The Our Shared Place symposium.
Athletes, politicians, government employees, community members, and students sauntered towards tables; breakfast in hand, on the morning of April 23rd. They all had two things in common, a love for the outdoors and a desire to see the Greater Yellowstone remain an amiable place to spend time outside as it grows.
The symposium was put on at Montana State by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a group formed in 1983 with the mission of protecting our wild lands, rivers, lakes, and wildlife in the 20 million acre ecosystem that draws land from Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition's symposium had a specific focus on how we make recreation in this area better today and in the future as this place grows.
Since the 60’s, the population in the Greater Yellowstone has grown 212%. That may be a tough pill to swallow, as your favorite trail gets more crowded, you have to wait for another party before getting on your favorite pitch, or wilderness camping seems a bit less desolate when you see another soul. Either way, it seems as though there are two ways to deal with this reality, complain or buck up and make sure this place stays special. The members of the April symposium actively bucked up and worked on creating solutions.
While many symposiums are well intentioned, they tend to discuss problems and never offer any reasonable solutions. Our Shared Place did an admirable job of working to create real and tangible first steps towards solutions for the problems crowding and growing create.
One of the biggest problems presented in the conference was the problem of data. When dealing with generally backcountry activities involving trails instead of roads and views as opposed to the internet, it can be difficult to track how, where, and when our public places are being used for recreation.
In order to create useful data so that organizations can find solutions and push resources to the necessary places, groups like Headwaters Economics have been using social media apps like Strava to generate reliable data on use. During the conference this data was distributed openly in order to create a more shared understanding of recreation in our “shared place.”
Speaking of “shared place,” one important topic addressed throughout the two days was that of diversity. In a place as homogenous as the Greater Yellowstone, bringing people of other backgrounds—be it racial, sexual, economic, or any other—is important for progress and a diversity of experience. For this reason, tribal representatives and groups working to further equality in the outdoors were given a platform to speak on their experiences in the outdoors. Hearing these experiences was eye opening for many, and made them consider or reconsider the privilege that comes with even spending times in the outdoors.
“Nature is the great equalizer,” or versions of this same mantra were used frequently throughout the two-day, Our Shared Place: The Present and Future of Recreation in Greater Yellowstone Symposium at MSU. This particular sentiment is something many share when it comes to public lands and outdoor recreation.
Therefore, events akin to Our Shared Place are necessary for maintaining and improving our communities. Not only this, but in order to be successful and meaningful, it is important we also create solutions, as was done through data sharing, sharing of experiences, and the last session of the conference.
During the last session everyone in the SUB ballroom was asked to fill out a notecard with potential solutions for the problems we face with a growing area and first steps to implement toward solutions. They then stood up and handed their notecards to others to score on a scale of one to five how effective their ideas and solutions would be.
At first, those attending seemed slightly anxious to stand and pass their notecards around for the praise or lack thereof from their peers, but the nerves quickly dissipated and were replaced with smiles after seeing good ideas of others.
This attitude of creating positive and realistic first steps was one that should be impressed on all of those who use the outdoors in the Greater Yellowstone. We can all do small things like wave to those we pass, and should strive to do bigger things, like attend future symposiums and work to carry out tangible solutions. So, take a note from the symposium, and start working toward making our shared place on that continues to be enjoyable for all of us.