The Senate bill aims to reduce overcrowding in parks, Gateway points out

A draft convention sponsored by Montana Sen. Steve Daines aims to empower gateway communities swamped by burgeoning state tourism by tapping federal coffers to address local housing, infrastructure and other visitor issues.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, co-sponsored the bill – the Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act – which has been referred to the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Daines is the senior Republican member, and King chairs the underlying National Parks Subcommittee. Its oversight includes the National Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Trails systems, recreational areas and historic sites, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The proposed bill would require a two-pronged federal approach to deal with increased visitation to public lands and the resulting strains on nearby communities. The bill would require interior and agriculture departments to work with local stakeholders to find solutions that leverage existing federal funds and programs.

“They already have the tools they need to do this,” Rachel Dumke, spokeswoman for Daines, said of the agencies. “The senators’ bill is kind of like that pressure to make sure they actually go through with it and make it happen.”

To that end, the proposal would first install a pilot program between Interior and Forest Services through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local stakeholders to provide visitor data on crowds and highlight alternative recreational areas to try to draw crowds away from key destinations.

Second, the proposal would require agencies to work with state and local partners and tribes to identify and then address issues such as sustained visits, housing shortages or disrupted infrastructure.

Under the pilot program, agencies and partners would be required to create visit data on select land management entities, such as Glacier National Park, no later than two years after the bill’s possible passage.

If possible, crowd data on nearby federal, state or local recreation areas should also be created as part of the pilot program.

“Across various media platforms,” ​​according to the proposed bill, the pilot program would also identify lesser-known recreational areas to disperse visitors.

Initially, 15 state administrative units nationwide would be selected by the Home Office for the pilot program, with a further five units selected by the Forest Service.

After five years at the latest, the authorities would have to expand the original list by a further 80 units, of which at least 50 would have to be managed by the Ministry of the Interior.

The glacier — nor any other park or recreation area — was not named in the proposed bill.

Under the second pillar, agencies would need to use existing resources and programs to work with “state and local governments, tribal governments, housing authorities, relevant trade associations, nonprofit organizations and other relevant stakeholders” to address the economics of visiting the local communities.

Through such partnerships, the agencies would then need to identify specific community needs. Agencies and partners would also need to seek to “address community needs in the gateway communities” through various options.

According to the draft law, this includes the creation of cooperation agreements; offering leases, rights of way or easements; and providing financial assistance from existing federal programs.

The draft law and Daines’ press office did not identify any specific existing funding sources or programs within the Home Office or the Department of Agriculture to carry out the tasks.

In a recent statement, Daines highlighted the global status of public land management in the US.

“Our national parks and public lands set us apart from the rest of the world, and Montana’s gateway communities know firsthand the benefits and challenges they bring,” said Daines.

“While increased recreation on our public lands and national parks creates jobs and boosts local economies,” he added, “it can also put a strain on Montana’s communities, homes and employees.”

OFFICIALS OF The Columbia Falls Chamber of Commerce — which represents Coram, Essex, Hungry Horse, Polebridge, West Glacier and Apgar — currently declined to comment on the bill, Executive Director Laura Gadwa wrote in an email.

Columbia Falls City Manager Susan Nicosia said the senators’ recognition of the impact of increased tourism on local communities was noteworthy. Columbia Falls is the first incorporated city next to Glacier.

“I’m really happy that this is moving forward,” said Nicosia.

“Obviously we hope to be part of the pilot program,” she added. “We’ve definitely felt the impact of the additional tourism, especially on the east side [of Glacier Park] was closed and everything was concentrated here.”

Adding to the general need to preserve locally valued public land is a shortage of housing and labor, she said.

“It’s huge,” Nicosia said. “There are direct impacts that are taking a toll on our community in terms of housing and staff. … Hopefully that [proposed bill] will move quickly.”

Racene Friede, president and CEO of Missoula-based Glacier Country Tourism, said actions under the proposed bill to promote sustainable tourism would align with those of the tourism group during the Covid-19 era of surges on public lands.

“In fact, all of our campaigns for the past two years have been about responsibly replicating and planning ahead and being aware of what to expect — leave no trace — really common sense concepts for the people of Montana,” she said.

Friede said federal pathways to identify and address community pressures through additional park visits promise a significant opportunity to address multiple concerns, such as: B. additional disposal stations for mobile homes, a conversion of existing campsites or the creation of additional campsites.

“The backlog — whether it’s maintenance or infrastructure or the ability to bring utilities up to speed or anything else — is so long that while we’ve made great progress with the Great American Outdoors Act, we still have a lot of things to do are done,” she said.

The Great American Outdoors Act, signed in 2020, uses proceeds from energy developments to fund up to $1.9 billion annually after enactment for five years to maintain Native American public lands and schools, provide facilities and infrastructure .

Sponsored by Colorado Senator Cory Gardner and supported by 59 Senate co-sponsors, including Daines, the landmark bill also collects offshore oil and natural gas royalties to sustain the Land and Water Conservation Fund at approximately $900 million annually finance.

Reporter John McLaughlin can be reached at 758-4439 or [email protected]

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