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Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act to Deal with Crowded Parks

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A new bill aims to direct the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service to work more closely with “gateway communities” to work on the effects of increasing enthusiasm for outdoor recreation.

The bill is co-sponsored by Montana Senator Steve Daines, according to a report.

Daines and members of the Senate’s National Parks Subcommittee discussed concerns about parks being clogged by traffic, especially since the influx of visitors during the pandemic lockdowns in 2020. The hearing revealed the issues’ complexity, particularly in towns located close to Glacier, Yellowstone, and other federal public-use areas.

As a result, Daines and Democratic Senator Angus King of Maine are proposing legislation dubbed the “Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act.”

“And so what this bill is doing is recognizing that we’ve got a housing shortage for park employees. And frankly, in some cases becoming a crisis,” Daines told a local report on Wednesday. “So this is really a first step in a bipartisan way to look at engaging the Forest Service and the Department of Interior to start identifying these problems and putting a task force together.”

“Because we’ve got a limited amount of land, and we’ve got to figure out a way here to make sure we’ve got housing that’s affordable for employees. That’s a really important starting point.”

Even though developers in Kalispell, Whitefish, Columbia Falls, West Yellowstone, and others are adding some housing units, the demand has surpassed the vacancy rate for workers in these parks and also the service industries that serve tourists.

Daines said the bill does not provide funding, but it calls on federal agencies to collaborate with local authorities and share crucial data about visitor trends.

“And so we want to really clearly identify the specifics on the problem. What are some specific actions to be taken for solutions, and that then would be a follow-up bill we look at the actual funding requirements that are going to be needed. It’s going to take money to fix these problems. But let’s not go throw a bunch of money at it until we first understand the problem and we spend that money wisely.”

The bill also instructs agencies to find ways of spreading out the crowds.

“In Montana, we have other great national parks that sometimes when people come to our state they aren’t aware of. You know, the Grant Kohrs National Park, for example, outside of Deer Lodge,” Daines pointed out. “And how do we help kind of smooth out the crowds a bit so that not everybody showing up the same time. Our amusement parks have figured that out with crowds to help kind of smooth that out to a point.”

“We’ve got to be smarter around how we handle the fact that we love our national parks. We love having visitors come to our parks but want to maintain a great experience. We [have] to find a better way to address the crowding situation and, importantly, address the issue of affordable employee housing. Because without the staff we’re not going to have great experiences in our national parks.”

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Modern Campground

Modern Campground

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