Life in Lusk: Sense of Community Big Plus For Wyoming’s Most Sparse County

The 2020 census shows that Niobrara County has the state's lowest population density with 0.9 people per square mile.

Jim Angell

August 30, 20213 min read

Lusk downtown scaled

While there may be some downsides to living in the most sparsely populated county in the second-most sparsely populated state in the nation, there is at least one major advantage, according to Lusk Mayor Doug Lytle.

“I think the huge advantage is the community,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “It brings the community together because you depend on each other more.”

Results of the 2020 census show that Wyoming continues to have the lowest population in the nation at 576,851 people, but it holds the second-place spot when it comes to having the lowest population density — 5.9 people per square mile over its 97,088-square mile area.

Alaska, covering more than five times Wyoming’s area, comes in with the lowest population density in the country at 1.3 people per square mile — 733,391 people spread over 571,022 square miles.

The U.S. average for population density is 93.7 people per square mile.

Niobrara County has the state’s lowest population density with 2,467 people spread across 2,626 square miles — 0.9 people per square mile.

The low population density means the county lacks some amenities such as major shopping outlets, Lytle said.

“You can’t run to Wal-Mart or Menard’s, they’re 100 miles away,” he said. “You don’t have the retail base, the tax base.”

But that means people are more likely to help their neighbors, he said.

“You depend on each other a little more and everybody’s involved, not just some people,” he said.

He pointed as an example to Lusk’s annual “Legend of Rawhide” celebration, a major event made possible by hundreds of volunteers from Lusk and neighboring communities who take part in the effort to raise funds for scholarships and other charitable causes.

“We get people from Harris (Nebraska), from Van Tassel, from Manville,” he said. “They do a lot for the community. It gives a reason for people to come together and I think that’s important for communities these days.”

Lytle said the county also lacks the crowded conditions and traffic found in more densely populated areas.

“You can ride bikes down the street without being so worried about traffic,” he said. “Your parks aren’t constantly full of people so you can go have a picnic with your family.”

Lusk does enjoy brisk business traffic during the Sturgis, South Dakota, motorcycle rally owing to its location on major highways leading to the event, he said.

Lytle said overall, the sense of community overcomes any disadvantages to living in the area.

“It does cause challenges, but we’ve been doing it for years,” he said. “I think you get a sense of community when you take part in that.”

Following Niobrara County in rankings for low population density are Sublette and Carbon counties, which have a density of 1.8 people per square mile. Laramie County has the highest population density at 37.4 people per square mile.

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Jim Angell