As the coronavirus pandemic continues to shift the economy while causing a significant rise in outdoor recreation, the 2020 Business of Outdoor Recreation Summit will focus on “building resiliency for the future,” with a virtual event on Tuesday, Oct. 13 through Thursday, Oct. 15.
While the inaugural summit saw an audience of 300 people in Whitefish two years ago, this year’s summit will be completely virtual with three days of live panels and workshops, guest speakers, webinars, podcasts, and a film festival in a collaboration with Crown of the Continent Geotourism Council and Montana Trails Coalition. Speakers include local state and federal recreation officials, nonprofit organizers, adventurers and more.
“Building resiliency into the future is always something we’ve talked about in recreation,” said Rachel Schmidt, director of the Governor’s Office of Outdoor Recreation. “With (recreation) users and that marriage of recreation and conservation … how do we make sure we have resiliency in our recreation opportunities?”
With an influx of people moving from high-density cities to small, outdoor towns with ample recreation opportunities, the summit is highlighting how these communities are dealing with the rise in recreation and access, and how it impacts infrastructure, wildlife and conservation.
“While COVID has been a game changer in a lot of ways, state parks visitation is off the chart and it’s been off the chart since April,” said Diane Conradi, founder and CEO of Montana Access Project and an attorney in Whitefish.
“The parks are starting to shut down for the season. They’re winterizing and turning off water and the parks are still full. We’re not seeing that slowdown that we normally see.”
Conradi says areas like Whitefish, which are attractive to remote workers, draw people looking for a higher quality of life and local communities are brainstorming ways to address the influx of “Zoomers” and the economic transition.
Conradi will serve as a moderator for the “Community Outdoor Recreation Realization” panel, collaborating with the Montana Access Project, the University of Montana and the Office of Outdoor Recreation. The panel will offer an overview on how to connect data and community needs and tourism funding.
“It’s a do-it-yourself tool for communities to start prioritizing recreation status and the future,” Conradi said.
Panelists will analyze which recreation opportunities specific communities want, how people access the outdoors and what entities manage those lands. These sorts of discussions provide a framework for establishing priorities for recreation investment, Conradi said.
While there are a few grant opportunities for recreation funding, Conradi says they are often competitive and scarce. The panel will cover different ways for funding projects when certain resources are unavailable.
“There’s a lot of communities interested in building their (recreation) economy but they’re not able to tap into resources,” Conradi said.
At the Office of Outdoor Recreation, Schmidt also says she focuses on removing barriers that prevent individuals and communities from using recreation and how to use public lands responsibly. With the increased use, many recreationists are first-time users.
“These are all good problems to have as long as we can address them,” Schmidt said. “There are people out there using our spaces and places that haven’t before. We clearly have identified that we have not been educating folks and a lot of the responsible ways of using our outdoors. All these things that we already know is not intuitive. I’m really highlighting how we communicate responsible use.”
Registration for the 2020 Business of Outdoor Recreation Summit closes Oct. 15. Attendees will have access to live and recorded panel sessions, podcasts, workshops, webinars, handouts and discussion forums. The virtual film festival is Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. F
or more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.