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Paddles & Wheels hoping to make Billings an outdoor lovers paradise

By Phil Van Pelt,


The Depot in downtown Billings might not be the first place many think of when it comes to Montana’s outdoor recreation but a recent partnership with Scheels is making favorite outdoor activities more accessible.

Montana brings in the second-highest amount of revenue from outdoor recreation in the country and Paddles & Wheels in Billings is aiming to ensure Billings is top of mind for outdoor enthusiasts.

"I think that the misconception that there’s nothing to do here is just not knowing that there’s stuff to do here," said Andrew Sennett, the rental lead for Billings Scheels, on Friday.

That's part of the reason they’re making access to everything from bikes, paddleboards and kayaks as easy as ever.

"This is an incredible opportunity both for our residents and our visitors. But when people come and visit Billings, they want to be on our trails and you have the Yellowstone River, the longest undammed river in the lower 48. They want to get on the river, or maybe it's Lake Elmo. They want to experience that recreation, because I think it’s a misconception that Billings doesn’t have this amazing outdoor recreation and we absolutely do, and our visitors want to explore it," said Alyssa Voeltz, member experience manager at the Billings Chamber on Friday.

"It's big for both tourism. If you only want it for a day or if you want to try before you buy or if it’s just not an accessible moment to buy a whole paddle-board," said Mette Fears, a co-lead manager at Paddles & Wheels in Billings, on Friday.

But the unofficial kickoff to summer also brings with it National Heat Awareness Day on Friday and National Sunscreen Day on Saturday, highlighting the dangers of extended stays in the sunshine.

“The number one thing you want to do to protect yourself is to wear sunscreen regularly and consistently.” said Dr. Marla Diakow of Schweiger Dermatology.

When choosing a sunscreen, look for at least SPF 30 or higher and broad spectrum, which blocks UVA and UVB rays.

Over 600 people die each year in US due to heat related illnesses, and while Montana doesn’t rank very high on the list, it does rank as one of the highest for skin cancer rates.

But as summer kicks off, there’s hope that Paddles & Wheels will help people see Billings as an outdoor lover’s paradise.

"We’ve talked to a bunch of people and people have come here while we’re setting up and said, 'Hey, are you open yet?' So, we can tell people are excited about it and everyone we talk to about it they say, wow that’s a great idea," said Natalie Jennings, a co-lead manager at Paddles & Wheels on Friday.

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