Back in 2019, the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition came together around a shared goal: working toward new investments in public access, recreational infrastructure, and wildlife habitat along almost 200 miles of the Lower Yellowstone River between Hysham and Fairview. Since then, we’ve been proud to earn the support of dozens of local government officials, businesses, and individuals who all believe in a strong future for Eastern Montana.
Now, we’re excited to share a new report demonstrating just how much Eastern Montana would benefit from these investments.
According to the report, new public lands and improved access along the Lower Yellowstone could support 56 new jobs and have a total economic impact of nearly $7 million every year.
Check us out in the Billings Gazette!
Better Access for Everyone
Following our lead, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has been working with willing landowners to identify new parcels of land along the Lower Yellowstone that the department could purchase at fair market value to secure new public access. Establishing this new access would help address existing access gaps along the river and make it easier for folks to enjoy our incredible public land resources.
“There's lots of demand for better access to the Lower Yellowstone – my local access sites, Myers Bridge and Isaac Homestead, were busy with overnight and day users for most of the summer. It’s apparent that we need more access sites to enable all outdoor enthusiasts, whether local or visitors, to enjoy all that the river has to offer.”
- Ruth Baue, Treasure County Commissioner and landowner
A big part of making the Lower Yellowstone more accessible to everyone is improving existing infrastructure like boat ramps, restrooms, and hiking trails; adding new campsites and portage trails; providing potable water sources; and even reopening select closed access sites.
New public lands would also protect important habitat for wildlife like deer, birds, fish, and more.
A Boost for Eastern Montana’s Economy
New and improved public lands and investments in public access would provide a big economic boost for rural communities along the river corridor. The proposed investments could boost visitation by over 50,000 visitors, support 56 jobs, and produce a total of $6.7 million in goods and services every year.
“Investing in the Lower Yellowstone River is an investment into our future. Over time, careful investments like these will lead to community growth, improved amenities, new infrastructure, better education, and increased disposable income for residents. This project is an opportunity to contribute to a more diversified and resilient rural economy.”
- Beth Epley, executive director of Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation
Right now, almost ⅔ of visitor spending in Eastern Montana happens in Yellowstone County. Improving fishing, camping, hunting, boating, hiking, and other recreation access across the region would help spread the economic impact of these new public lands more broadly. This would go a long way in rural communities along the river, and disperse visitors across the region so towns wouldn’t be overwhelmed by visitors.
Strengthening Rural Communities
Careful investment would bring economic benefits without overwhelming small towns, and it would help meet the demand for public lands that already exists.
State park visitation in Eastern Montana has grown by 39% over the last three years, topping out at over 300,000 visitors. Of those 300,000, nearly 75% went to just two state parks: Makoshika and Tongue River Reservoir. New parks would disperse the impact of increased visitation and encourage travelers to visit new and different communities.
“The Lower Yellowstone is our constant connector – it ties our communities together and attracts visitors to Eastern Montana. These folks want to hike, visit historical sites, explore small towns, see a state park, and recreate on the water. If we can provide more opportunities for our visitors to do these things, they’ll stay here longer and spend more money in our communities.”
- Brenda Maas, director of marketing at Visit Southeast Montana
Investing in new public lands and access would provide more than just economic benefits. 61% of state park visitors in Eastern Montana are local residents, and expanding state park access would make it easier for all of us to enjoy the region’s outdoors. At the same time, parks, fishing access sites, and trails provide free recreation and easy outdoor access, which provide meaningful physical and mental health benefits.
This is an exciting opportunity for public lands and communities in Eastern Montana, and we’re incredibly grateful that so many residents, elected officials, and business owners have spoken up to support the Lower Yellowstone project. If you know of anyone who’d like to learn more or show their support, please encourage them to contact us or show their support by signing our open letter.