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Anaconda officially became a Gateway Community for the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) on June 29, only the second in Montana. The CDT is one of the world's premiere 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.

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, Anaconda has plans to do major improvements on the Adventure Camp facilities.

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. The CDT Gateway Community program is a great example of this — and a great example of why protecting public lands is vital.

One effective way to safeguard the CDT and other public lands is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). And while LWCF has helped protect irreplaceable landscapes in every state for more than 55 years, it's been in jeopardy lately.

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 was made for permanent and full funding. 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, U.S. Sen. Steve 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.

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-thirds.

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 Corporation and an avid trails enthusiast.

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