THE BUZZ 3: Rec Rookies
Teton County receives little representation in state’s new outdoor recreation task force.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – Although Jackson Hole is a nexus of outdoor recreation, only two people will represent Teton County in the state’s new 26-person Outdoor Recreation Task Force.
Members of the task force—Cheyenne has 10 reps, Cody and Lander each have four—assert representation is diverse and in line with their goal: to promote outdoor recreation and use it as a revenue driver for Wyoming. But some worry Teton County is being denied a huge opportunity to share its expertise and receive important support for the valley’s outdoor industry.
Seizing an opportunity
The task force is part of Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming—an effort to diversify Wyoming’s economy beyond fossil fuels. Governor Matt Mead signed the ENDOW bill into law in March.
Approximately 20 people showed up to a task force listening session last week at the Teton County building. People in the audience represented diverse sectors of outdoor recreation. Folks like local snowboard manufacturer Mikey Franco, whose company Franco Snowshapes is testament to the variety of industries beyond tourism and service that could benefit from increased state support.
Franco was inspired to attend the session after a conversation he had with friends of Sego Ski Company in Victor.
Idaho, his friends told him, is a great place to run a business. State and local government supported Sego during its move, and incentivized it to relocate to Idaho. They suggested Franco move his shop over the hill from its location in Teton Village.
But Franco doesn’t want to move—he’s lived in Jackson Hole for 27 years, though he wonders when Wyoming will offer him the same support.
He thinks government support for small business would ultimately benefit the state’s economy, and put it on the map as a real outdoor recreation hot spot.
“[Wyoming’s outdoor industry] is entirely dominated by the service side,” Franco said. But the industry is bigger than that, and manufacturing business could be a real economic driver. Rather than outsourcing, Franco wants people to recognize “how many parts go into a ski or snowboard that could be manufactured in Wyoming. It could be much bigger.”
Franco’s chief concern about the task force is that the rest of the state won’t take people from Teton County seriously. “I worry that things we may ask for, we’ll get penalized for because we live in the wealthiest county in America,” he said. “Because we’re not agriculture, people will look at us like, ‘Why do you guys need money?’” Franco wants the rest of the state to see Teton County as a learning opportunity, a “resource of knowledge and experience and wisdom.”
When asked about geographic representation on the task force, Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources director Darin Westby pointed to the underappreciated recreation opportunities in other parts of the state. He said his department, which directs the task force, is not trying to draw attention away from Teton County, but examine other areas of potential. “There are underutilized locations in Wyoming that could be discussed in local communities,” he said. “Let’s create a handful of pilot communities to focus planning efforts and potentially seed money to do different things.”
Shifting the focus from public lands?
Wyoming trails its neighbors in outdoor recreation revenue. The Outdoor Industry Association evaluated the economic impact of outdoor recreation per state. Economic impact in Wyoming was $4.5 billion, while Nebraska’s economic impact was $4.7 billion. Colorado’s impact was the largest at $13.2 billion. Of all the Western states, the economic impact of outdoor recreation in Wyoming was among the lowest.
It is hard to deny Jackson Hole’s economic role in outdoor recreation revenue in the state. Grand Teton National Park released a report noting visitors to Grand Teton alone spent an estimated $560 million in local gateway communities. The ripple effects of that spending, the report noted, had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of more than $728 million, supporting 8,862 jobs in nearby communities.
Rob Parkins is involved with a handful of hunting and fishing groups, including Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He said he is certain that outdoor recreation in Teton County, specifically in the hook and bullet sphere, outweighs the rest of the state. Omitting those voices, he said, stands to directly impact the fly-fishing community and the spaces it occupies, both from a conservation standpoint and an economic one.
“It sounds bizarre that Teton County is not a part of [the task force], he said. He speculates that the reason is to shift focus away from federal lands and toward state parks—a sentiment Teton County residents echoed at the listening session.
“There’s significant acreage in Wyoming state lands,” said resident Tim Young. “We can’t just look at public lands, but also at communities.”
Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are not the only recreation areas in Wyoming but they do account for almost all visits tallied last year.
Of the 7.32 million park visits in 2016, 4.2 million were to Yellowstone, and 3.1 million were to Grand Teton National Park, according to a Wyoming Economic Indicator Report. This number also accounted for visits to Devils Tower, Fossil Buttes National Monument, and Big Horn Recreation Area, but those visits hardly made a dent.
Who has a seat at the table?
Mead announced his support of the Outdoor Recreation Task Force at the opening of the SHIFT conference last fall. Out of more than 200 applicants, 26 made the cut. The goal, Westby said, was to create a group of people who could each “represent a specific constituent group.”
“We tried to find people that would work well on the task force but would also have multiple constituent bases. Westby pointed to Lee Livingston, of Cody, as a prime example. As a county commissioner and an outfitter, Livingston wears at least two hats at every meeting.
State Parks director Domenic Bravo said that Teton County’s representation, or lack thereof, is mostly “just a matter of how folks applied.”
“There really weren’t a lot of other folks from Jackson,” he said. “Some mountain guides and other folks that are very important, but not a lot of manufacturers.”
But Parkins said he’d be surprised if more Teton County residents opted out of involvement. He knows one person who applied as a conservation leader and never heard back.
“I don’t know why Teton County would not want to be part of it,” he said. Parkins buys the outdoor gear for JD High Country Outfitters, and is also on the advisory board for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
Teton County’s two representatives are Tricia O’Connor from Bridger Teton National Forest and Melissa Turley, executive director of Teton Village Association. Turley said her contribution on the task force is to help determine how the resort brand “can be good partners with the rest of the state so that our visitors are taking the time to really enjoy other outdoor recreational resources.”
That the two representatives for Teton County do not represent small businesses (along with several other spheres), however, is a concern to people like Franco who have the most to lose. Franco is already looking at moving parts of his operation out of state, but says he does not want to sacrifice control of his product.
Jerimiah Rieman, director of Economic Diversification Strategy and Initiatives, the branch of Mead’s office responsible for ENDOW, was not available to comment on ENDOW. He was traveling to Japan for a meeting about selling coal, according to an office staff member. PJH