breakdown with quiet recreation. It’s not an attempt to say this is the type of recreation we should prioritize. Anyone on public lands, using them responsibly and having a great time in the outdoors is a wonderful thing.”

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The report put numbers to what she said she already knew — quiet recreation is an important economic driver for communities near public lands.

She said this type of study can inform local decisions, such as the BLM’s resource management plan, by underlining the importance of quiet recreation. She wants the BLM to create a multi-use plan where development occurs in appropriate areas and other places are set aside for recreation — motorized and quiet, she said. “People using public lands is a fundamental part of being an American.”

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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