Thursday, May 23, 2024

Supports Gateway bill

by Randy Brodehl
| May 8, 2024 2:00 AM

As a County Commissioner, I work with residents and businesses navigating the relationship Gateway Communities have with our national parks and our federal lands. The U.S. has some true treasures of nature and getting a front seat in our hometown is one of the main reasons people choose to live here. But people also talk about the difficulties: traffic, congestion, housing shortages, infrastructure strain, just to name a few. That’s why I was honored to testify, on behalf of Montanans before Congress on the importance of Congressman Zinke’s Gateway Communities and Recreation Enhancement Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives as part of the Explore Act, a bundle of outdoor recreation and public land access bills.

Tourism to Glacier and our federal lands has increased drastically in the last few years, which is great. Not only for those who get to see Montana’s beauty firsthand, but for the economies of the local communities. We want people to come see our national parks and forests; we are proud of them. But we don’t want to be locked out at the expense of our state tourism which is exactly what has been happening. To bring this into perspective, last year vehicle reservation tickets to the Going-to-the-Sun Road for July sold out in 30 minutes; this year, they sold out in 3 minutes. The Parks Service rationing vehicle park passes was a restrictive decision that affected everyone in the community without input from locals. 

If you’ve listened to Congressman Zinke talk for more than 5 minutes you’ve heard him say we need more Montana in D.C. and less D.C. in Montana. Last Fall Zinke reached out to me to see if I could “bring more Montana to D.C.” by giving a firsthand account of a Gateway Community to Congress. I testified in support of Zinke’s bill in front of the Natural Resources Committee. As I told the members, the bill addresses a lot of the difficulties faced by Flathead County and Gateway Communities around the U.S. The most important part of the bill is that it requires public land management to consult with locals to address problems of the present and the future. It also attempts to alleviate congestion by promoting visitation of lesser-known areas of the parks, which, as we who live here know, are just as beautiful and worth a visit, and it creates a digital “America the Great” pass to access public lands, allowing for easier entry to the parks.  Our parks are not going away and neither are we, so we need to establish rules of engagement into law with the National Parks Service.

Ryan Zinke worked hard with the community on this bill. Coming from Whitefish, he understands how Gateway communities are affected. Bills like this one and the Congressman’s consistent pressure on the Flathead Lake level issues show that he is willing to go to bat for us. Without his “Fill the Lake” campaign on the local level and the consistent action on the federal level, the dam operators would never have sought a waiver from the Army Corps to keep the lake levels higher this spring in preparation for a possible drought year. Fill the Lake and the Gateway Communities and Recreation Enhancement Act are what you get when local voices are amplified to the federal level.

I was proud to fight for our community in Congress and I was excited to see this bill pass the House. I am glad Senator Daines introduced the gateway bill in the Senate and I encourage Senator Tester to get on board and quickly pass the Explore Act through the Senate and the President to sign it into law.

Randy Brodehl is a former member of the Montana House of Representatives and current Chair of the Flathead County Commissioners