Last fall, a Colorado-based nonprofit put the call out to businesses in the Rockies asking for feedback on the economic benefits of the Continental Divide Trail. The results of that first-time survey, published in late December, revealed that 78 percent of respondents felt that thru-hikers patronizing their shops had had at least some—if not a significant—positive impact on their revenue. Responses came from 71 small businesses in 16 towns throughout New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho.

Conspicuously absent from the list of communities included in the Continental Divide Trail Coalition’s findings were any from Montana, the only other state through which the famed trail (roughly 800 miles of it) passes.

Executive Director Teresa Martinez explains that Montana’s exclusion from the results was far from intentional or malicious. Her organization sent the survey via SurveyMonkey to more than 250 small businesses along the trail’s route, including in Montana, which she speculates may have wound up in more than a few junk email boxes. In addition, CDTC canvassed numerous businesses in Colorado in person, hoping to “beef up” some of the survey responses.

“We did not try to shun Montana,” Martinez says. “If we’d had more funding, we would have done the same thing in Montana, because we know that businesses have a lot to say.”

Martinez adds that the lack of response from Montana may simply be due to the fact that small communities here aren’t yet familiar with CDTC. But that’s poised to change. In August 2017, Lincoln signed on as CDTC’s first “gateway community” in Montana, and Martinez says her organization is working to add Butte and Helena to that list. The organization also partnered on a project with the Montana Wilderness Association for the first time last year. Matt Bowser, stewardship director for MWA, says the two nonprofits are set to collaborate again in 2018 to maintain two miles of trail near Lewis and Clark Pass and replace a sign destroyed in last year’s Alice Creek fire that marked where Meriwether Lewis crossed the divide in 1806.

“We’re all in it for the same reason,” Bowser says, “to help restore trail in this day and age of agency budgets being cut for backlog of maintenance and deferred maintenance on our trails.”

CDTC is hoping that the relationships forged through on-the-ground collaboration will pay off when it conducts its second small business survey later this year. Martinez recognizes that a link in an email isn’t nearly as effective as meeting business owners and chambers of commerce face to face, and she’s eager to hear from Montana’s mom-and-pops about the effects—positive or negative—of Continental Divide Trail traffic.

“In the future,” she says, “I think we really want to understand more of that relationship and dig into a little more what that looks like, and what kind of perceived challenges from a growing outdoor recreation base do you see.”

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