By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor
BOZEMAN – A journey through Gallatin Canyon on most summer days reveals a river lined with fishermen, helmet-wearing adventurers bounding rapids in rafts and kayaks, and turnouts and trailheads full of vehicles registered to nature lovers.
Recreation is becoming the heart and soul of many a town in the Greater Yellowstone. But more people playing in the forests and on the trails also puts a strain on the very lands we enjoy.
“The Greater Yellowstone is becoming a more popular place to visit, live and play,” said Brooke Regan, special projects organizer for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a Bozeman conservation group dedicated to protecting the lands, waters and wildlife of our region.
In recent months, Regan has worked to inventory recreation in the Greater Yellowstone and is surprised by how little actual information exists.
“There’s just not a lot of data on recreational use, so we don’t know what’s going on,” she said, adding that despite maps of trail systems and access points, no one really knows the intensity of recreation and the types of recreation going on. This becomes a problem, she said, when trying to assess the impacts of our presence on the land.
In light of this, the coalition will host a two-day symposium on April 23-24 in partnership with Montana State University, that will consider the role recreation plays in the Greater Yellowstone.
“We all care about our public land but we need a vision that will balance our recreation with the health of the ecosystem,” Regan said.
The symposium, “Our Shared Place: The Present and Future of Recreation in Greater Yellowstone,” will be held in MSU’s Strand Union Building Ballrooms. Representatives from the outdoor industry, as well as land managers, scientists and recreationists will have the opportunity to share and discuss their various perspectives.
Key speakers include Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk; environmental historian and MSU’s Wallace Stegner Chair in Western American Studies, Mark Fiege; Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics; and Rachel VandeVoort, director of the new Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will give a special keynote address.
Nicol Rae, dean of MSU’s College of Letters and Science, said he is excited the symposium will be offered at the university, which has a mission as a land-grant college to engage the community. Students are encouraged to attend and will be admitted for free.
“Our students are attracted here because of the opportunity for recreation, so I think these issues are very important to them. They are also drawn here because they care about the environment,” he said, adding that ecology is the fastest growing major in the department.
Beyond the Bozeman community, stakeholders throughout the region are invited to the gathering.
“This is a very important discussion for our state because our economy relies so heavily on the use of our outdoor recreation,” said VandeVoort, who is responsible for growing and enhancing the state’s outdoor economy in partnership with the Montana governor.
“When we talk about the outdoor recreation economy, it’s something that grew out of our shared passion for recreation,” she added. “Really we’re talking about our Montana way of life.”
For more information or to register for “Our Shared Place,” visit greateryellowstone.org/events/symposium.