WyoClimbers’ economic presentation packs Lander’s Colter Loft

Michael Kusiek played the role of presenter Saturday night at the Colter Loft in Lander. Kusiek presented data collected by researchers at Eastern Kentucky University that show how rock climbing affects Lander’s economy. Photo by Carl Cote.

Climbers, outdoor enthusiasts, and local legislators gathered Saturday night above Lander Bar at the Colter Loft for a presentation on climbing’s effects on Lander’s economy. The presentation was based on research conducted by Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) via an online survey that reached 416 climbers who visited Lander in 2019 or in 2020. The main findings generated from the study — $4.5 million spent in Lander by the survey takers — was presented by Michael Kusiek, who is the executive director of local cycling advocacy group Wyoming Pathways.

Michael Kusiek played the role of presenter Saturday night at the Colter Loft in Lander. Kusiek presented data collected by researchers at Eastern Kentucky University that show how rock climbing affects Lander’s economy.

“If you moved to Lander for climbing, raise your hand,” said Kusiek as he opened up the presentation — to which almost everyone in the room raised their hand. “Lander is getting about 30,000 climbing visitors per year. The question is: How do we get them to come into town and spend money at our locally owned business?”

But the EKU study wasn’t designed to answer this question. Instead, it helps prove, with data, that, among others, the people living out of their vehicles and tents in City Park over the summer are doing serious work to help stimulate Lander’s economy.

The study found that along with the $4.5 million generated for the economy, $710,000 was generated in tax dollars in Fremont County. Additionally, in mid-July $144,000 was spent at local businesses during the week of the climber’s fest alone.

“What’s really cool about these studies is that you’re not guessing anymore,” said Kusiek, who then quickly summoned a laugh from the crowd with a quote from economist W. E. Deming, “In God we trust; all others bring data.”

Kusiek isn’t new to data-driven studies in the Lander area. In 2019 he worked with UW Economist Dr. Roger Coupal toward making estimates on the economic effects of Lander businesses started by climbers.

With financial numbers provided by 11 climber-owned Lander businesses the two were able to deduce that restaurants in the category brought in $1.85 million and retail business were right at $9.35 million. Along with their revenue, in 2019 these businesses employed 70 employees and generated an estimated $22.5 million for the local economy.

Perhaps, along with the free pizza and beer, it’s numbers like these that have finally got local politicians like Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones and Lander Mayor Monte Richardson, who were both in attendance, showing up at meetings to hear what climbers have to say.

“This is the first time we’ve had multiple local politicians show up to a meeting about climbing that wasn’t the Climber’s Festival,” said Lander local and long-time climbing developer Sam Lightner Jr. “It was great to see such a big turn out … Tonight was a big deal.”

Lander local Justin Iskra climbed at The Rock Shop, a bouldering-focused climbing area that sits south of Lander atop South Pass.

Moving forward, these bonds between the climbing community and the non-climbing community are important for Lander as a whole as it navigates pressing issues like rising house prices, employee shortages, and more diversity on the political spectrum in the near future.

For more information about the EKU study (including a youtube presentation from the study’s author Dr. James Maple,) the 2019 Coupal and Kusiek study, or more about climbing in Lander please visit WyoCliombers.org.