Protecting our Pathways to Prosperity

By Beacon Staff

What is the Crown of the Continent and what is it worth?

Biologically speaking, the Crown is “18 million acres of alpine mountains, lush river booms, soaring forests, and rushing rivers.” It is a “remarkably diverse landscape” and “one of the world’s most biologically rich ecosystems,” stretching across Northwest Montana into Canada.

But maybe we already knew that. The Crown’s natural beauty is evident to anybody who bothers to look around. Yet perhaps less obvious is the economic value derived from that beauty. What is the worth of this diverse landscape we call home?

To help answer that question, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) recently published a report titled “Pathways to Prosperity: The Natural Roots of Economic Success in the Crown of the Continent.”

Based on months of research and interviews with business officials across the region, the report concludes that the Crown’s “unique appeal has emerged as one of our most important economic assets.”

“Our natural amenities and small-town character are every bit as critical to our economic future as are our roads, hospitals, schools and airports,” the report states, noting that the region’s “natural infrastructure” is in “high demand and limited supply.”

“It’s who we are, it’s how we make our living, and it’s our unique strength in today’s economy.”

Andrew Hagemeier with the NPCA’s Glacier Field Office in Whitefish was the lead researcher and writer on the Pathways to Prosperity project, though the publication has a long “special thanks” list. The list ranges from a Canadian economics professor to a lumber industry representative to the president of a tech company, who all discuss the Crown of the Continent’s value in the report.

In these “footloose” times, the report notes that “new technologies and global economic shifts have enabled employers, employees, and entrepreneurs to choose where to put down roots.” With this freedom of mobility, business owners and investors looking to relocate can place high priority on quality of life, which the Crown of the Continent offers.

But the qualities that make this region attractive, the report cautions, should not be taken for granted and must be protected: “Investments in our natural capital represent a down-payment on our shared economic future.”

“To fully capitalize on our exceptional lifestyle means maintaining and enhancing these invaluable assets – ensuring that our wildlands stay wild, our rivers flow clean, and our communities sustain their traditional roots even as we move into a new economy,” the report says.

“This is not a matter of implementing expensive economic development programs – this is simply safeguarding and leveraging the unique wealth we have inherited.”

For more information on the report, call (406) 862-6722.