Communities outside of major public lands and other natural amenities throughout the western United States face a variety of transportation and planning-related concerns associated with rapid growth and increases in tourism. Surprisingly, while the unique transportation and planning-related challenges of these western gateway and amenity region (GNAR) communities have, to some extent, been documented in recreation and tourism research, these concerns have largely been overlooked in planning scholarship. To begin to address this gap, this report presents key descriptive findings from a study aimed at examining the unique transportation, mobility, and access to opportunity-related challenges being experienced by GNAR communities throughout the western U.S. It draws on findings from in-depth interviews with 31 planners and other key public officials from 25 western GNAR communities, an online survey of planners and other key public officials in GNAR communities throughout the west, and observation of planning efforts in the regions around Zion National Park and Moab, UT, and Sandpoint, ID. Our results provide empirical evidence that many western GNAR communities are experiencing significant increases in growth and visitation pressures along with a number of related “big-city” problems, such as lack of affordable housing, income inequality, and transportation issues. These changes contrast against the fact that these communities value their small town character and related community characteristics. Our data suggest that despite these pressures, most GNAR communities are experiencing improved quality of life and visitor experience. However, some communities report declining quality of life and visitor experience, as well as extreme challenges associated with housing, transportation, and other planning concerns, raising the question of whether GNAR communities reach a tipping point at which visitation and development pressures result in overall impacts on community wellbeing. Our results also show that GNAR communities throughout the west are experimenting with innovative and promising approaches for tackling their housing and transportation issues. Further analysis is needed to better understand what kinds of GNAR communities are experiencing what kinds of challenges, as well as to assess the effectiveness of different kinds of strategies for addressing these challenges; we will explore those topics in future publications. One key takeaway from this study is that housing, transportation, and land use decisions are highly interwoven in GNAR communities throughout the west; further research is needed to better understand this connectivity and what it means for appropriate housing and access solutions.
The results of this study have supported the development of the GNAR Initiative (https://www.usu.edu/gnar/), a partnership effort based at Utah State University that seeks to understand and address planning and development challenges in gateway and natural amenity regions. The GNAR Initiative hosts the GNAR Community Online Toolkit (https://gnar.utah.edu/about/capacity/gnar-toolkit/), which provides information and resources for planners, public officials, community members, consultants, public land managers, and all others who work in and around GNAR communities.