Crew member Mason Johnsonvincent works with hand tools to clear a new segment of the Continental Divide Trail. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

With more than $14 million in federal stimulus and other monies earmarked for outdoor recreation, Wyoming is preparing to accept grant proposals for trail reroutes, new campsites, boat ramps and more.

The State Parks and Cultural Resources Department will oversee the work of reviewing applications and doling out funds. The flood of cash could have lasting economic impacts as it helps build out infrastructure ranging from trailhead parking lots to campground expansions, Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office Manager Patrick Harrington said. There is a lot of energy in the state for building outdoor recreation products, he said, both for the economic benefit and to handle growing visitation

“Everybody that’s in the outdoor recreation world in these communities has a pocket full of ideas,” he said. “All they’re really waiting on is one, the spark and then two, the funding.”

What’s eligible

The state has $12 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to use for outdoor recreation purposes, along with $2 million from the Wyoming Office of Tourism. The two pots have different spending deadlines, so the state will employ a rolling application process, Harrington said. It hopes to open the first round in June. 

The general goal is to fund new outdoor recreation projects that respond to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and possess economic potential, Harrington said. A broad range of projects will be eligible, from kayak parks to motorized trails and boat ramps. 

An RV in Sawmill campground in Sinks Canyon State Park. Almost 700,000 people visited the state park in 2020. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

“It could be corrals for equestrian use. Maybe it’s an ATV wash station to reduce impacts of invasive species at a trailhead,” he said.

The funds are open to water-based recreation; motorized, non-motorized and equestrian trails; camping on public lands; climbing infrastructure or area development; shooting ranges and other uses. “Really anything that allows people to access their outdoor opportunities better,” Harrington said. 

The department is not interested in funding planning, wayfinding (signage) without an associated project or purchasing equipment or real estate, Harrington said. Buy-in from local communities will give applicants a leg up, along with matching dollars. Organizations can apply for several projects, he said. 

Visitation trends

2020 brought soaring visitation to Wyoming’s public lands as crowds flocked to the relative safety of outdoor destinations. While the influx helped cushion blows to the state’s other economic sectors, crowds also brought management issues as they jostled for camp sites, filled parking areas to capacity and overflowed onto dispersed areas. 

“We saw so many of our outdoor recreation venues, whether it be state parks or federal land, not overrun, but well loved during the pandemic,” Harrington said. 

He pointed to Curt Gowdy State Park, where visitation jumped from 220,000 in 2019 to 622,000 in 2020. 

“It’s extreme visitation,” Harrington said. “I think all land managers across the state, from Yellowstone to Johnny Behind the Rocks, understand that. There’s just an increased use out there.”

In light of the trend, he said, Wyoming can take two approaches.

“We can ostrich this thing and stick our head in the sand and keep saying, ‘we don’t want them here,’” he said. “But the reality is, they’re coming. And so the real solid approach is to get in front of it and build some resilient infrastructure that can not only be sustainable but can manage likely continually increasing visitation on these places.”

Katie Klingsporn

Katie Klingsporn is WyoFile's managing editor. She is a journalist and word geek who has been writing about life in the West for 15 years. Her pieces have appeared in Adventure Journal, National Geographic...

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  1. Bob, environmental review is merely a mask used to conceal white liberal Nimbyism.

    No? What does the bumper sticker on your gas guzzler say?

  2. How about buying a half mile of access across Governor Gordons ranch in Johnson County. It would give access to North Fork Wilderness Study Area, over twenty thousand acers of land locked public land with six miles of blue ribbon trout stream. The BLM hasn’t been allowed access in thirty years(told to me by more than one BLM employee).

  3. The issue is certainly not about sticking your head in the sand but more about adequate environmental review and public input before development.

    1. Bob,
      I’m not certain State Parks and Cultural Resources, (SPCR) will complete a NEPA type review, they will likely pass that task off to the land management agency, who owns the ground.
      My guess, they will only accept shovel ready projects in order to spend the cash.
      We will see what level of public involvement is announced.
      If Past planning efforts are indicative of this round of handouts from the Administration, there will not be adequate public involvement.

  4. Katie,
    How well is all this going to neighbor with wildlife and fish habitat?