Custer-Gallatin recreationists spend $223 million, add 2,000 jobs
Johnathan Hettinger —
Monday, December 3, 2018
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Enterprise photo by Nate Howard

Cross country skiers compete in the 31st annual Jardine Ski Run on Feb. 25. Youth skiers include George Bumann, (9), Garrett Klein, (1) Avery Klein, (93) Ruth Murphy, (84) and Claire Murphy (85).

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Enterprise file photo by Hunter D’Antuono

Bits of ice shower Suzie Catharine as she swings her ice axes into Yellowstone National Park’s Lost Creek Falls on Jan. 15, 2017.

Outdoor recreation in the Custer Gallatin National Forest supports thousands of jobs in Montana, including dozens in Park County, according to a new report from the Outdoor Alliance.

Overall, 3.5 million people — hikers, mountain bikers, skiers, rock climbers and paddlers — spend $223.1 million annually in local communities, the report found.

Local government officials often grapple with ways to help visitors to Park County pay for infrastructure, emergency services and other services they use. The report found visitor spending on humanpowered recreation helps create 2,172 full-time jobs that provide $65.7 million in wages.

The Outdoor Alliance is a nonprofit coalition of outdoor recreation organizations, including the American Canoe Association, the International Mountain Biking Association and the Mountaineers, among others.

Timber Trails owner Dale Sexton said he personally has seen the growth in his business over the past 22 years.

“The reason for the growth in my business isn’t my business acumen,” Sexton said.

Sexton said he has seen growth in all areas of his business, from hiking to biking to skiing.

“It’s not just one area; it’s all areas,” Sexton said.

Hikers, by far, visit the forest the most, at more than 2 million visits each year, spending $125 million annually.

Park County Environmental Council Program Director Erica Lighthiser said it’s important to balance that increased use with good ethics, in order to make sure the wilderness is still protected.

Look at Pine Creek Falls, the most popular hike in Paradise Valley, Lighthiser said.

“Five years ago, you could go to Pine Creek Falls on a Saturday and maybe see a few cars,” Lighthiser said. “Today, you might not be able to find a parking spot. What is the impact of that increasing use on the forest?”

Lighthiser said people are coming here because of the wilderness, because of Yellowstone National Park, because of Custer-Gallatin National Forest.

“The important thing to remember is there are more people coming here,” she said. “They are going to put a greater impact on these landscapes and we need to be investing in protecting the resources, so we don’t kill the golden goose.”

Sexton, who grew up in Livingston, said he has “mixed emotions” about the growing outdoor industry. Sexton said he tries to make sure his customers know to carry bear spray and have other “leave no trace” ethics, and he makes sure to not include Pine Creek Falls in their “Favorite Hikes” series.

“It’s been great for my business,” Sexton said. “From a personal perspective, I go out into the wilderness seeking solitude. You can still find that solitude kinda sorta, but not as much as you used to be able to.”

Sexton said technology, whether it be fat bikes, snow bikes, all terrain skis or snowmobiles, has changed the impact visitors have, because people are able to get to places they never would have been able to 20 or 30 years ago.

The report comes at a time when the U.S. Forest Service is considering a forest plan revision for the Custer-Gallatin. That revision dictates how the forest will be used for the next two decades or so, including whether land will be designated as wilderness area. While most human-powered recreation is allowed in wilderness areas, mechanized recreation, like mountain biking, is not.

The report’s economic impact areas differed from sport to sport. Mountain biking, for example, provided 4.1 jobs in Livingston/ Paradise Valley/the Crazy Mountains, according to the report. That has a total value added of $130,388.

The Outdoor Alliance is one of a number of groups to endorse the Gallatin Forest Partnership, a recommendation that includes more than 100,000 acres of new wilderness in the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area in the Gallatin Range and 22,000 acres of new wilderness in the Madison Range. It also includes no expansion of motorized recreation.

That plan would increase the overall area that mountain biking can occur in.

“As the Custer Gallatin National Forest works with the public to create a new forest plan, we are excited to share our research and other insights about how best to incorporate human powered recreation in a way that is ecologically and socially sustainable, and economically empowering for local communities in Montana,” said Outdoor Alliance Executive Director Adam Cramer in a news release.

Another group, Montanans for Gallatin Wilderness has proposed another plan that would include a 546,000-acre Gallatin Range Wilderness.

Overall, the researchers found:

• Rock climbers visit about 35,000 times each year, spending an estimated $2.6 million, and supporting $719,000 in job income.

• Paddlers visit about 59,500 times each year, spending an estimated $8.4 million, and supporting $2.6 in job income.

• Hikers visit more than 2 million times per year, spending $125 million, supporting 1,186 jobs, and $46 million in job income.

• Snow sports visitors, including skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, winter hiking, and other winter recreation, come to the Custer Gallatin 587,000 each year, spending $86 million, supporting nearly 900 jobs, and more than $24 million in wages.

• Mountain bikers visit 260,000 times a year, spending an estimated $9.1 million and supporting $3.4 million in job income.