The mountains flanking the Flathead Valley will serve as a fitting backdrop for the upcoming Business of Outdoor Recreation Summit in Whitefish, a two-day extravaganza that draws together a who’s-who of outdoor-recreation advocates to discuss promoting and strengthening the economic activity it supports.
Gov. Steve Bullock announced Oct. 26 that the newly formed Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation, led by Whitefish native Rachel VandeVoort, would host the summit Dec. 4-5 in Whitefish at Grouse Mountain Lodge, where community members, conservation leaders, and recreation and conservation groups from Montana and the Greater Crown of the Continent, including Alberta and British Columbia, will converge to talk about a range of issues facing western landscapes and local economies.
The summit will center on a suite of topics, including: how to turn community vision into community planning; balancing infrastructure growth with sustainable long-term management and funding; project planning across multiple landowners and land manager; communicating outdoor recreation and conservation needs to local, state and federal elected officials; funding long-term operations and maintenance; and more.
The event will conclude with a fireside chat and film festival featuring Lisa Pike Sheehy, vice president of environmental activism for Patagonia; Michael Jamison, of the National Parks Conservation Association; and Ryan Thompson, tour director of the Fly Fishing Film Tour.
Bullock highlighted data published in a report by Headwaters Economics for the nonprofit Business for Montana’s Outdoors, which noted that some of Montana’s fastest-growing counties are also close to federally managed public lands. Between 2000 and 2015, five counties — Gallatin, Yellowstone, Missoula, Flathead, and Lewis and Clark — were responsible for 75 percent of the state’s job growth.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s most recent figures, outdoor recreation is now the largest sector of Montana’s economy, generating over $7 billion per year in consumer spending and supporting over 70,000 jobs that pay more than $2 billion worth of wages. Those figures don’t even account for indirect economic effects, such as the thousands of startups and small businesses that choose to locate here because of the state’s outdoor recreation opportunities.
In many ways, America is in the midst of an outdoor recreation renaissance, a trend driven by innovation, awareness and sheer growth in the number of people exploring nature.
“Outdoor recreation, especially on our public lands, is central to Montana’s economy and Montanans’ way of life,” Bullock stated in a press release announcing the summit. “We’ll be bringing folks together from all across the state to identify opportunities to further invest in our outdoors in order to keep our economy thriving and keep Montana the best place to live, work, play and raise a family.”
Bullock said he created the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation last year to capitalize on and grow the outdoor recreation economy in Montana.
The summit is made possible by sponsor REI Co-op and other businesses and organizations who are emphasizing the importance and value of outdoor recreation in the region.
“The Summit will unite our collective vision for conservation and outdoor recreation in the region,” Alan Myers-Davis, director of development for Whitefish Legacy Partners, said. “Sharing strategies to develop, fund, and maintain on-the-ground projects is invaluable to our quality of life and economic resilience. Help shape the future of our public lands and join the conversations December.”
Sheena Pate, project coordinator of the Crown of the Continent Geotourism Council, said the impact of outdoor recreation on western economies is undeniable.
“Not only is it consistently the top reason people choose to live and visit, but it has become a powerful tool in industry and employee recruitment and retention,” she said. “We’re bringing together diverse stakeholders to ensure the value of one of our leading economic drivers is understood, supported and planned for. Not just for the industry’s sake, but because we are all inherently tied to the health of the landscape.”
The Business of Outdoor Recreation Summit is also incorporating a competitive funding award program supporting Montana organizations with on-the-ground conservation and recreation projects. Six finalists will be selected and spotlighted at the Summit, where attendees will vote on two winning projects. Each winning organization will walk away with $5,000 to support their important work. Nominate a deserving organization.
To learn more about how to apply, visit http://business.mt.gov/Office-of-Outdoor-Recreation.
Tickets to the Dec. 5 public fireside chat and film festival, as well as the launch of the National Parks Conservation Association’s centennial, will go on sale Nov. 1.