KGVO: New Help for Housing Crunch Outside Montana’s Parks

Dennis Bragg Published: January 25, 2024

It’s not just Montana communities in general that are having a difficult time with housing during the current growth spurt.

The smaller communities that border Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks are feeling the pressure in another way, attempting to provide enough housing for the employees working in both the parks and the many tourism-related businesses that are a key part of their local economies.

There’s progress to report on a solution to the crunch, as word comes this week Congress is greenlighting legislation providing funding and assistance to deal with the problem.

“Gateway Bill” was first proposed last year

Last summer, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill introduced by Montana Senator Steve Daines called the “Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act.” The proposal was developed after several hearings by the Senate looking into new, and ongoing challenges stemming from the post-pandemic growth in tourism at the National Parks.

The bill was bi-partisan and was co-sponsored by Senator Angus King of Maine.

House gives the go-ahead

The package went over to the House, where Representative Ryan Zinke and Representative Mary Sattler Peltola of Alaska. Monday, the House Natural Resources Committee included the bill in the “EXPLORE Act.”

“Montana’s gateway communities play an important role in our state’s economy and help welcome folks from all over the world to our beautiful national parks. -Sen. Steve Daines

Nowhere to live and work

Daines believes the measure is critical for Montana towns that border the parks by opening the door for a variety of funding assistance, particularly to help with housing shortages. That’s been especially acute in places like Gardiner, Columbia Falls, West Yellowstone, and other smaller towns where not only Park Service employees need to live, but the thousands of people needed to staff restaurants, hotels, and other visitor services. 

Two other measures are also included in the package. One will streamline the process of getting special recreation permits to access public lands, and the second will re-authorize a program that allows the Forest Service to lease underutilized administrative buildings, which can be used for additional housing.ou