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  • Writer's pictureCat Urbigkit

Travel & Tourism

We’ve all got those special spots on public lands that we treasure. It may be a camping spot in a developed campground, an open meadow inside a dark forest, a particular fishing hole, or a desert butte with a view for hundreds of miles.

The citizens of this district have access to abundant public lands and all the experiences those lands offer just a few minutes in every direction. That’s a blessing for us, and it’s no wonder that others come here to enjoy their public lands as well.

This is National Travel and Tourism Week, and with it comes the friction between concerns for the negative impacts of loving our public lands to death while recognizing the importance of travel and tourism to local businesses and our communities. As the outdoor recreation economy continues to grow, residents worry about overcrowding, damage to the environment, and the loss of traditional practices.

I’m a frequent traveler and try to a bit of tourism on every trip. By that I mean talking with the people who live in those communities, reading their newspaper, and discovering the places and community events they hold in importance – whether it’s a natural landmark, local museum or library, rodeo or art venue, whatever. I treasure these experiences and the opportunity to learn about what each community values. Each community relays its message to the world about what it holds dear.

If I drive in a city and get yelled to “Learn how to drive!” rest assured I already know I don’t know how to drive in the city but know I’m pretty handy at pulling folks out of snowdrifts in a lonely landscape. If you’re unfriendly to travelers and tourists, they’ll receive the message that your community doesn’t welcome outsiders. If you chat with the neighboring table of visitors in a local restaurant, they’ll get the message that the community is a neighborly place.

Travel and tourism comes down to what we make of it, but it’s important to realize there are two players in this: traveler and the host community.

First, the traveler. As British writer Joe Abercrombie wrote, “Travel brings wisdom only to the wise. It renders the ignorant more ignorant than ever.” We’ll always have ignorant travelers who do stupid or dangerous things, or who don’t treat other people or the environment well. But don’t let the bad apples ruin the batch. Fortunately, more travelers are becoming aware of the potential impacts of their activities and seek to minimize them.

The other player is the host community and what message our community sends out about what we value. Here in this district, we value the outdoors, the culture and traditions of our small towns, the open landscapes of rural life, thriving families and wildlife populations, our role as providing energy to the nation, and the elegant mixture of experiences possible from desert to granite peak. We value these things, and our message should seek to both highlight and ensure those values endure.

How do we do that? Both players can focus on responsible travel, on the joys of immersive experiences in our communities and the ways in which the visitor can join with us as caretakers of those things we hold dear. As caretakers, we're careful not to leave trash behind, we avoid creating ruts or disturbing sensitive sites, and we leave gates as we find them. We model the behavior want from others and we communicate that these actions are a necessary part of ensuring that our treasured spaces and places are sustained.

We understand that our communities don’t offer all the amenities and experiences visitors can find elsewhere, and that’s part of what makes our communities unique. We’re neither Disneyland nor Jackson Hole. We don’t have a commercial airport, but we’ve recovered former endangered species. We have cattle drives with seasoned cowboys as well as dudes and kids, just as we have mom-and-pop restaurants, lodging establishments and business enterprises.

We provide both energy for the nation and some of the most important sage grouse habitat in the world. We have lots of paved county roads and try to keep the noise and dust down out in the countryside. We have abundant places to camp, yet we try to leave other campers to their privacy. We build campfires in the same old rock rings, and we make darned sure to put them out before we leave. We pack out what we pack in, and we pick up any deflated balloons we find along the way.

We don’t have a convention center, but we have street dances, music in the park, and poker rolls. We have the Continental Divide snowmobile trail, wilderness in the Wind Rivers, and we have the easily accessible Wyoming Range. We have the beautiful badlands and jagged canyons rising above the Green River as it flows through LaBarge, and miles and miles of trails for fat bikes.

We've got the silly geese that nest in the cliffs at Names Hill, osprey nests abound along roadside pullouts, and migration corridors for mule deer and antelope. We have sandhill cranes dancing in the meadows, and long-billed curlews in fields from Boulder and Cora to Bondurant.

We can watch newborn antelope adjust to their new legs from our schools or watch moose nibbling on willows in town parks. We’re careful not to spook the animals, and we’re considerate of others we meet on public lands. The rich variety of users of public lands aren't competitors for a shared space but are neighbors.

We try to minimize our environmental footprint because we value our environment and our communities. In promoting the things and places we value, we can add educational elements that help to nourish them and protect them from harm.

The Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office plays a key role with its mission to educate visitors on how to recreate responsibly, working to develop infrastructure to disperse people into Wyoming’s smaller communities, and concentrating outdoor users into areas with room to grow, minimizing impacts to wildlife, industry and private landowners. Learn more in the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Report.

Visit Laramie has developed The Cowboy Character Challenge, melding the principles of responsible travel with the Cowboy Code of Ethics in its marketing campaigns:

I appreciate efforts like Visit Laramie's to promote responsible travel, just as I appreciate the tourists who come here and provide support to our businesses and communities. We can each participate in relaying the message about what we hold dear, and the steps we each need to take to nurture their continuance. We can foster a culture of caring for our public lands and special places.


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