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‘What the growth!?’ event: Bozeman’s amenity trap

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GRAPHIC COURTESY OF GALLATIN VALLEY LAND TRUST AND HEADWATERS ECONOMICS.

By Julia Barton DIGITAL PRODUCER

BOZEMAN – Community members and leaders gathered in Downtown Bozeman on Wednesday evening, June 8, to discuss the city’s amenities and the subsequent challenges they pose. The conversation focused on five areas: outdoor recreation, conservation, infrastructure, housing and tax policy, looking at examples of how other amenity-rich communities have combatted each issue.

The event, dubbed “The Amenity Trap: What the growth!? And what we can do,” was hosted by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust and Headwaters Economics, which defines an amenity trap as “loving a place to death.” In other words, as amenities such as a beautiful landscape and outdoor recreation draw people to an area, increased visitation, housing pressure and conservation needs, among other factors, risk ruining or depleting such resources.

Speakers Megan Lawson and Samantha Estabrook with Headwaters Economics outlined some of the problems Bozeman is facing within the five focus areas.

“We’ve been working for several years on trying to understand the economic opportunity from amenities and outdoor recreation,” Lawson said in an interview with EBS after the event, explaining that tradeoffs exist with any economic development strategy. “We started researching a bunch of different topics, and there’s a lot of really important lessons Bozeman can learn from other communities.”

Recreation economies often bring growing populations, and plenty of communities nationwide face challenges because of this growth. The presenters used another Montana town as an example for how recreation can impact a community: Whitefish. With just over 8,000 people, Whitefish sought to provide community members with an expansive bike trail system that ultimately became so popular, scores out-of-towners began visiting to use the trails, increasing pressure on trail maintenance and raising upkeep costs.

Locals set out to solve the problem by determining the value their trail system brought to the town in terms of tourism dollars, and after presenting their findings to the town were able to secure enough funding through the local resort tax board to adequately maintain their trail amenity.

Similarly, Estabrook explained how locals in Winter Park, Colorado, are solving the issue of affordable housing with an incentive program that encourages people renting their properties out short-term to transition to long-term rentals in order to house the local workforce, similar to work the Big Sky Housing Trust has done locally.

“The Winter Park example is interesting because it shows the ability to be flexible,” Lawson told EBS after the event. Through a partnership with the local government, 40 local workers were housed through the initiative to work during the ski season.

Bozeman City Commissioner Christopher Coburn took the stage following Lawson and Estabrook to outline how these ideas can be put into action locally. “I understand the pain and pressure of the housing crunch,” he said, explaining that he had been alerted of a rent increase for his apartment earlier in the day.

Coburn’s underlying message encouraged creative solutions, whether they come from other communities or are native to Bozeman. He pointed the audience toward Engage Bozeman, a website run by the city that allows locals to follow and provide comment on initiatives.

The final speaker of the evening, Lila Fleishman, community development project manager for the Human Resources Development Council, echoed the importance of workforce housing in amenity-rich areas.

“We need housing to have a healthy community,” Fleishman said to the audience, many of whom nodded in agreement. She went on to outline ways HRDC is providing accessible and stable housing in southwest Montana, including access to emergency shelter and helping locals retain housing.

After the event, attendees were invited to stay and continue the conversation. “One of the most important pieces of the success in each community example we provided is that element of locals coming together, being creative and looking for solutions,” Lawson said.

Based on the amount of people that remained after the presentation, it seems that some Bozeman locals are ready to do just that.

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