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The GNAR Initiative

Small cities and towns outside of significant natural amenities such as national parks, public lands, ski areas, and scenic rivers throughout the western United States are becoming increasingly popular places to visit and live. As a result, many of these gateway and natural amenity region (GNAR) communities—such as Jackson, WY, and Moab, UT—are grappling with a variety of “big city” issues, including severe congestion, lack of affordable workforce housing, and concerns about sprawl. Other GNAR communities are just beginning to, or may soon, experience significant growth and tourism pressures. Effective and proactive planning is critical for helping GNAR communities preserve and enhance the qualities that make them such desirable places to live and visit.

Check out our video below!

We help communities through our three pillars:


The GNAR Initiative acts as an intellectual incubator to foster and support multi-university and trans-disciplinary research aimed at better documenting and holistically understanding the opportunities and challenges in GNAR communities. It also develops, supports, and studies evidence-based strategies for helping western GNAR communities thrive amid change. To learn more about our research projects and findings, see our Research page.



The GNAR Initiative trains graduate and undergraduate students to understand and work in the unique contexts of GNAR communities.  The Initiative also provides education and learning resources to GNAR communities through our webinar series and other efforts aimed at building awareness and understanding of the unique experiences and concerns of western GNAR communities.

Capacity Building

Planners, public officials, consultants, and others working with western GNAR communities are seeking tools, information, resources, and other forms of support to assist these places in addressing the interconnected challenges they face. The Initiative provides a range of capacity building and planning support for GNAR communities and the people working in and around them. Check out our GNAR Network or Toolkit Pages for more info.

Check out The GNARly Blog

GNAR in the News:

The 'Zoom towns' luring remote workers to rural enclaves

Los Angeles native Shanelle Sherlin always wanted to live close to nature in a place where, as a triathlete, she could run, bike and swim away from city noise. So, when her job as a digital marketing manager for an entertainment company went fully remote,...

Facing a GNAR*ly Future for Sandpoint

It's no secret that Sandpoint and its surrounding area is a great place to live. The lake, the mountain, the wildlife, the people... all have been extolled in articles, YouTube videos, blog posts and advertisements all over the country. And people have be...

University of Utah Magazine — Summer 2021

Just as mining led to western boomtowns, the pandemic has led to the rise of "Zoom Towns." Even before lockdowns began, areas near world-class outdoor offerings sometimes called gateway communities, were struggling to accomodate an influx of people. As ru...


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 We are proud to partner with:


The GNAR Initiative is a program of the Institute of Outdoor Recreation at Utah State University

We are now accepting donations to help support our critical work. You can donate using the PayPal button below.