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UW Program Turns Focus to Boosting State’s Tourism, Recreation

July 30, 2019
Snake River in foreground, Tetons in the background
With funding from UW’s Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Collaborative Solutions Program in UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources aims to help Wyoming communities grow their recreation economies while stewarding their environmental resources. (UW Photo)

A University of Wyoming program that has helped find solutions to natural resource challenges is being retooled to work with Wyoming communities in an effort to boost the state’s tourism economy.

Using a $50,000 grant from the university’s new Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE), UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources is developing plans to focus its Collaborative Solutions Program on helping communities grow their recreation economies while stewarding their environmental resources.

“The idea is to help Wyoming communities by fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems and outdoor recreation collaboratives throughout the state,” says Steve Smutko, the Haub School’s Spicer Wyoming Excellence Chair who leads the Collaborative Solutions Program. “The funding from the IIE will allow us to position ourselves to support Wyoming’s economic diversification efforts and help the university achieve its goal of improving the well-being of Wyoming communities.”

Wyoming’s tourism industry is the state’s second-largest economic sector, generating $3.57 billion in economic activity in 2017 and growing at an annual rate of 3.4 percent since 2007. The state’s ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming) initiative has targeted the tourism and outdoor recreation sectors in its plans to grow and diversify the state’s economy, aiming to employ an additional 10,000 workers and boost the annual economic impact to $8 billion by 2038.

“Growing tourism and recreation amenities and services will help retain and attract young, skilled workers -- an important demographic for economic growth,” Haub School Dean Mindy Benson says. “The tourism and recreation sectors of Wyoming’s economy are ripe for advancement and regional diversification. We intend to help achieve that growth by serving as a resource for community collaboration and environmental stewardship.”

This approach is in line with ENDOW recommendations, which include landscape-level planning, collaboration and creation of connections that secure access to recreation opportunities in the state; and incorporating the concepts of conservation, sustainability and stewardship in all tourism and outdoor recreation planning.

The Collaborative Solutions Program is part of the Haub School’s Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources, which has worked for over 25 years to help find collaborative and science-based solutions to the state’s pressing environmental and natural resource challenges. That includes a yearlong skills and leadership course for mid- and upper-level natural resource professionals, as well as a third-party facilitation and mediation service that helped produce recommendations to reduce ground-level ozone pollution in Sublette County; forest and recreation management plans in conjunction with the governor’s office; prairie dog management strategies in the Thunder Basin National Grassland; and a proposal from the Western Governors Association to improve the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act.

Under the new plan, the Collaborative Solutions Program would focus on emerging challenges in Wyoming’s recreation economy.

“The ability to balance economic opportunity with environmental stewardship is one of the biggest challenges facing Wyoming communities. In some communities, recreation and tourism already are creating pressures associated with increased visitor use popularity, including affordable-housing shortages, traffic congestion and negatively impacted wildlife,” Smutko says. “For Wyoming to maintain its quality of life and the environmental amenities that attract visitors and associated economic development, these challenges must be acknowledged and proactively addressed through decision-making that is efficient, effective and collaborative.”

In a pilot phase, the Collaborative Solutions Program aims to serve as a consultant for two Wyoming communities seeking to foster more tourism and outdoor recreation. The work could produce guides for community investment in tourism, infrastructure needs assessments, and plans to attract private investments or public-private partnerships.

Eventually, the Collaborative Solutions Program intends to prepare a report -- based on pilot projects and listening sessions throughout the state -- to help achieve ENDOW’s recommendation to create a collaboration fund to financially and technically support local outdoor recreation collaboratives.

For more information, email Smutko at or call (307) 460-8031.

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