By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
The world loves a cowboy, especially a Wyoming cowboy. That mystique — and the diversity of facilities at the Cam-plex event complex — is attracting what will explode Gillette into the largest city in Wyoming for a week in early August 2024 for something called Camporee.
The International Pathfinder Camporee is larger than the National Finals High School Rodeo and akin to a large Boy or Girl Scout event, put on every four to five years by the Seventh Day Adventistt Church for its youths.
The event generally is attended by about 55,000 — not quite twice the size of Gillette, which is a community of around 35,000.
To put that into perspective, Cheyenne is the largest city in the state with about 66,000 residents, followed by Casper with close to 60,000. From Aug. 5-11, 2024, the 90,000 people in Gillette will make it by far the largest city in the Cowboy State.
Only about two-thirds of the participants are youths. The rest are adults and parents who help manage the event and volunteer during the week of Camporee for service projects in and around the community.
A Field Of Dreams
Cam-plex Executive Director Aaron Lyles said locals often refer to the Gillette’s expanding sports complex as a “Field of Dreams.” And for the Camporee, it’s literally true.
Camporee leaders happened across a few brochures detailing what Cam-plex and Gillette have to offer by chance while at an unrelated event somewhere else. They were so intrigued, they reached out to find out if Cam-plex might be the event’s new home.
“It wasn’t really anybody here who said we want to go get that event,” Lyles said. “It just sort of happened. The negotiations started happening and the community got behind it.”
Cam-plex is a sprawling sports and recreation center covering more than 1,100 acres of land and featuring world-class facilities. These range from a fine arts theater that seats 900 people, a spacious convention/exhibit hall, two multi-purpose pavilions, a racetrack, rodeo grounds, five campgrounds and a 21-acre park and picnic area.
“We had that marriage of camping spaces and facilities, like the Wyoming Center, and all of the rest of the grounds to be able to support (the Camporee),” Lyles told Cowboy State Daily. “They’ve been doing this every four or five years in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and they were looking for an opportunity to improve their program in the sense that some of the facilities and space there have habitat and natural resource boundaries.”
A New Amphitheater
Cam-plex Park, meanwhile, which is under the Campbell County umbrella, is about 150 acres that abuts the Cam-plex grounds, Lyles said.
About 30 acres of the park have been returned to Cam-plex for a new amphitheater that can accommodate all 55,000 Camporee participants in one gigantic outdoor space.
“When people think of an amphitheater, especially in this part of the country, they think of Red Rocks and there’s a big stage and sort of a big, sloped auditorium, if you will,” Lyles said. “And this, definitely, is not the same thing.”
Instead, it will be a gently sloping open field, complete with electric power and some irrigation to maintain high-quality turf grass.
“A production company will bring in 40-plus semis, which include all of the stage,” Lyles said. “It’s all entirely their responsibility to set all of that up. So, it’s really similar to a big music festival, where the producer brings in and sets up that infrastructure.”
Although the Camporee won’t happen until 2024, Cam-plex and the Gillette community are already working to prepare for it.
First, trees were taken out of the area and moved to new locations, except for a couple of specimens that were already dead or dying. Earth moving has been underway, with a bit of a delay due to a recent snowstorm. That work will pick up again after Christmas.
Wide Economic Impact
The amphitheater will cost an estimated $1.5 million and is being paid for jointly by the city of Gillette and Campbell County. It’s now 75% complete.
For the first of what will be two Camporee events, economic impact is estimated to range between $15 million and $20 million in sales tax revenue for Gillette.
But the impact will be even larger looking at the state as a whole, Lyles said.
Organizers will be drawing on all kinds of resources from across the state, from portable toilets to food and everything in between. Not only that, but organizers are actively working to promote area business and tourism opportunities.
“They’ve already gone around to businesses all over the region and done videos with those businesses saying, ‘Hey, when you come to town, there’s some phenomenal ice cream over here,’” Lyels said. “‘And if you want a really fantastic vegan meal, here’s a fantastic restaurant.’”
Those virtual videos are being uploaded to the 2024 Camporee website, which aims to prepare participants for what northeast Wyoming has to offer visitors.
The videos and opportunities are not just limited to Gillette, either. Yellowstone, Devils Tower and many other fantastic Cowboy State locations are on the agenda.
New Amphitheater Not Limited to Camporee
The amphitheater won’t just be a great space for Camporee. It will be perfect for lots of other things, too. And Gillette is actively seeking input on how best to use the space.
Think music festivals, and polo matches — anything the imagination can handle on a carpet of green grass with blue sky overhead.
“The idea is, it will be leveraged for sort of the best uses going forward,” Lyles said. “As for total economic impact, we began a master planning and economic study that started here just this month.”
That will be completed in August next year, Lyles said, and will lay down a roadmap of what future use of the space looks like, and what kind of total economic impact can be expected.