Residents of the tiny unincorporated community of Story, Wyoming, have been shaken and stirred by the recent appearance of a DAO there that would own the historic Wagon Box Inn and an associated RV park and campground.
Residents have posed nearly 400 questions and counting about the DAO’s intent on a local Facebook group’s page, sandwiched between posts for an upcoming fundraiser for the St. Francis Animal Shelter and someone with Mason jars to sell.
The concerns range from how the DAO — decentralized autonomous organization — might change the character of the community and the fate of the historic restaurant, to the placement of a DAO community that would have up to 150 token owners situated between two creeks and a wetland — an environmentally sensitive area.
In a nutshell, a DAO is an virtual community with a shared digital financial account.
The founder of the DAO is Paul McNiel, who told Cowboy State Daily he plans to host a Q & A at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Wagon Box Inn to answer everyone’s questions.
“I want them to know that they’ve been heard,” he said. “And then, besides that, I really want to hear them and to really understand them.”
McNiel said he was taken aback by the firestorm that his DAO has caused in the community of Story, but after reading the posts about it on the community’s webpage, he believes most, if not all, the concerns are based on a misunderstanding of what he really wants to accomplish.
“The fundamental thing is, this is an RV park and cabins already,” he said. “So, already the whole property is designed for people from out of town to come and stay there.”
McNiel said he is not changing that basic use of the property. Nor does he plan to ramp up the number of people staying there on a regular basis — even though he admits to joking about it being some kind of “Woodstock” gathering on the Facebook page.
“Nobody’s coming to live here permanently,” he said. “My main idea is (to have) the same number of people that would always come in the summer to stay for a week or two or whatever.”
Over time, however, he does hope to take on business partners through the DAO structure who will have preferred access — a kind of digital timeshare. The coin of this realm, however, isn’t just money, McNiel said.
“What I’m trying to do is gather different people from different walks of life, political orientations, whatever, but people who are asking some of the same questions who would be interested in discussing (that),” he said. “I have a literary background. I have a degree in literature and I’m a writer and I’m a lover of classical literature.”
He hopes the retreat can offer a place for other thinkers, philosophers and writers who are wrestling with the larger questions of the day, such as how we should be living, to perhaps just discussing some of the classics of literature.
“Basically, it’s like, how can I get my friends to come hang out from time to time with me and then maybe expand that circle of friends to friends of friends?” he said. “And also, the opportunity to vet the people, to make sure that you know these are the type of people I want to hang around with in the community.”
Those people won’t stay there permanently, though, McNiel added. It’s not meant to be a commune. Token-holders would visit from time to time, and not all at once.
As far as questions some have about the sewage and wastewater capacity at the site, this is something he’s already begun talking with Sheridan County officials about. They will walk the property with him, once weather allows, to help him get things up to snuff.
Story is an unincorporated community 20 minutes south of Sheridan with incredible views of the Big Horn Mountains, beloved as a popular retreat since it was established in 1901.
The Wagon Box, meanwhile, has been around for more than 100 years, according to Story property owner and Gillette resident Allison Gee.
Big bands used to visit there to entertain wealthy East Coasters in the ’20s and ’30s, Gee said. Women and children would come out to spend the summer on dude ranches and the like.
“Story has its own really cool, unique history,” she said. “And the Wagon Box is part of that history.”
Her biggest concern is the location of the DAO community within Story.
“It would be a self-governed organization,” she said. “And he’s claiming that they’re going to build all this infrastructure on this property. Well, if you look on a map at the property that they’re building on, it’s between two creeks and a wetland, so I don’t even know if they can do that.”
Gee says she and other residents are also concerned by the recent appearance of old busses on the property.
“The idea that you would sell off interest in land in Wyoming and market it to people who don’t live here, I think it’s going to create a fractionalization of the land that is going to be incredibly difficult to ever undo,” she said.
By fractionalization, Gee is referring to an ever-increasing number of property owners, all of whom have equal rights and ownership in a small amount of land. In this case, that’s just 20 acres of inventory situated near an environmentally sensitive area.
Three hundred owners would be too many for such a small property, she feels.
“Who has the obligation to comply with regulations?” She asked. “Because of the speed and fungibility of the changes in ownership, how do you subject that to governance through the regulatory structure? How does the EPA, like, who would they contact if ownership can change all the time at the flip of a switch?”
An old-fashioned club, Gee said, would move much slower than a digital club like a DAO.
“And generally, historically, it would be people who live in the community and have some accountability,” she added. “People know who they are, people know who to contact.”
Gee said she plans to testify at upcoming legislative interim committee meetings about the situation in Story.
“I’m not anti-DAO,” she said. “I think it’s, like, cool and interesting. But I’m anti-DAO for land ownership in Wyoming under the current structure. I don’t think it’s good for the state of Wyoming if all of the beautiful places in the state can be sold off in digital tokens.”
All The Usual Laws Still Apply
The intent behind Wyoming’s DAO laws were to create guardrails for what is a new business model, said former state representative Tyler Lindholm.
“It’s even modeled after the LLC,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “They are a type of LLC, for that matter. And the intent of the Wyoming law is around corporate infrastructure.”
Using that to buy land and start a community or commune is not exactly the intent behind Wyoming’s legislation, Lindholm said, but the structure doesn’t get them out of any of Wyoming’s existing laws.
“I suspect it’s much like the DAO that was started up in the northern part of the state,” he said. “What they’ll quickly find is that well, certainly, it’s private property and you can do with it as you please, but there’s still laws in the state of Wyoming that have to be followed.
“Specifically around zoning, if that county has zoning laws, and then down to just sewage and water and electricity. All those things cannot be ignored just because you have a decentralized autonomous organization.”
In fact, Lindholm suggested the DAO structure Wyoming has set up actually imposes more stringent rules on such a venture than not having one.
“It seems like the hardest way possible to start a community,” Lindholm said.
Meanwhile, identification of responsible parties for the purpose of an enforcement action would unfold much the same way it would for any other business, whether LLC, C Corp or S Corp.
“Those types of laws are still in place, and you can be served, and you can still hold someone accountable for the wrong type of actions,” he said. “And as far as the (Story) community and their concerns, this guy, this group, has actually put themselves into more of a liability by registering, because now they’ve identified who they are. And maybe that’s their intent, to be more transparent. But it definitely provides more capability for the community to hold them accountable.”
Remaining True To Story
McNiel told Cowboy State Daily transparency is exactly why he decided to create a DAO.
“The DAO is basically like an LLC,” he said. “The only difference is that everything is a lot more transparent.”
McNiel also said he gets that he’s caught the community off guard, but he feels that’s a bit ironic.
“I literally published all my plans and fantasies on the website, and they’ve been public,” he said. “So, it’s a little ironic that everyone is like, ‘Why are you being so secretive?’
“But I can take it, you know, and I totally get where they’re coming from. There’s a lot of unfamiliar terms here. The DAO sounds weird and crypto sounds weird, but really, it’s just a digital, you know, blockchain way of handling stuff.”
Blockchains have been touted as a more secure way of creating a transaction record. Because copies of the blockchain exist in multiple locations, it can’t be easily altered. Any attempt to rewrite the Blockchain record would be readily apparent when compared to any one of the other existing copies.
McNiel added that he chose Story for his project because he loved its name. He discovered the community thanks to a couple of residents he became friends with in Buffalo while he was exploring the music scene there.
“I feel like everyone has a story, and I feel like one of the deepest desires everybody has is for their story to be heard and understood,” McNiel said. “And I think that’s the root of some of the anger. I think people feel like I’m not appreciating their story.
“And I want to change that. I want them to know that I do care about this story. And that my story will be part of the story of Story.”
He also hopes to retain the historic character of the Wagon Box and all the other things that he and the people who live there love about Story.
“My intent is for it to be everything it’s ever been,” he said. “A wonderful, tasty, beautiful gathering place for all types of people,” and one of those“third places” in the book of the same name by sociologist Ray Oldenburg.
“I want to be able to see kids there,” he said. “I want older people to be able to be there. I want liberals, I want conservatives. I want, you know, wealthy, work-from home people like computer programmers. I want welders, blue collar workers and all these people to just be able to mix and mingle and talk and think.”