Wild v. Accessible: Converse County Residents Fight Over Box Elder Canyon Improvements

Controversy has erupted over the future of the scenic Box Elder Canyon area near Glenrock. Some say they would like to see more trails there, but others want the rugged landscape left alone.

Mark Heinz

October 20, 20226 min read

Boxelder canyon wyoming scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

There’s no shortage of love for Wyoming’s rugged Box Elder Canyon, and lately no shortage of controversy over its future. 

Some locals want it left exactly as it is, while others would like to see it made more accessible. 

“The mountains need to be left as they are for future generations without man made attractions,” Nic Blackburn of Glenrock told Cowboy State Daily.

He’s part of a group of locals who have launched a petition opposing any further development in the area.

“We’d like to see a trail up on top, something where people can go on a walk, or a run, or ride their bikes,” Rose Haroian of Douglas told Cowboy State Daily.

She’s a member of a group called Outdoor Enthusiasts of Converse County, which has lobbied the Converse County Commission to do trail development and build a public toilet. They claim it will make the area more enjoyable for older people and others who now might have trouble getting in there to enjoy the expansive scenery. 

At issue is a county park encompassing roughly 2,100 acres, including the canyon itself, which was described by Blackburn, Haroian and others as extremely rugged. 

Box Elder Canyon is near Fort Fetterman southeast of Glenrock in Converse County.

What People Want

Meanwhile, the Converse County Commission is trying to weigh opinions and needs on both sides, commissioner Robert Short told Cowboy State Daily. He’s the commission’s liaison to the public on the matter.

“There’s been no design, there’s been no formal proposals. There’s been no decision made about any of this,” he said. “The whole purpose of these meetings was to help determine what the public wants. I get nothing out of this, except maybe some heartburn when people accuse me of impropriety.”

He was referencing recent public meetings – one in Glenrock and another in Douglas – about the future for Box Elder Canyon. Most of the people who spoke up at the meetings favored more development, he said.

However, comments and opinions gathered through the commission’s online portal are split pretty evenly, Short said. 

“My personal position is that I just love the outdoors,” he said. “My position as a commissioner on this whole thig is ‘do what the people want,’ my personal opinion is irrelevant. But that said, the loudest voice doesn’t always reflect the majority of the people.”

Should any development go forward, the work would probably be done by a company called TPT Trails, which has previously built trails in Wyoming, he said. 

Is Even A Little Too Much?

“The public lands of Wyoming are getting less and less,” Blackburn said. “If we keep moving society further and further up the mountain there will be no open land to enjoy.”

At present, there’s only a crude trail leading down to the bottom of the canyon, where a creek offers good fishing, he and other said. 

The area also attracts hunters, hardcore hikers and others seeking quiet and solitude, Ryan Epperly of Glenrock told Cowboy State Daily.

He has enjoyed hiking the canyon and other remote pockets of the county’s land there since he was in high school, and doesn’t want to see any more development. 

“It’s a rare piece of property,” he said, because it’s close enough for Glenrock and Douglas locals to get to quickly, but rugged enough to keep the crowds away. 

“They (locals) don’t want to see it blow up too big” as many previously secluded areas of Wyoming have, Epperly said. 

For those seeking more easily accessible, albeit more crowded recreation in the surrounding area, Glendo State Park isn’t far away, he said. 

And the Duncan Ranch trailhead is directly across a paved county road from the main access point into Box Elder Canyon, he added. 

That leads to an extensive network of hiking and mountain biking trails. So, as he and some other locals see it, there’s no need for another trail network into Box Elder Canyon, Epperly said. 

There also is concern that putting in more trails could start pulling in crowds from elsewhere, including Colorado’s Front Range metropolitan area. 

“Some of the people commenting in favor of the trails at the public meetings aren’t even from here and have never even been to Box Elder Canyon,” he said. 

Epperly said he and other locals might not mind a better trail leading down into the bottom of the canyon, but anything else would be too much. 

‘It Was Hell, Basically’

The Converse County Outdoor Enthusiasts don’t want to turn Box Elder Canyon into a “premier destination” that would draw hoards, Haroian said.

What they want is a trail going along the west side of the canyon and a better trail going down into it, she said. Most of the county’s property is on the east side of the canyon and could be left rugged and untouched. 

“We’re talking about a very small percentage of the park being improved,” she said. “If people want to go recreate in the wilds, there will still be plenty of the county park property to go do that in.”

Getting across to the east side of the canyon is no small feat, she added. 

“It’s a pretty steep canyon. Unless you’re young and crazy and bail off the canyon wall, there isn’t a good way to get down there,” she said. “The first time I went in, I did go down into the canyon and back up and out the other side.”

“I was still only in my 30s then,” said Haroian, now 66. “And it was hell, basically.”

In addition to some more trails, the outdoor enthusiasts group would like to see at least one public toilet or outhouse, she said.

“We all know what happens when there isn’t a toilet around,” she said. 

Holding Pattern

For now, the county commission is in a holding pattern, hoping to compile comments taken both from online and the public meetings to consider the “best arguments” from both sides. 

Meanwhile, commissioners also plan to meet Saturday with representatives of TPT Trails and the county parks and recreation board. 

No matter what happens, Box Elder Canyon is unlike any other area in that region of Wyoming, so any decisions need to be made carefully, Short said. 

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter