UW student Joseph Reinicke, and others in the university’s Outdoor Program’s Summer Outdoor Experience, climb at Vedauwoo last year. The university will offer a new degree in outdoor recreation and tourism management beginning in the fall. (UW photo)

Recreation is big business in Wyoming. Soon students here will be able to study the field with an eye toward working in and expanding the industry.

The University of Wyoming will offer a new degree, outdoor recreation and tourism management, starting this fall.

The UW Board of Trustees approved the new program Thursday. By 9:30 a.m. Monday UW had its first applicant said Dan McCoy, the degree coordinator at the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.

The new program is an interdisciplinary degree between the Haub School and the university’s business school. It is meant to help diversify the state’s economy, retain graduates and recruit students to Wyoming.

“There’s a big economic reason for creating this program,” McCoy said. “Not only is it a real economic driver, but it has potential for growth as well.”

The new program is one of only a few the university has added in recent years and it came together quickly, riding a wave of interest in expanding the state’s recreation economy, said Doug Wachob, director of academic programs at the Haub School.

He started creating the program in 2016. When Laurie Nichols took the helm as president of the university shortly after, she had a similar vision and lent her support. The venture also meshes with recommendations from the governor’s Outdoor Recreation Task Force to create opportunities for growth and improvement of the outdoor recreation industry in the state, McCoy said.

The degree is designed to prepare students for a growing national industry. In July, the Outdoor Industry Association reported that outdoor recreation generates $5.6 billion in annual consumer spending in the state, up more than $1 billion from four years earlier.

“This degree is riding a wave of increased interest in outdoor recreation across the country,” Wachob said.

Other colleges and universities offer degrees aimed at training students to work for municipal parks and recreation offices, or for agencies like the National Park Service, but Wyoming’s program focuses on the private sector.

“That’s where the job growth is,” Wachob said.

Before developing the curriculum, university staff surveyed employers across the state. Their feedback helped shape the program.

Businesses and organizations in Wyoming tend to be small.

“What that translates to is a broad-based need,” Wachob said. “Yeah, you are a marketing specialist, but you are going to be doing a lot of other things.”

Students will begin with a broad overview of the recreation and tourism industry and then pick concentrations to specialize in.

Business and hospitality management will prepare students that want to expand an existing business, or start their own in the recreation or hospitality industries.

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A focus in outdoor recreation leadership is for students who want to become hunting guides, or work for organizations like the National Outdoor Leadership School.

The cultural and international tourism concentration focuses on the experience of international tourists in the West and emphasizes language and cultural skills. Students might use the degree to work with tour companies, or at cultural centers like the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Study of the management of recreation resources will prepare students who want to work for agencies like the U.S. Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service, as well as private companies that operate dude ranches or ski areas, McCoy said.

The fifth concentration option, creative studies in recreation and tourism, is a self-designed program that allows students to customize their education.

The first two of 11 new classes in the program begin in the fall. They are Foundations of Recreation and Tourism and Cultural Resources of the West.

It is, to both McCoy and Wachob’s knowledge, a unique program. They hope it draws students from across the country.  

McCoy has already fielded inquiries from out-of-state students.

Dana Even, of Illinois, will be among the first students in the program. Even, an outdoor enthusiast who loves to hike and backpack, already planned to attend UW in the fall but was unsure what she’d study. When she heard about the new program, it seemed like a perfect fit. She thinks she wants to work one day with an outdoor- or recreation-focused nonprofit.

About 50 students are expected to enter the program in its first year.

UW is working with community colleges in Wyoming to ensure students who graduate with an associate’s degree can transfer credits to the bachelor’s degree program. A community college in Colorado has also reached out to the university to allow its students the same opportunity.

University staffers are trying to accommodate as many students who want to switch to the new program as possible. Some UW students asked to declare the major before it was approved — they were told they had to wait until it became official, McCoy said.

“We think we are going to be drawing from a pretty broad base from across a wide variety of disciplines,” Wachob said.

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. I am so happy to see this new degree program. I am a recent retiree from the U S Forest Service, I received a master’s degree in recreation planning, and was fortunate enough to work with the Agency for 25 years in that discipline. I was an anomaly, but I believe in including this profession in all discussions related to forest management.