Proposed grant program for recreational pathways fails in committee; two similar bills still progressing

A proposal to provide $40 million in grants for recreational pathways in Wyoming failed last week in the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.

Wyoming Rep. John Winter, R-Thermopolis, was one of five committee members to vote against House Bill 48 during the Jan. 12 meeting, commenting that the dollar amount “really throws me for a loop.”

“I just can’t hardly understand how the taxpayer can be responsible for that kind of money,” Winter said. “That’s my concern.”

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Economic development

Proponents of the bill – including three Fremont County residents – said the investment would help improve health and safety for recreators and other pedestrians while also generating financial returns for the state through increased tourism and a more diversified economy.

Wyoming Pathways executive director Michael Kusiek pointed to a trail that was recently developed in Thermopolis that has since caused “a whole new segment of the economy to grow in that community.”

The grants authorized through HB 48 could be used for similar projects, Kusiek said, building “regional destination areas for folks who like those amenities.”

“What we have here is a very low cost for pathways and trails that yields year-over-year, high-return investment,” Kusiek said. “We’re building facilities that don’t need maintenance to the degree that a lot of other projects would need, and every year you’re getting more and more visitors.”

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Health, safety

Fremont County Commissioner Michael Jones said his support for HB 48 revolves around safety – particularly “in our outlying roads that surround Lander.”

“The world has changed,” Jones said. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase of bicycles and walkers on these loop roads, (and) safety has been an issue.”

On Tweed Lane, for example, Jones said eight deaths have been recorded over the past 20 years.

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“That’s a significant number for a small community,” he said. “There are a lot of issues on the ground, and I support this (bill) 100 percent and encourage you to do so as well.”

John Burrows with the Wyoming Outdoor Council in Lander echoed the comments Jones and Kusiek made, adding that more “transportation and recreation infrastructure (will also) help improve physical and mental health” for Wyoming residents by providing opportunities for “an active lifestyle and access to the outdoors.”

“There really is a need, and we see it in communities around the state – not just Lander,” he said. “We think (these grants) will pay dividends down the road making Wyoming healthier, safer, and just a more attractive place.”

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School crosswalks, trust fund

Two other bills that would address pedestrian and recreational transportation issues are still making their way through the legislative process.

One is Senate File 35, which would appropriate $10 million to the Wyoming Department of Transportation for school crosswalk projects.

The bill was approved on second reading Friday in the Wyoming Senate, with amendments requiring a local match and eliminating the administrative allocation that had been included in the initial draft.

Another proposal, House Bill 74, would create a Wyoming outdoor recreation trust fund account.

The House Travel committee approved HB 74 this week, though Winter voted against it.

Again, multiple Fremont County residents spoke in favor of the legislation, including Kusiek, Brunton owner Lauren Heerschap, Central Wyoming College professor Mara Gans, and Lander resident Steff Kessler, who referred to outdoor recreation as a “big business” that is “growing” in Wyoming.

“The outdoor recreation boom is here now,” Kessler said. “Wyoming needs to put itself in the driver’s seat of this boom, capturing its revenue and guiding it for our needs and our values – or it will run us over.”

The House Appropriations Committee voted in favor of HB 74 on Friday.

The bill will now proceed to the floor of the Wyoming House of Representatives for further consideration.

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