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Adam Vauthier

ADAM VAUTHIER

It was a great event and couldn’t have been any better for Anaconda and its residents. We officially became a Gateway Community for the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) on June 29, only the second in Montana. Stretching 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide, the CDT is one of the world's premier long-distance trails. Being a Gateway Community means that we are recognized by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) as a nearby town that actively promotes awareness and stewardship of the trail, welcomes hikers and make our services available to them, and gets the community involved in doing so.

The Gateway Community designation is an easy fit for Anaconda. Over the past several years, we have increasingly become a stopover for long-distance hikers and bikers on the CDT and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. We realized that this was an economic opportunity for the town and created an Adventure Camp in Washoe Park that offers these visitors free WiFi, bicycles to explore the town, and resources directing hikers to places where they can rest and refuel before continuing on their journeys. The Adventure Camp is a completely community- and volunteer-driven effort, so we really evolved naturally to become part of the trail experience. For many in Anaconda, the next logical step was to apply to be a CDT Gateway Community, and now that it’s official, we have the CDTC helping us in turn, formally promoting Anaconda as a place for folks to visit while exploring the CDT. Anaconda has plans to do some major improvements on our Adventure Camp facilities that we are calling Adventure Camp 2.0.

As Montanans know, access to outdoor recreation is a double blessing for communities such as Anaconda. In taking care of our great outdoors, we not only create unforgettable experiences in nature for all of us, but communities near protected public lands benefit greatly from recreationists who stop to stay in our lodging, eat in our restaurants, and shop in our stores. The CDT Gateway Community program is a great example of this - and a great example of why protecting public lands is vital.

One of the most effective ways to safeguard the CDT and other public lands is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Although the CDT has existed since 1978, about 5% of the route is still stuck on roads and highways where no public land exists to create a trail, and LWCF funding is absolutely critical to getting those remaining gaps completed. And while LWCF has helped protect irreplaceable landscapes in every state for more than 55 years, it's been in jeopardy lately.

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Fortunately, after much wrangling in Congress, LWCF was permanently reauthorized with broad bipartisan support this winter, ensuring that this fund — which requires zero taxpayer dollars — will continue to protect our access to trails, National Park sites, and more, now and for future generations. No stipulation, however, was made for permanent and full funding, allowing Congress to use money meant for protecting our access in whatever way they please, year after year. One promising solution is a bill currently in front of Congress which would guarantee permanent full funding for LWCF. Both of our Montana Senators are co-sponsors.

During a recent hearing on that bill, Senator Daines told his colleagues that "the reason companies are growing and the reason people are moving to Montana, it’s because of

the access to our public lands and the way of life we have.” We see that firsthand in Anaconda; I myself grew up here, left home for "greener pastures," but realized how much I love this town and brought my company back home with me. Currently Senator Daines, who helps decide how the federal budget gets spent as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, recently wrote to his fellow committee members that funding LWCF at just two-thirds of the $900 million it is supposed to receive would be good enough. I hope that both senators will push towards funding the LWCF fully not at two-thirdsI. Our recreation access is key to Montana’s and especially Anaconda’s economy and these funds ensure that people can access it.

As a CDT Gateway Community, we hope that some of our visitors might find Anaconda to be more than just a hospitable place to spend a night. Anaconda's a great place to live and work - in no small part due to the public lands we get to call our backyard. Rest assured, whether you’re a visitor or become a local, we’ll be here for you as a gateway to the magnificent Continental Divide Trail.

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Adam Vauthier is executive director of the Anaconda Local Development Corp.

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