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Analysis: Public Lands Attract Visitors, Dollars to Big Sky Country

Visitors from outside Montana spent an estimated $1.2 billion in Glacier National Park and the surrounding area in 2018. (Ada Be/Flickr)
Visitors from outside Montana spent an estimated $1.2 billion in Glacier National Park and the surrounding area in 2018. (Ada Be/Flickr)
June 28, 2019

MISSOULA, Mont. – The majesty of Montana's public lands is no secret – and that's a boon for the state's economy.

Visitors from outside Montana spent nearly $3.6 billion in the state in 2018, according to the University of Montana's Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research. That marks a 10% increase in spending over 2017 numbers.

Associate Director of the Institute Jeremy Sage says recreation is the main draw, with regions near Glacier and Yellowstone national parks bringing in the most visitor dollars.

"One thing we're seeing steadily increase is the amount of money being spent on outfitters and guides,” says Sage. “So, people coming here to Montana to take part in some kind of a[n] outdoor experience, whether its fishing or whitewater rafting, or horseback riding or whatever that experience might be."

Sage says money spent on outfitters and guides has surpassed retail spending in recent years. Two-thirds of the dollars spent by travelers last year were in Glacier and Yellowstone country.

The analysis also measures the economic impact of these dollars, and finds that visitors directly and indirectly supported more than 55,000 jobs in the state. Sage says that helps local economies in a number of ways.

"So, as this new money comes in, the amount of jobs required necessarily bump up,” says Sage. “And then, as those people have those jobs, they then spend their money in their communities; and those monies then are brought into the state and cycle through the state a few times."

Sage says there's been an increase in spending in Montana, even as visitation to places like Yellowstone was roughly the same between 2017 and 2018. He says that's likely because of a strong economy, where unemployment is low and consumer confidence is high.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT