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The first Europeans that arrived in Montana were not interested mountain biking or sight seeing. They came to make money, fast. The determination to make money as quickly as possible without considering long-term consequences triggered a series of boom and bust cycles. Except for agriculture, boom and bust cycles characterized the Montana economy from about 1850 to 1950. We had a gold boom and bust, a silver boom and bust, and the one we are reminded of most frequently today, the copper boom and bust. The Berkeley Pit remains a reminder of how important through long-term planning is when dealing with natural resources.

A new economic opportunity has been emerging without much fanfare over the last decade. Our new economic opportunity is different from boom and bust opportunities of the past. It is an opportunity that employs our public lands without devastating them. Please welcome and acknowledge our new economic champion, outdoor recreation.

The Outdoor Industry Association (see outdoorindustry.org to learn more) reports Montana’s outdoor recreation industry now accounts for 7.1 billion in consumer spending and provides 71,000 direct jobs in Montana. In August Headwaters Economics released a report (https://headwaterseconomics.org/economic-development/trends-performance/montanas-economy-and-protected-lands/) that describes how public lands generate recreation, quality of life, commodity production, wildlife, scenery, and clean water. Senator Tester introduced the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA) this past February. Along with supporting timber and conservation, the BCSA provides recreation areas for mountain biking, snowmobiling, hiking, and more. Montana recently announced the creation of the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation. These developments will facilitate and support our newest economic champion, outdoor recreation.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act will establish two new recreation areas, one for snowmobiling and one for mountain biking. All forms of outdoor recreation help restore and energize people; it just feels good to get outside. For many, the pinnacle of outdoor recreation is being in a designated Wilderness area. There’s nothing more stimulating, and soothing, as being in a place where nature rules while humans are only short-term visitors. Six states – Colorado, Washington, Arizona, Idaho, California, and Alaska – have more Wilderness than Montana. But in my proudly biased opinion, I don’t think you can beat “The Bob.”

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Research and current results confirm outdoor recreation is a tremendous economic opportunity for Montana. Public lands, Montana’s office of Outdoor Recreation, and the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act are economic building blocks of the future. They can help ensure Montana will remain a compelling destination to live, work, and play 50 years from now. Enjoy your public lands and know your children and grandchildren will be able to do the same thanks in part to our new economic champion, outdoor recreation.

Enjoy Montana’s outdoor recreation!

A. Lee Boman lives in Seeley Lake, Montana. He is a former JCPenney executive and a founding member of Seeley Lake ROCKS, an organization working towards creating healthy children, strong families, and vibrant communities through outdoor recreation.

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