2023 Montana Outdoor Recreation Summit

This October I was able to attend the Montana Outdoor Recreation Summit in Butte, MT– a meetup of outdoor recreation professionals, researchers, and land management agency staff organized by the Montana Access Project, University of Montana’s College of Forestry, and the Institute of Tourism and Recreation Research. I’m in the winding down stage of my Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers RAP internship here in Region 1 and am currently in the hiring process for a permanent position in the regional office (although my RAP internship is extended to the end of December). I had some extra professional development funds to use and thought this conference would be a great learning and networking opportunity. It was also a bonus that many of my friends and colleagues from the University of Montana (including most of my lab in grad school) were planning to attend!

The three-day summit started out with a series of field trip opportunities to choose from, and I elected to take a guided tour of Thompson Park– a unique municipal recreation area co-managed by Butte/Silver-Bow County and the USFS. The park originated in 1915 with mining engineer and philanthropist William Thompson’s gift of 75 acres of placer mining claims to the city of Butte for the development of a park. In 1922, these lands were combined with federal lands on the Deerlodge National Forest by an act of Congress to form the only congressionally designated Municipal Recreation Area in the National Forest system. A lot of work has gone into the park over the last few decades, and it was great to have Jocelyn Dodge, a recreation forester on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge who was instrumental in the park revitalization efforts– provide us with some history and insights into its current management.

The second day was a busy one, with a series of super interesting panel discussions. The first panel was on accessible recreation opportunities, and panel members included members of the disability community, representatives from organizations providing adaptive equipment and facilitating inclusive access to the outdoors, as well as the USFS Region 1 Director of Recreation, Minerals, Lands, Heritage and Wilderness (my boss’ boss). The discussion was riveting and many panel members shared touching personal stories. One thing that really struck home with me was that the disability community is the only minority group that any of us can join at any time, and therefore, inclusive accessibility concerns should be a priority for all of us who manage public lands or facilitate outdoor recreation opportunities. The second panel (featuring a number of folks from UM including my advisor and lab-mate Kelsey) discussed equity concerns in outdoor recreation of all types– including access to funding to develop recreation/tourism opportunities in smaller rural and tribal communities, equity issues associated with the way land management agencies allocate recreation permits and rationing systems, and conversation around the overuse-diversity paradox– which describes the tension between agencies struggling to manage increased use of public lands but also the desire to increase access and encourage use to communities who have historically been underrepresented as visitors. The last panel I attended included members of 4 different tribal nations discussing their perspectives on the interplay between outdoor recreation, conservation, and cultural heritage. Each panelist had so much wisdom to share and a really valuable bigger picture perspective on what relationships to the land meant to them. The evening wrapped up with a group dinner at a historical railway depot and a fun outdoor film festival at the iconic Motherlode Theater. A huge personal highlight of the night was a stop at the (also iconic) Taco Bell Cantina- the one and only in Montana. Butte America!

The last day was shorter, offering a number of smaller workshop sessions, and then the group wrapped up and we all headed home! Overall, it was a great experience, and I was able to meet so many interesting people who are working in outdoor recreation at the private, city, county, state, and national levels. I love Butte, and the festival organizers did a great job highlighting the unique history and awesome recreation opportunities in the area.

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