GYC hosts symposium on future of Greater Yellowstone recreation, conservation

Some 250 people packed the room at Montana State University earlier this week at our two-day symposium that started a groundbreaking conversation on how we can balance growing recreation in Greater Yellowstone with the need to protect its lands, waters, and wildlife.

 On Monday and Tuesday, symposium attendees at MSU placed activity stickers on a map of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to denote where they enjoy recreating. (Photo: GYC.)

On Monday and Tuesday, symposium attendees at MSU placed activity stickers on a map of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to denote where they enjoy recreating. (Photo: GYC.)

Called Our Shared Place: The Present and Future of Recreation in Greater Yellowstone, the symposium with MSU brought everyone from hikers to bikers to motorists and all those in between together to start this much-needed conversation. Our goal was to bring people together to address how we will keep our access to our lands and waters and keep them in good shape. We wanted everyone to hear different perspectives from the outdoor industry, land managers, scientists, recreationists, and more.

 Attendees had the opportunity to listen to a variety of speakers throughout symposium. (Photo: GYC.)

Attendees had the opportunity to listen to a variety of speakers throughout symposium. (Photo: GYC.)

Topics included “Why we go outdoors,” and you can click the links to watch our live streams of some other sessions, including Changes in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Place-Based Collaborations, The Good News about the Future of Recreation in Greater YellowstoneLooking to the Future, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s keynote address.

 Author Florence Williams speaks about her book,  The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative . Williams gave the evening program at GYC's and MSU's symposium  Our Shared Place . (Photo: GYC.)

Author Florence Williams speaks about her book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. Williams gave the evening program at GYC's and MSU's symposium Our Shared Place. (Photo: GYC.)

Media coverage of both our event and our new research on recreation in Greater Yellowstone included local television KBZK and the Bozeman Chronicle:

“There are more of us in more places doing more things,” said Scott Christensen, the conservation director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “The crux of this question is how do we keep this place like it is ... and still get outside?”

The conference comes at a time of increased visitation to the region’s public lands. Yellowstone National Park has counted more than 4 million visits in each of the last three years — the previous record was a little more than 3.6 million. Meanwhile, the Custer Gallatin National Forest saw a 39 percent increase in visitation from 2008 to 2013, according to Wendi Urie, the forest’s Bozeman district recreation manager.

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition studied where recreation is happening around the ecosystem. Brooke Regan, the coalition’s special projects organizer, said they found that the busiest areas were near the region’s large towns and places with recreational infrastructure — trails, campgrounds. They also found that some of those areas intersected with important wildlife corridors.

But, she said, available data on the subject is sparse, which creates a challenge for land managers searching for solutions.

“This matters because it means that land managers are having to make decisions about recreation on very little data and a lot of anecdotal evidence,” Regan said.

 GYC's Special Projects Organizer Brooke Regan gives a recap of the symposium to a local news reporter on Tuesday. (Photo: GYC.)

GYC's Special Projects Organizer Brooke Regan gives a recap of the symposium to a local news reporter on Tuesday. (Photo: GYC.)

The group spent two days talking about these thorny issues. We wrapped up at the end by asking presenters and everyone who attended to brainstorm bold-yet-practical ideas for keeping Greater Yellowstone both accessible and extraordinary. 

We couldn’t have organized this event without support from so many partners. Big thanks go out to MSU College of Letters and Science, MSU Center for Western Lands and Peoples, MSU Department of History and Philosophy – Wallace Stegner Endowed Chair in Western Studies, The Element Hotel, Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee, and Earthtone OutsideMT. And a big thanks to you for supporting our groundbreaking work.

So what’s next? We’ll continue the conversations, and put some of these ideas into action. If you’d like to stay updated, please click here to join our mailing list today.

-- Kristina Martin, Development Director