A federal program is giving about $30,000 to individual rural communities to help them develop outdoor recreation economies and revitalize main streets.
The program, aptly called the Recreational Economy for Rural Communities, is overseen by the EPA, Forest Service and others. This year, it is helping 25 communities, including two in the Mountain West region: Monte Vista, Colorado, and Butte, Mont.
In 2019, the program’s first year, it also helped Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Grants, NM and Johnson Falls, Mont.
The goals of the program include assisting with marketing, expanding trail networks, strengthening amenities in town, and improving public access to outdoor spaces.
This support can help diversify rural economies and support local residents, according to Chris Perkins, senior director of the Industry Coalition’s Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.
“It helps increase rural prosperity, improve public health outcomes, and promote environmental stewardship and conservation ethics,” Perkins said.
He said that was especially true after the pandemic, as people flocked outdoors for their mental health and to socialize safely. Some now see these kinds of hobbies as a necessity and want to move to places where they are close at hand.
“We have a huge opportunity here. How can we harness the excitement – and the benefits that flow from it – to increase outdoor opportunities, while enabling the communities that provide those opportunities to succeed in the long term? ” He asked.
ORR also supported half of the original 10 communities that participated in this program in 2019 with additional funding and has since created a toolbox to help others build their outdoor economies.
While a little support goes a long way in small towns, the thirst for financial help far outweighs the funding available. Perkins said nearly 300 communities applied for the federal program and only 35 in total were selected.
There is a bill in Congress that could give more resources to the recreational economy program for rural communities. Sponsored by Colorado Senator Michael Bennett, a Democrat, the Rural Outdoor Investment Act includes $12.5 million for this program alone.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in the Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations throughout the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the public broadcasting company.
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