The seasonal transition referred to as spring prompts a physical and psychological change for many individuals. Traditionally, it is a period of time when many of us look forward to shifting gears from the cloistered gloom of winter to the glee of breaking out into the bright light of summer sunshine. Spring is also the time that most of the country switches to daylight savings time where we spring forward one hour and some of us spend that day trying to figure out what time it was yesterday at this new time. Spring can certainly be characterized as a time of change, which looking at the spring of 2020, featured a dramatic change due to COVID-19. In this regard, the impacts of change on last spring, and to some extent this spring, are well documented. I think most can agree a new normal has been established that will affect many of us in the future. It is in this context that I offer some thoughts on what outdoor recreation will look like this summer and beyond.
My focus is on fishing, but it is important to look at many other forms of outdoor recreation, which could become sources of new revenue for the state to help offset the decline of energy production. Tourism has always been an important industry for the state, albeit secondary to energy and agriculture. Hunting and fishing have been the mainstays of outdoor recreation in Sublette County, but it is time to promote other activities that will attract visitors to our area. Cycling has gained popularity nationwide and we are well positioned to offer cyclists a unique opportunity to traverse several miles of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route that runs through the county. Hiking, climbing and camping in the Bridger Wilderness attracted a multitude of visitors this past summer. Winter cycling is gaining traction and offers the potential for winter tourism. A prime example was the fat tire cycling event conducted in Bondurant this winter. Attending the skijoring event at this year’s Winter Carnival, I was amazed at the level of popularity this sport has achieved in the past few years. These activities complement our fine regional ski area, cross-country ski venues and snowmobile opportunities that draw winter visitors.
Looking ahead at what this summer will bring in terms of tourism in our area, remember I mentioned in an article last fall that we were discovered by many folks last season due in large part to the pandemic. There is every reason to believe that many of the visitors who came to our area last summer will return again this season. The easing of COVID restrictions and recent federal legislation that has put a few extra bucks in the pockets of the citizenry will find many using this money to resume normal outdoor recreational activities that they missed during the pandemic. This, coupled with the pent-up emotions of many urban dwellers to seek open space, will lead to a bang-up tourist season in the county.
Anticipating a good visitor season and promoting an increase in tourism for the future will create a change for the residents in Sublette County. As we shift from energy to tourism revenue streams, we will have to get use to sharing some of the precious venues that we have enjoyed in near isolation in the past. When I ran a fishing outfitter business I would spend a great deal of time during the spring making presentations to fly clubs throughout the country to promote the virtues of recreating in Sublette County. I did this with mixed feelings because I wanted to develop a clientele to keep the business going, but at the same time I realized the people I would bring in might fall in love with the area and eventually be fishing in my favorite fishing holes. This is one example of a change that may impact the quality of life we currently enjoy.
There is another factor that we must consider as we move to expand our tourist industry. A lot of outdoor recreation we offer in Sublette County is conducted on public lands. Management of public lands falls to the federal government, which is obviously affected by power and politics. We in the hinterlands are few in numbers so to have a say on national issues that affect us we need an influence multiplier. Using the phrase “it is good to have friends in high places,” we need to make friends with every urbanite that visits our area. Each of us in the service industry has an opportunity to do this on a daily basis. The citizens in our communities and our municipal public servants can help as well. All of us in our own way must be good ambassadors for our region. This does not mean we have to get in the face of every visitor and sell them on proper management and use of public lands. I think the subtleness of what they see, who they meet and how they are treated will give them a proper perspective on how the diversity of natural resources and people blend together to create a strong nation. When they return to their urban lives they will be more prone to support preservation of recreation venues. They may also have a better idea of where some of their food comes from and recognize the need for responsible energy development, which powers transportation and illumination where they live.
I certainly do not want to leave you with the impression that everyone that lives in a metropolitan area does not appreciate or understand the dynamics of the open spaces and natural resources. We have plenty of enlightened urban citizens in positions of influence that support a balanced approach to preservation and use of our natural resources, but it still behooves us to do our best to make new friends among visitors. The better we know each other, the better we can help each other. Hopefully this philosophy will make its way to the heads of our federal government.
REMEMBER THERE IS NO BAD FISHIN’!!!