Despite our different approaches, conservationists in the West can all generally agree on one thing: nature inspires people. The diversity, richness and complexities of ecosystems encourage scientists to dig deeper, farmers to innovate, artists to paint, and, perhaps most importantly, the broader public to get out and explore.
As we assemble American Prairie Reserve in Montana, an ambitious effort to glue together millions of acres of public and private land, we are continually reminded of the power of walking through willows along a creek, sitting on a grassy hilltop, or driving slow with the windows down. In fact, we count on it when we’re hosting our supporters, friends, and partners. There’s no substitute for dirt under your nails, a cool wind across the tip of your nose. And, unfortunately for us, even a map or Google Earth tour doesn’t adequately describe what 50 miles of uninterrupted rolling grasslands does for your soul (and humility).
In addition to serving a crucial role in grassland habitat conservation, our hope is that American Prairie Reserve will be a destination for a variety of travelers – animal lovers, history buffs and adventure seekers. After all, open space and wildlife are not only inherently valuable but also profitable for industry and communities. As the West endures its latest rounds of booms and busts, the value of Western lands for recreation is holding steady, if not growing.
In a recent report released by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), it is estimated that direct annual spending on outdoor recreation by American consumers exceeded $646 billion last year, with the West accounting for almost 40% of the national total. The report also found that outdoor recreation in the West accounts for 2.3 million jobs and $256 billion in direct spending. Nature is not only inspirational; it can be good business without sacrificing sustainability.
American Prairie Reserve views outdoor recreation as a way to connect people and the economy to conservation in ways that are mutually beneficial. Despite being entirely privately funded, our lands are open to the public free of charge, and we are seeing rapid growth in the amount of independent travelers and outfitted groups coming to the Reserve. In turn, we are also branching into campgrounds, trail building, and interpretive signs. Our position has always been that we can only be truly successful if local communities see the economic benefit of a large-scale conserved landscape.
As so poignantly stated by Baba Dioum, “In the end we conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” The Reserve is a living classroom, a place to learn firsthand why open spaces are valuable inside and out. Best of all, it’s yours to explore.
NOTE: A longer, nationally-focused report entitled “The Outdoor Recreation Economy” was released by the Outdoor Industry Association at the end of June: www.outdoorindustry.com
American Prairie Reserve (APR) is assembling a world class wildlife park in northern Montana, with the goal of one day creating a seamless 3.5 million acre grassland ecosystem. Learn more about APR, including our bison restoration efforts and how to visit, on the Reserve’s website.