Best of the West: States brace for record summer crowds; Intel invests big in New Mexico; Montana students grow into sustainability; Colorado’s million-dollar trail system

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting May 3, 2021. (Photo courtesy NPS Photo/B. Beach)

It’s looking like a big summer in the West as camping reservations are filling up and hunting and fishing licenses are selling at record paces. 

In Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park set a visitation record for March, welcoming over 30% more visitors compared to the previous March. Hunting and fishing licenses in Montana hit an all-time high thanks to a 30% increase in out-of-state deer and elk licenses and a 60% hike in out-of-state fishing licenses. In North Dakota, the sale of deer licenses reached a 10-year high, while the sale of fishing and other hunting licenses increased 10% across the boardOregon saw an 18% increase in fishing licenses in 2020 and the early numbers for 2021 have the Fish and Wildlife Department expecting a similar increase this year. 

But while the increased economic potential has western main street businesses buzzing, public land managers are looking for ways to spread out the crowds and limit the ecological impacts of increased use. 

After experiencing a 200% increase in visitation last year, Arapahoe National Forest in Colorado will require reservations and timed entry passes for all visitors to Brainard Lake Recreation Area and Mount Evans. The same will be true in the state for Rocky Mountain National Park, Red Rock Canyon Open Space, North Cheyenne Cañon Park, Palmer Park and the Garden of the Gods. With campgrounds around the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest 99% full through Labor Day, managers are transitioning six major drainages to designated camping only, rather than the free-range, dispersed camping formerly available.

Similar systems were also put in place for the Central Oregon Cascades, where day-use permits will be required in the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington and Three Sisters wilderness areas, and overnight-use permits will be required for all trails. “The balance of moving some of our high use onto other trails or areas will allow people to have new experiences and to also experience popular trails with more solitude and less trash and resource damage,” Jean Nelson-Dean, a spokesperson for the Deschutes National Forest, told the Bend Bulletin

Other recreation areas are looking at ways to spread out usage without curbing access. The Flathead National Forest in Montana is considering an expanded number of guiding permits to keep people safe, better educate visitors, and spread them out among different activities throughout the park – including horse riding, trail running, guided mountain biking and motorized tours. To the south, in Montana’s Pryor Mountains, the Bureau of Land Management is hoping to disperse crowds by closing off certain popular areas and opening up new areas to specific types of recreation. 

In Wyoming, a new initiative started by wildlife tour guides called Wildlife Tourism for Tomorrow, allows businesses and their clients to donate a dollar sum or a predetermined percentage of their revenue towards a specific conservation project. This enables non-hunting or fishing visitors to contribute to parks and wildlife conservation projects, promoting business as well as continued unlimited access. 

INTEL INVESTS BIG: Using funds from the Local Economic Development Act in New Mexico, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expanded last month, Intel announced this week that it plans to invest $3.5 billion in its Rio Rancho plant and hire more than 700 new workers as it modernizes the facilities for the manufacturing of advanced semiconductor packaging technologies. Gov. Grisham called Intel’s commitment the “single largest investment by a company in New Mexico.”

PLANTING TO PREVENT WILDFIRES: Last year was one of the worst wildfire seasons ever in the West. But seeding treatments to stabilize and improve sagebrush ecosystems across the West may help prevent more fires in the future. A new study from University of Idaho researcher Chris Bowman-Prideaux explored how drill seeding, a process that drills seeds into the ground, more effectively improved fire resiliency as compared to aerial seeding. Wildfire restoration is a priority for Western Governors, who have encouraged the U.S. Department of the Interior to prioritize restoration equally alongside fire mitigation and suppression work. 

GROWING SUSTAINABILITY: Thanks to a SMART Schools grant from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, students at Capital High School have built a greenhouse to learn about horticulture, sustainability, and construction as part of a summer pre-employment transition services program. This week their first crops will be sold as part of a fundraiser to make the greenhouse financially sustainable for years to come.  

MILLION-DOLLAR MOUNTAIN: After five seasons of work the trail to the summit of Mount Columbia, one of Colorado’s more difficult 14ers, is ready to hike. The old ‘social trail’ used to go straight up the mountain, through loose scree fields that were tough on hikers and threatened rare and sensitive plants in that area. “The soil takes about 1,000 years per inch to create, so you’d see about 10,000 years of evolutionary process just sliding down the hill, smothering more plants,” Lloyd Athearn, the executive director of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, told the Chaffee County Times. However, with the help of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, the new trail is sustainably designed and durably constructed to sufficiently handle increased use. 

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Check out our podcast, Out West, on PodbeanSpotify and Apple Podcasts




sign up for our newsletters