Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday he will ask Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to appropriate $4 million in general license funding to support the building of boat ramps and campgrounds along the lower Yellowstone River.
Bullock met with members of the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition in Glendive where he made the announcement. The funding would require approval of the 2021 Montana Legislature.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to improve public access along a large stretch of the lower Yellowstone River, and I look forward to seeing the coalition’s vision of improved river access and recreation realized and passed on to our kids and grandkids,” Bullock said in a statement.
The coalition is seeking to find matching funds to bring the investment in infrastructure along the 170 miles of river between Hysham and Sidney up to $8 million.
“This is an incredible opportunity to eliminate these large access gaps and make it easier for folks to boat, fish, and camp on the Lower Yellowstone," said the coalition's Christine Whitlatch in a statement. "Improving our recreational infrastructure would boost our quality of life, attract more visitors, and strengthen Eastern Montana’s economy — it’s really a win for everyone.”
The group is hoping to capitalize on a growing desire for outdoor recreation spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite early restrictions on travel and gatherings, tourism to Montana and its outdoor attractions has trended up this summer. Yellowstone National Park even recorded more visitors this July than last.
With the increase in visitation, however, has come congestion at some campgrounds, boat launches and other public recreation facilities. Spreading out those users by providing amenities in Eastern Montana along the Yellowstone River could help, in theory, while providing a much-needed injection of money into the area's economy.
According to Kampgrounds of America, which is headquartered in Billings, its facilities across the United States have seen an increase in advanced reservations of almost 30% this summer when compared to last year.
"Montana campgrounds have definitely followed the trend of strong summer business," wrote Saskia Boogman, KOA's director of public relations, in an email. "We definitely feel the effects of the pandemic in campground operations, but overall business has been strong locally."