Cities like Bozeman, Montana used to be a place that folks could retire and get away from the world. Now, it's one of the many towns that is becoming overrun.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Americans sought out a smaller micropolitan to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Several tourist cities around the country are going through this.
Tim Crawford is an environmental activist who lives on a farm just outside the city limits of Bozeman. He has lived there for more than 30 years. Prior to Bozeman, Crawford lived in Ketchum, Idaho. He left because the city was becoming overrun with tourists.
“You know, the problem is everybody's seen the money to be made in development here, but nobody has bothered to keep up with the infrastructure,” Crawford said.
He fears more people means fewer, overtaxed resources. Montana State Sen. Pat Flowers is well aware of the problem.
“The more people we get out on the rivers and even practicing catch and release, it begins to take a toll on fish over time when you get the pressure accelerating like it has here in the last 10 or 15 years,” Flowers said.
The challenges in Montana fill pockets across America. 2020 census data shows a trend of Americans ditching big cities for scenic homesteads.
New Braunfels, Texas; Breckenridge, Colorado; St. George, Utah; Buckeye City, Arizona: all are smaller cities known for natural amenities. All are facing substantial growth.
Jesse Keenan is a real estate professor at Tulane University.
“I think particularly in the age of COVID. They're changing their preferences about where they can work, how they can work and the amenities that we think about the environment, national parks, state, even local parks begin to have greater value," Keenan said.
In the 1960s, Boulder, Colorado faced similar growth and similar environmental concerns. The city responded with the “blue line plan," refusing to provide city services beyond a certain elevation.
They’ve got similar plans in Bozeman, except they want to build up, not out.
Jeff Mihelich is Bozeman’s city manager. He says they aren’t afraid of growth. They are simply trying to be responsible in a way that is measured.
Tim Crawford is skeptical. He sees a city where mother nature must now face human nature.