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Small towns and cities near national parks, public lands, and other natural amenities throughout the West are experiencing rapid growth and increased visitation. These “gateway communities” comprise a significant portion of the rural West, constituting about 31% of all communities and more than 60% of those under 25,000 people. Our prior NITC-funded research shows that growth and increased tourism create a range of “big city challenges” for gateway communities, particularly a significant increase in housing prices, which pushes the local workforce to outlying areas and other rural communities. As a result, despite being small towns, many developed gateway communities have large commuter sheds and more employees who commute into the community than employees who live and work in the community. Our observations suggest this rural gentrification and its related spillover effect results in longer worker commutes, higher transportation costs, and impacts on transportation infrastructure, land use, access to opportunity, mobility, equity, and quality of life in these rural towns and cities and the regions around them. Our observations also suggest this trend has intensified in the last year and is now rapidly playing out across the rural West due to COVID-19, which has expedited amenity migration and resulted in the “Zoom Town” phenomenon of remote workers relocating from high-income urban areas to rural towns and cities. While we have plenty of anecdotal evidence that this is happening and creating profound impacts throughout the rural West, our understanding of these dynamics in gateway communities and appropriate solutions for addressing them was limited prior to this study. To address this gap, we examined the extent to which gateway communities throughout the West are experiencing interconnected housing, transportation and land use challenges, and how increased visitation and growth affect these issues. We also explored the innovative things these communities are doing to respond and what can be learned from their experiences for small and large communities throughout the country. We did so by conducting a regional survey of western gateway communities; in-depth case studies of four gateway communities that are “out front” in experiencing and/or responding to these issues; and a series of workshops and informal interviews with gateway community representatives from across the West. We also used Census data to map commuter sheds and explore growth and development trends in these places. This report shares the key descriptive findings from our study.


This is the final report, NITC-RR-1475, (grant number 1475) and can be found online at:



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