Bill Sniffin: Wyoming’s Far-Flung Population - How Do We Knit Everyone Together?

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes: “The University is a huge magnet for bringing Wyoming folks together. The Brown and Gold logos also mark the Cowboy State, itself.”

Bill Sniffin

February 03, 20245 min read

Bill Sniffin lots of snow 1 16 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Wyoming citizens are being pulled away to Denver, Salt Lake City, Billings, Rapid City, and even Idaho Falls. How can we best knit together our people into a cohesive population?

Outside of folks in center of the state counties like Sublette, Hot Springs, Fremont, Natrona, and Converse, it is easy to see how powerful the pull can be for Wyoming citizens to think of large regional national population centers as their “go-to” place when it comes to services and shopping.

Wyoming is often referred to as the hole in the Rocky Mountain Region donut as states around us like Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska seem to be growing faster than us and are enjoying more economic prosperity. Our people going out of state for shopping and services reflects this.

Cheyenne and Laramie residents are constantly being pulled to Denver and Fort Collins. It is just stunning to me that you can leave Cheyenne and in less than an hour, you are in the northern suburbs of Denver.

In southwest Wyoming, Salt Lake City provides big-city shopping and air service just down Interstate 80.

People in the Big Horn Basin, which includes Cody, Powell, Worland, Lovell, and other towns, are pulled to Billings, which is a regional retail powerhouse. Folks in Sheridan and Johnson Counties also feel this tug to use Billings services.

Gillette and northeast Wyoming folks have an easy drive to Rapid City on Interstate 90. Although it is not the powerhouse of a Denver or Salt Lake City, that regional center does cater to NE Wyoming shoppers.

So, if all these Wyoming folks fall within the sphere of influence of these large regional centers, what can we do to bring them back to Wyoming and to maintain their Cowboy State identity?

Those UW Teams

The University of Wyoming is a huge magnet for bringing Wyoming folks together. Not only do most of our college-age students go there for their college educations, but also the fun of watching football and basketball plus other sports like wrestling and soccer, creates excitement and a sense of being together, too.

The Brown and Gold logos of the university also mark Wyoming, itself. Although these started as promotional items for UW, they are also the logo and colors that reflect the state.

For years, I have tended to wear a Brown or Gold Wyoming sweatshirt, polo, or jacket or a hat when I travel. So often someone will come up and say hi.

I was in a Costco in Dallas recently with my cap on and a gal yelled “Go Pokes!” at me as I walked by. I asked her if she was from Wyoming. “Hell no, I went to CSU. But I sure recognize that logo,” she said.

On that same trip, a gal cutting my hair at Sport Clips went on and on about how much she wants to move to Wyoming, especially Casper. The big draw for her was Jeffrey Starr, the make-up influencer and yak grower who has a ranch in Natrona County. But I digress.

Yes, education draws people of the state together, especially high school sports. When we moved here 54 years ago, I was stunned at the distances high school kids had to travel for sports. Most schools had big lavish travel buses, which made the trips almost luxurious. Some years ago, all those buses disappeared. I always wondered why.

Weather Ties Us Together

Wyoming weather can be extreme. And those extremes unite us in a common identity.

From world-class winds, to record-setting blizzards, weather is a topic on most peoples’ minds most of the time. Cowboy State Daily’s Don Day has made a living out of the need to get good weather forecasts here in the Cowboy State.

I am always stunned how it can be like Siberia here in Lander and my brother Pat is golfing in 60-degree weather in the Denver area. Yet later in the summer, it will be fantastic here in Wyoming while he is cooking in Phoenix-like summer weather. So, I guess it evens out for everyone.

Our Combative Legislature

Our state legislature will meet soon and that group certainly unites all parts of the state.

Big impacts can occur on our small population through the actions of our state senators and representatives. We watch them like hawks.

This year will be especially interesting on the property tax front.

The News Unites Us

Feb. 1 marked the beginning of Cowboy State Daily’s fifth year. It has grown from hardly being noticed to being the state’s largest news organization with almost 60,000 daily subscribers.

Yes, the CSD knits the state together. People in Newcastle want to know about what is happening in Evanston. Cody folks are curious about Laramie. And Rawlins folks are excited to read about what is happening in Sheridan.

Wyoming is 97,000 square miles of land with barely 580,000 people. This is the smallest density in the lower 48. And we love it.

But all of these people are scattered a long-ways apart and they are constantly being tugged and pulled to leave the state for goods and services. You cannot blame them but it is nice to know that things like UW, sports teams, weather, and Cowboy State Daily tie them all together into one cohesive unit.

Go Pokes!

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.