By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
The cars and trucks have not stopped coming to the Chugwater rest area since it reopened early Friday morning. Even before its entry gates went up at 6 a.m. for the first time in nearly a year, two trucks and horse trailers were lined up waiting.
Since then, the visits have not slowed, according to LaCynda Fortik, who manages the contract for the reopened facility.
The Chugwater rest area was one of 10 around the state that closed last June due to budget cuts implemented by Governor Mark Gordon, a move that saved the state roughly $200,000.
As of Friday morning, nine of those reopened, including those at or near:
Lusk on U.S. Highway 18
Guernsey on U.S. Highway 26
Greybull on U.S. Highway 16
Moorcroft on Interstate 90
Star Valley on U.S. Highway 89
Sundance on Interstate 90
Upton on U.S. Highway 16
Orin Junction on Interstate 25, and
Chugwater on Interstate 25
Only the Fort Steele rest area off 1-80 will remain closed, according to Doug McGee, public affairs manager for WYDOT.
McGee said the rest area is closed because of a large construction project in the vicinity currently underway to expand truck parking by about 200 parking spots to provide refuge for drivers in inclement weather when the interstate shuts down. The project is scheduled to be complete by fall of 2022, when the rest area will reopen, McGee said.
Getting the rest of the shuttered rest areas up and running in time for summer tourist season was a priority for the office of Gov. Mark Gordon. Gordon tasked WYDOT to partner with Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) to appropriate available federal funding to make it happen.
“We wanted to show the world that Wyoming is open for business,” McGee said, “and we wanted to help people feel welcome.”
McGee said the department is in the process of applying for funding from multiple sources. The goal is to keep the rest areas open through Sept. 30, if not longer. Ideally, the state will find funding to keep them open year-round.
Overhead electronic signs on 1-25 this morning advertised the newly opened rest areas throughout the state, and Fortik noted it was effective advertising.
“It’s so busy,” she said, taking a brief break from duties Friday morning. “That place has not stopped since the gates went up.”
Mostly, it’s been vehicles with out-of-state license plates and a lot of snowbirds making their way back home, she said.
Maintaining the rest areas keeps Fortik and other contractors hopping from dust to dawn. They’re responsible for removing and disposing of all trash, litter and weeds on the grounds, cleaning the walks and parking area, as well as maintaining the restroom facilities and mowing the grounds, among other duties.
Fortik estimated that she and her small crew of helpers stop by the rest area three to four times a day for a minimum of three-to-four hours per day.
Mowing is by far the hardest job to keep up on, she said, though she makes it her business to keep the rest area looking clean because in her experience, she’s found that people are much more likely to respect a clean facility than a dirty one.
McGee did not have current figures on what it will cost to maintain the nine rest areas for the four-month season, though based on last year’s figures, the costliest one to run was the rest area off 1-25 at Orin Junction at $10,324 per month.
Chugwater came in second at just under $9,873, while the Star Valley rest area was the cheapest to maintain at $1,449 per month.