Montana Gov. Steve Bullock says it doesn’t take much thinking to realize why people are visiting the state.
“Last year we had over 13 million visitors to our state,” he said. “They weren’t coming to go to our Wal-Marts, right? They could do that at home. They’re coming to see the opportunities that make this state so amazing. And these visits stir economic growth, create local and good paying jobs.”
Bullock kicked off the first Business of Outdoor Recreation Summit last Tuesday in Whitefish at Grouse Mountain Lodge focusing on the value Montana’s public lands have both recreationally and economically.
The summit brought together 250 participants from Montana and the nearby Crown of the Continent areas to discuss the business of outdoor recreation and ways to create growth within the outdoor industries. The Montana Governor’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, the Crown of the Continent Geotourism Council and Whitefish Legacy Partners hosted the event.
Bullock’s 2016 re-election campaign focused heavily on protecting access to public lands and waterways in Montana, and last year he created the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation to look for ways to expand a booming sector of the state’s economy.
“Our outdoor recreation economy delivers over $7.1 billion in annual consumer spending, employs over 71,000 people each year,” Bullock said. “It’s a major economic force for our state, but it’s not just the guides and the gear shops and the manufacturing and outfitting. Perhaps the larger economic impact of our public lands is pretty simple. That our state’s outdoor opportunities are the magnets that attract businesses in all sectors, entrepreneurs in all fields, investments that together have made Montana such an attractive place to live, work, educate, recreate and raise a family.”
Bullock noted that public lands are a key priority for a variety of people in Montana.
Public lands also bring different groups and people together in communities both large and small, he said, and many times a love for public lands is the equalizer between them.
“People want to live and work and raise families in Montana in large part because of those public lands. And easy access to some of the finest outdoor recreation in the world is the selling point that attracts all variety of businesses and talented employees, and particularly to rural communities,” he said. “It’s one of the great equalizers no matter who your family is, where you come from, how wealthy you are — we all get to both own and enjoy these lands.”
Bullock added a personal anecdote to his speech as well, recalling an enjoyable backcountry summer trip with his family.
The governor said he and his family rode horses from Seeley Lake over Pyramid Pass in the Swan Range, then floated the Youngs Danaher down the South Fork of the Flathead River.
The trip reminded him of the variety of ways he’s thankful for Montana’s public lands, he said.
“Being in a place in Montana where [you have] only a satellite phone connection to your office was a gift,” he said. “Being in a place where for once my children weren’t talking about, ‘What about my Snapchat streaks, Dad?’ Being in a place where the fish are so lonely that even I can catch them was a gift.”
“And it underscored the gifts that we have here in Montana and we’re so fortunate to have for sure,” he added.