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Jeff Wright

A new group hopes to bring both the business and policy sides of outdoor recreation together this summer for a three-day exposition in Missoula.

The Montana Outdoors Foundation has reserved Fort Missoula’s Bella Vista Pavillion and much of the surrounding open space on July 19-21 for RecCon Montana, a statewide event similar to the regional Outdoor Industry Association gatherings. President Jeff Wright said the target participants were as expansive as the Big Sky.

“We’re pulling all these different groups together that are for-profit, non-profit, winter sports, summer sports, guide services, outfitters, manufacturers, dealers, designers, and land-use groups, public land groups, hunting groups, off-road groups, you name it,” Wright said. “If it’s a group involved in outdoor recreation in the state, we’d love to have them. We see ourselves doing it every year.”

Wright graduated from the University of Montana and then moved to California, where he worked for Apple and ran his own technology and design company. Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Wright to the Montana Ambassadors business advocacy program in 2016. He also owns the Trapper Peak Coffee Company in the Missoula Public Library.

Montana’s outdoor industry supports an estimated 71,000 jobs and brings more than $7 billion a year in consumer spending, according to the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation. That makes it the second-largest sector in the state’s economy after agriculture.

Business for Montana’s Outdoors Director Marne Hayes said while some industry groups have had large conventions, RecCon Montana was the first event she could recall that added user groups to the mix.

“Jeff’s organization is looking at relationships between conservation and recreation,” Hayes said. “There’s been challenge between where recreation and conservation communities have been able to meet on common ground. This brings an interesting piece to the conversation.”

At Five Valleys Land Trust, philanthropy director Whitney Schwab said she looked forward to an opportunity to show how land trust work contributes to the outdoor economy. Projects like Five Valley's Dean Stone easements and trails, or the new trail networks in Whitefish and Three Forks, give people more places to follow their hobbies and passions.

"I think the timing is good to have that kind of cross-section of outdoor professionals and outdoor industry people to come together," Schwab said. "We're excited to have the exposure of our role in supporting the outdoor industry with the spaces we helped create and steward."

The expo anticipates bringing outdoor vendor and retailer displays with booths for government agencies, nonprofit advocacy groups, land trusts and activity organizations. It will also feature outdoor skill learning labs. A limited number of camping spots for tents and small trailers will be available on the University of Montana’s property along the Bitterroot River next to the Fort Missoula playing fields.

“We want to be able to showcase participants and have a place to tell their stories,” Wright said. “It’s a chance to relate to each other on a business-to-business level, and there’s a lot of power building those relationships. It’s also for a business-to-consumer level, letting people know what they do to both the Montana audience and out-of-state audience.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.