The country’s most uncrowded state is making big investments in growing its recreation economy.
Wyoming wants more people to know that it is a place for outdoor lovers. Yet, while driving through America’s least-populated state, for long stretches of miles, the only sign of human existence is the occasional oil rig affixed to a rolling expanse of greenery and rocky hills. Extraction has historically fueled the Cowboy State’s economy and remains its No. 1 industry, but outdoor recreation—its No. 2 industry—is proving a viable and far-more sustainable source of income than the famously boom-and-bust-prone oil-and-gas enterprise. Thus, Wyoming has begun to invest in outdoor recreation more than ever before.
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“ Outdoor recreation already accounts for $5.6 billion in annual consumer spending in Wyoming, as well $1.6 billion in wages for 50,000 jobs—a considerable number when you consider that Wyoming’s entire population comes in at under 600,000 and that the extraction industries only account for about 27,000 jobs. Nearly 50 percent of Wyoming is comprised of public land. With iconic natural destinations such as Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, it’s not surprising that outdoor recreation is indeed one of the state’s key economic drivers.
But not everyone sees outdoor recreation as a silver bullet for diversifying Wyoming’s economy. Mead’s outdoor recreation taskforce has to contend with the fact that, interspersed among much of Wyoming’s public lands are swaths of private land. And private land owners are wary about the prospect of growth (read: development) and heavier traffic, especially as more and more events and headlines point to irresponsible and disrespectful visitors.“