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New Tax On Lodging Coming To Wyoming In 2021

in CJ Baker/Column
State Capitol
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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

Starting next year, Wyoming will begin assessing a new 5% tax on overnight stays at hotels, motels, RV parks, campgrounds, guest ranches, Airbnbs and other lodging facilities around the state.

The statewide lodging tax passed the Wyoming Legislature March 2 — surviving a narrow vote in the Senate — and was signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday.

Of the new tax, 3% will go to the state government to fund the Wyoming Office of Tourism, which promotes the state as a destination for visitors across the globe; the other 2% will stay in the county where it’s collected to boost local tourism. Counties will have the option to seek another 2% for local tourism efforts — such as the Park County Travel Council — for a maximum total lodging tax of 7% (with 3% going to the state and 4% to the county).

Claudia Wade, the travel council’s executive director, said the marketing and promotions that currently are and will be funded by lodging taxes are needed to draw tourists.

“I think tourism is important to this state given the situation with our oil and gas and it is a very strong second industry in Wyoming,” Wade said. “And we need to keep promoting Wyoming and Cody needs to keep promoting this East Entrance as well as all of the other things Park County has to offer.”

Park County voters have long imposed a 4% tax on lodging to fund the travel council’s marketing efforts. This November, they’ll be asked to keep that funding intact, by approving an additional 2% local tax on top of the mandatory 5%.

Particularly given the impacts that the new coronavirus is expected to have on global travel — and with the state and county constantly competing for tourists with other communities around Yellowstone National Park — “I think that we’re going to need this [lodging tax] as much as we ever have had to,” Wade said.

Even if Park County voters approved an additional 1% sales tax, bringing the combined tax on lodging to 12%, it would still be below average for the country, Wade said.

The new statewide lodging tax passed the Senate by a 16-13 vote and the House by a 47-13 margin.

Park County lawmakers backed House Bill 134 by a 5-3 margin: Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, and Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull, all supported the measure while Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, Rep. John Winter, R-Thermopolis, and Sen. Wyatt Agar, R-Thermopolis, each voted no.

Sen. Coe was a vocal backer of HB 134 when it came up for final approval on Feb. 28. He cited tourism industry research indicating that 85% of the tax will be paid for by out-of-state tourists and that the hike in taxes will not depress visits.

“Lodging tax does not prohibit somebody from making a decision to visit a state. That’s just the bottom line,” Coe said on the Senate floor.

He also read aloud a column from Lander journalist and businessman Bill Sniffin, who argued lawmakers would be foolish to not provide more support to its growing tourism industry. Sniffin wrote in his piece that “there truly is no place [in Wyoming] that does not benefit from the visitor.”

“A small amount of money spent with the state tourism department generates much more money — it is as simple as that. The more people we get here the more money they spend,” Sniffin argued, adding later, “If this is the one area of state government that is making money, why not spend even more and make even more money?”

According to industry figures, tourism employs roughly 31,000 people in the state.

“We need this in the future of Wyoming,” said Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper. “If you look out 10 or 20 years, this could possibly be our No. 1 industry.”

While the bill had the backing of the Wyoming Lodging & Restaurant Association and the Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition, the two hoteliers in the Senate — Democrat Lisa Anselmi-Dalton of Rock Springs and Republican Cale Case — both opposed it.

Sen. Case said the guests at his Lander establishment include far more Wyoming residents than claimed and he called the estimated impact of the tourism office’s efforts “way overblown” with “exaggerated claims about the success of the programs.”

“If you really dive into the expenditures … about out-of-state advertising firms and on and on and on, all to bring more people to an area that’s really suffering from the overcapacity,” Case said, referring to Yellowstone National Park and Teton County’s “overheated” economy.

“You try to drive across Yellowstone? Have you just tried to go there and enjoy yourself?” he asked. “It’s hard to do.”

Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, echoed the concerns about Wyoming’s tourism efforts primarily benefiting the Jackson area.

“The rural areas of this state are being left out of the promotion, the help, all that goes with it,” Dockstader said. When he asks lodging businesses in his district if they feel a boost from the millions of dollars the state pours into tourism, the answer has been “essentially no,” Dockstader said.

Senate critics also contended that the majority of Wyoming residents opposed the tax, citing emails from parents who rack up nights on the road while tracking their children’s sporting events.

“Most of you are going to vote on the sides of the lobbyists,” Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, told his colleagues. “I’m going to vote on the side of my people and the everyday citizen that can’t afford to drive down here and try to lobby you.”

Earlier, as the Senate debated an ultimately unsuccessful amendment that would have diverted 20% of the state’s share of the tax to K-12 education, Biteman noted it was likely to be the only tax the Legislature passes this year.

“… and it doesn’t go toward any of our structural [budget] problems,” he said, “it just goes to a private industry to promote themselves.”

However, Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said the bill would help Wyoming’s efforts to broaden its tax base and diversify its economy.

A fiscal note attached to the legislation estimated that the 3% portion of the tax headed to state tourism efforts will raise roughly $18.6 million per year.

Bill Sniffin: Coronavirus is Grim Reaper to New Wyoming State Budget

in Bill Sniffin/Column
3311

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily publisher

These are the times that try men’s souls is a lament from an early American patriot. And: May you live in interesting times is an ancient Chinese lament.

It is oh-so-true that we have never seen times like these coronavirus times. A worldwide panic has set in as something called the coronavirus has wreaked havoc around the world.  

And Wyoming appeared to be luckily lagging behind the rest of the world but then first reports of infected people starting popping up, first in Sheridan. 

To see the state basketball tournaments cancelled was just awful. Then you saw the March Madness cancelled on the collegiate level.  And the pro NBA started it all by cancelling its season.

I wrote a column last week speculating that this might be the world’s biggest over-reaction?  I can now eat those words.  This thing is real and we all better hunker down and prepare for the worst.

Coincidentally, the state legislature has just wrapped up its budget session.  Its members must feel like victims of a drive-by shooting.  The entire world changed. The stock market crashed, crushing the state’s ability to generate revenue from its investments.  Oil prices tanked thanks to a price war between the Russians and the Saudi’s. The whole world changed over a 72-hour period.

Even as I write this on Thursday evening, the Wyoming coronavirus story and the world story is changing rapidly.

I am just repeating some wild news here. Because this disease is so mysterious, there are more questions than answers.  It supposedly does better in a cold environment instead of heat?  How can that be? China hints there is a second strain out there. Why is Italy being hit so hard?  Rush Limbaugh says the Chinese have invested heavily in Italy and there have been tremendous back and forth traffic between the two countries, which caused the Italians to be hit so hard. Really?

In Cheyenne, Dave Simpson reports: “We were right in the middle of moving my 95-year-old mother-in-law from assisted living to a nursing home, both here in Cheyenne, when the coronavirus panic hit. We were going to move her into the nursing home this coming Monday.

“The assisted living place has limited visits to two hours in the morning and two hours in the late afternoon. The nursing home she was to have moved to is now completely locked down. No visits at all. My wife went over there this afternoon and had to talk to an administrator through a closed door, with a big sign that said STOP posted on the door. Turns out we would not have been able to visit my mother-in-law at all, for who knows how long, at the nursing home.

“My wife made the decision to bring her mother back home to our house, where she lived for six years. You’d be amazed how much help you can hire for far less than the cost of a nursing home. And, out here east of town, on five acres, what they call ‘extreme social distancing’ isn’t hard to maintain at all. It’s a way of life.

“I was at Walmart today, and they’ve been out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer for going on a week now. And I noticed that pinto beans and diced tomatoes are getting scarce as well. I guess people want to make soup in a crisis. And the store was crowded with people stocking up.

“The afternoon of 9/11 I witnessed panic when people in Illinois waited in long lines to get a tank of gas. This is pretty much like that. Panic, once again. And, let’s not even talk about the stock market.”

Steve Mossbrook of Riverton winters in California. Here is his report: “The Coachella Valley has not been hit too badly (by diseased people), but the economic effects are enormous. Many Canadians have had to return home once the WHO declared a pandemic.  Their travel medical insurance just became invalid.  The tennis and golf tournaments are postponed along with Coachella and Stagecoach, taking several million out of the local economy.”

Former Worland resident Debbie Hammons now lives in Colorado. Her report: “We just flew in from Tucson. Plane was half full. Thought we’d drop by grocery store to pick up a few things on way home. Nine at night at big store —parking lot completely full. Sold out of bananas, potatoes, bread. Frozen vegetables gone, most meat, most apples, lettuce (they have iceberg lettuce!) No broccoli.”

Wyoming can count on a minimum of 60 more days of cold weather plus some of the biggest snowstorms of the year. You would think this would keep the outbreak of this nasty bug to a limited extent.

Let’s hope so and maybe we can weather this amazing event. 

I have lived on this planet for seven decades and have truly never seen anything like this. It is unprecedented.  You can’t make this up. It sounds like a science fiction movie. And we do not know what the ending will be.  Let’s hope it is a happy one.

In the meantime, folks, practice good habits and stay healthy. 

Cat Urbigkit: Paintballing Grizzlies & Other Predator News

in Cat Urbigkit/Column
3293

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

Got a grizzly bear hanging out near the house? Fire up that paintball gun and give it a go! U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has confirmed that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has issued new guidance on actions the public can take to haze grizzly bears that may pose a threat to human safety.

According to a letter Bernhardt sent to Montana’s Congressional delegation, “These actions include the use of paintballs, noise-making projectiles, and visual deterrents.”

While I’ve wickedly fantasized about paintballing well-dressed float fishermen passing underneath a bridge on the New Fork River, I didn’t know how small and lacking my daydream was. I should have dreamed bigger; grizzly sized dreams.

FWS quickly issued the new guidance, which includes methods that are allowed to deter grizzlies away from the immediate vicinity (200 yards) of a human-occupied residence or potential conflict area, such as a barn, livestock corral, chicken coop, grain bin, or schoolyard. In addition to using paintballs, also allowed is the use of stones or marbles, either thrown or sent out of a slingshot.

When you mention the Yellowstone region’s grizzly bear population, most people think of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, and the federal parkway that connects the two. But WG&F large carnivore staff report that the grizzly population’s occupied range includes more than 7,000 square miles of private property. That’s more private property within occupied grizzly bear range than the two national parks and parkway combined.

Wolverines

The Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WG&F) has drafted its wolverine management plan ­– an important action as FWS considers wolverines a species that warrants protection as threatened, but such listing is precluded by higher priorities.

The wolverine is an 18-32 pound, high-elevation mustelid with relatively large feet, making the animals suited to movement through deep snow. Since relatively little is known about the species in Wyoming, the plan focuses heavily on research and monitoring of wolverines in mountain ranges in the western, north central and south central regions of the state.

As part of an interagency effort to survey for wolverines throughout suitable habitat in the western states, WG&F was able to confirm, for the first time ever, wolverines in the Gros Ventre Mountains, and in the southern Wind River Range.

Reading the draft wolverine plan, I learned some interesting information about the elusive carnivore. Wolverines typically breed from May through August, and display delayed implantation. In the Yellowstone region, kits are usually born from January through April, with most births occurring before the end of March.

Wyoming is at the southernmost extent of reliable wolverine occupancy; densities in our state are among the lowest densities reported in North America; and litter sizes here are small as well, at 1.1 kits. Although young mature quickly, female wolverines often don’t reproduce until they are about six years old, and then don’t produce every year.

Carnivore Conflicts

When the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission meets next week in Cody, it will hear a staff update on large carnivore management activities in 2019. This is always a fascinating report and if you can’t attend, you can browse a PDF version of that presentation on the commission’s meeting webpage.

WG&F personnel responded to 535 large carnivore conflicts in 2019. That’s more than one conflict a day – extraordinary when you consider that black bears and grizzlies spend months in hibernation, so the “season” for conflicts is much shorter.

While 2019 brought more conflicts with black bears than grizzlies, when it came time to paying damage claims, grizzly bear damage payments were 46% of the nearly $1 million paid by the agency in 2019, with 34 claims totaling $646,178.

There were 48 wolf conflicts within WG&F’s jurisdiction, resulting in 27 damage claims totaling just over $200,000.

WG&F tallied 71 mountain lion conflicts, resulting in 20 claims for damages totaling about $87,000.

Although there were 224 black bear conflicts, those resulted in only 15 claims, totaling about $33,000 in compensation from the state wildlife agency.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Dave Simpson: Voting for the Youngster in the Race

in Column/Dave Simpson
3285

By Dave Simpson, Cowboy State Daily columnist

Some swell thoughts and observations as the process of selecting the leader of the free world careens through the primary election stage:

– The fresh young face, the guy full of pep and get-up-and-go, this election year is now President Donald J. Trump, at a callow 73 years old.

Our go-go president, whipping up big crowds at the drop of a Make America Great Again hat, has now dislodged Mayor Pete Buttigieg as the only viable youngster in the race, no doubt attracting the support of woke young people everywhere.

“We don’t want some old guy,” young people are no doubt saying. “We want the guy who’s only 73!”

This comes as Joe Biden, who is 77, has established himself as the Comeback Septuagenarian, launching into angry, finger-pointing screeds at those who dare doubt his inevitability, like an old guy yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Let him talk long enough, and he’ll get to the word salad stage, sputtering random, disconnected words, and it becomes a do-it-yourself project figuring out what the ding-dong heck Joe is trying to say this time.

(Don’t believe me? Here’s what Biden said in Texas: “We hold these truths to be self evident. All men and women created by, you know, you know, the thing.” If Joe is elected, all we can do is pray and put our fate in the hands of “you know, you know, The Thing.”)

And then, at 78, we have Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, who gesticulates wildly like Elizabeth Warren, shooting out his arms when giving a speech, then wiggling his hands like he’s writing a big check in the air. (We don’t have to make payment on Bernie’s big air checks, at least for now.)

Bernie keeps pointing out what’s right about Cuba and Fidel, making folks out here in Flyover Country ask, “What’s THAT all about?”

Biden and Sanders would be octogenarians by the time they finished the term of office they now seek. Which makes a late-term sexagenarian (not as sexy as it sounds) like me wonder if they haven’t pondered the joys of a senior-discount morning coffee group at McDonalds, with a bunch of retired guys their own age. Why deprive yourself of retirement into your 80s? Who needs the stress of being leader of the free world?

Haven’t they ever walked into a room and forgotten what they came there to get? Of course, if you’re president, the guy with the nuclear launch codes follows you around, and he could remind you what you came there to get. So, there’s that. And you have plenty of doctors and nurses around, in case a rotator cuff or knee goes bad on you.

I’m going with young and energetic Donald Trump. I don’t want to hear about the virtues of Cuba from Bernie, or seek guidance from “The Thing” to figure out what Joe Biden is saying this time.

I look at this as a youth movement.

– Farmers everywhere in our great country, who grow the food on our tables, are no doubt having a good laugh now that Michael “Call me Mike” Bloomberg dropped out of the presidential race after spending $500 million to secure a grand total of four delegate votes (from American Samoa).

You’ll recall that Bloomberg told a gathering a few years back that it doesn’t take much “gray matter” to be a farmer. All you do is make a hole, put a seed in it, cover it up, water it, and you get corn.

Well, I spent some years in the fabulously fertile farm country of Central Illinois – home of the best soil on planet Earth – and I could have told Michael/Mike that he was seriously underestimating the gray matter of farmers. They have to be mechanics, biologists, chemists, truck drivers, money managers, economists, savvy gamblers, and more, to succeed in a brutal business in which a late spring, bugs, lack of rain, too much rain, low prices, or a long list of other factors can spell disaster.

Michael/Mike thinks he’s smarter than a farmer. But I know of no farmer who ever spent $500 million and only managed to get four plants to sprout.

Dave Simpson can be contacted at davesimpson145@hotmail.com

Bill Sniffin: Today Brings Back Memories of the Great Wyoming Native Son Chris LeDoux

in Bill Sniffin/Column
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By Bill Sniffin, publisher of Cowboy State Daily

“Take me back to old Wyoming, I’ve been away too long. I want to hear the meadowlark singing this cowboy’s favorite song. I want to saddle up old paint and just ride him out across the hills. I belong in old Wyoming and I reckon that I always will.” – Lyrics by the late Chris LeDoux.

       On March 9, 2005, Wyoming lost one of its favorite sons when singer and rodeo star Chris LeDoux died from complications of liver cancer at the age of 56.

         Gov. Dave Freudenthal proclaimed the next Saturday as “Chris LeDoux Day,” as a way for Wyomingites to celebrate his life and honor his achievements. “Chris LeDoux has meant a lot to Wyoming, from his earliest days of riding bareback to his later days of making music,” Gov. Freudenthal said. “Cheyenne Frontier Days, when fans of both would gather, seems like an appropriate time to honor his memory.” His proclamation also contains the line: “Whereas, Chris LeDoux was a cowboy in the truest and best sense of the word.” Couldn’t say it much better than that.

         LeDoux had a love of Wyoming that came through his singing and his actions.  A champion rodeo cowboy, he worked just as hard becoming an entertainer as he did to be a champion rodeo athlete.

       Former Wyoming Tourism Director Gene Bryan has fond memories of Chris from his many years of involvement with Cheyenne Frontier Days:

       “I first remember Chris when he played defensive end for the

Cheyenne Central football teams, coached by former coach Jim McLeod. I first met Chris when I was exec for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Committee and he was pedaling his 8-track tapes out of a booth at Frontier Park. 

       “He would call me and the question was always the same, ‘Gene, what do I have to do to perform at the Night Show?’ and my response was always the same: ‘Get famous.’ Well, he did (boy, howdy, did he!). I think another Acts Chairman John Tabor, who was a close friend of Chris’, would echo the statement that he was the most popular entertainer to perform at the CFD concerts, even more than the star who helped launch him, Garth Brooks.

       “He was a cowboy’s cowboy–always polite, always a gentleman.  He never forgot his roots.  He’s gone, but I can guarantee he won’t be forgotten. Terrible loss to the Cowboy State without question.”

        LeDoux personified the “Wyoming way,” in both his actions and his lifestyle.  He lived by a handshake and felt a commitment was a commitment.

      Bill Lewkowitz of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort recalls the late singer fondly.  “Many people at our resort learned what many cowboys across the country and many people in Wyoming already knew — that Chris was a great musician, performer and just a really nice guy!  We invited him back to play a concert to help celebrate our 30th anniversary of the resort and he played to a very enthusiastic audience. 

       “Chris played both of these concerts for much less money than he was being paid at the time, but did the concerts for less to help a Wyoming neighbor with their events.  Chris brought his family back to ski several times.  He never wore a fancy ski suit, just a Carhartt one-piece work suit, that as he told me was suited for any winter chore from birthing calves to skiing in Jackson Hole.

       “After struggling along with his record label in Nashville to get permission to use Chris’s music for a promotional video, we finally got hold of him directly and he granted us permission to several of his songs.  As long as we were working on a project that helped promote the great state of Wyoming, using his music was fine by him.

       “I also worked with Chris at the Teton County Fair.  A concert that Chris was scheduled to perform one July was rained out due to a powerful thunderstorm, but Chris did everything in his power to get the show complete. The weather never did cooperate, but Chris let us know he wanted to come back to play again.  Our entire local rodeo crowd, of course, loves his music and people travel from all over the state to listen to him.  Interestingly, Chris’ band played the Rancher Bar in Jackson back in the early 1980s.”

       Chris LeDoux loved Wyoming and had a great way of writing about and singing about his home state. Here are some lyrics from one of his songs:

 “You ain’t lived until you’ve watched those Northern Lights, sat around the campfire and hear the coyotes call at night. Makes you feel alright, so guess I’ll stay right where I’m at, wear my boots and my cowboy hat. But I’ll come and see ya once in a while. I gotta be where I can see those Rocky Mountains, ride my horse and watch an eagle fly. I gotta live my life and write my songs beneath these Western Skies. When I die you can bury me beneath these Western Skies, Yippee.”

Cat Urbigkit: Hey Neighbor Kanye, Let’s Talk Sheep!

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing
3272

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

My daily life involves tending to our sheep flock, and my morning news consumption includes updates on sheep and wool news from the last 24 hours. Imagine my surprise Saturday morning when Kayne West appeared in that news feed. What does Kayne West have to do with sheep?

Kanye West’s Paris fashion show coverage included references to one of the ranches he purchased in Wyoming. West told a reporter for The Cut that he’s got 700 sheep and he’s trying out different ways of felting the wool. Good on ya, Kanye! I saw a photo of the ranch’s sheep flock, and they are gorgeous range sheep, similar to other fine-wool bands found on the range throughout Wyoming.

I appreciate West’s interest in wool for his fashion line, since wool is a renewable resource, and is both biodegradable and natural. Wyoming’s recipe for wool is simple: Take four-hooved docile creatures, mix with sunshine, snow, and native vegetation, and the animals produce a soft and luxurious product.

My message to Kayne West and other aspiring shepherds is this: Wyoming has a lot to offer shepherds, so reach out to your new colleagues. A national sheep industry magazine called The Shepherd is owned by myself and another sheep producer and is based on our western Wyoming ranch. Wyoming Wool Growers Association is the state organization for us shepherds, and our American Sheep Industry Association is based in neighboring state Colorado. The Mountain Meadow Wool over in Buffalo is a family-operated wool mill that does a mighty fine job in custom processing Wyoming-grown raw wool.

Your fellow shepherds can talk to you about why we like to lamb outside in the pristine landscape, following the same natural cycles as the wild animals that share the same range. We can share how to protect your beautiful ewes and lambs from large carnivores in your neighborhood – including mountain lions, bears, and wolves – because Wyoming has them all. We can teach you how to help a weak lamb gain strength, and to practice low-stress animal handling for the benefit of both you and your sheep. We hope to see photos of your children bottle feeding orphan lambs ­– something that happens every spring on nearly every sheep ranch in America.

As shepherds, we understand the direct benefits of the healthy meat and natural fiber produced by domestic sheep. We also know the wider range of benefits sheep bring to human lives – from ecosystem services such as reducing fuel loads, fertilizing the soil, and controlling weeds, to their historic and vital roles in medical research to improve the human condition. Sheep provided the baseline for successful human blood donation, artificial heart valves, and vaccine development.

Biomedical researchers use sheep for studying neonatal development, and for optimization of drug delivery and surgical techniques. Sheep are used to study heart disease, asthma, and kidney disease; and are used as models for implanting medical devices, as well as improvements in the repair of broken bones and wounds.

Sheep provide meat, wool, numerous byproducts such as lanolin, ecosystem services, medical advances, and overall health advantages, but our flocks also provide shepherds with inspiration and a special type of calling.

We shepherds feel the benefits of human-animal bond as we work with and interact with our flocks on a daily basis. My favorites are when we assist a ewe in labor and hear that guttural, contented murmur to her newborn lambs, when we watch small children fall asleep with a lamb on their lap, and when we greet the rising sun alongside our grazing flock. Our blood pressure drops, and we are reminded of the good in the world – simply by being with our sheep.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Travel Wyoming: Wyoming History On Ice In Store For Cheyenne Visitors

in Column/Travel/Travel Wyoming
3278

A depiction of Wyoming historical highlights on ice awaits people who visit Cheyenne’s Ice and Events Center this weekend.

On Saturday, the center’s 23 ice skating students will put on their annual performance, this year titled “Skating Through Wyoming: A Historical Ice Skating Musical.”

“It’s kind of a yearly thing we do to show off what the skaters have learned in the year,” said Taylor Bassett, the Ice and Events Center’s program and event coordinator. “The coaches thought that because of the historic events Wyoming celebrated this year and last year, we would do some Wyoming things and then make it more musical and theatrical.”

The center’s students, ranging in age from 4 to 18, will take part in performances depicting important points in Wyoming’s history, such as women winning the right to vote.

The students at the center, which is involved in the national “Learn to Skate” program, will perform in groups, as duos and as soloists in putting on the show, Bassett said.

“We’re starting from the beginning, with Native Americans and the history with them and working our way up to more modern day stuff,” she said.

Similar programs are held each year as the center nears the end of its ice season, Bassett said.

Doors at the Ice and Events Center will open for the performance at 6 p.m., with the show scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.

For more information, visit Cheyenne’s events page at 

https://www.cheyenneevents.org/e/skating-through-wyoming-a-historical-ice-skating-musical-96738687017/

Bill Sniffin: Coronavirus – Greatest Plague – Or Biggest Overreaction Ever?

in Bill Sniffin/Column
3269

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily publisher

As of right now (Sunday afternoon, March 8), Wyoming has not had a recorded case of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and that is a huge relief.

A news report on TV Sunday predicted that 100 million people in the USA could be “affected” by the virus. What does that mean?

If you are over 65 and have a medical condition like a bad heart, high blood pressure, diabetes, or some other chronic disease – well, you better be careful. By the way, that describes most of my buddies at the Fox News All-Stars coffee group, which meets every morning in Lander. It probably describes the Benchsitters in Buffalo and even the crowd at the Cheese Barrel in Casper.

Two years ago, a young, vibrant friend of ours, Leslie Blythe, died at the Casper hospital from complications of the flu. That was a wakeup call for all the thousands of Wyoming people who knew her. If Leslie could die from the flu, then we were all vulnerable.

So how does that compare to the Coronavirus?

By now everyone has read about it and heard about it on TV.

Not hard to find cynical views of this “over-reaction.” Radio guru Joe Kenney in Lander says: “I think the media has so overblown this virus it’s crazy. We were walking the dogs on the path in City Park today and a woman walked by giving us the stink-eye and I told her the dogs wouldn’t bother her. She said she wasn’t afraid of the dogs, she was afraid of the coronavirus. I told her the dogs didn’t have it, either!”

Joe continues “So far this flu season 18,000 people in the USA have died of the regular flu, and, what, 10 from the coronavirus? Why aren’t people getting crazed by the regular flu?

Joe concluded: “I was at NAPA on Friday and owner Rick Bestul showed me a box of ten 3M facemasks. His price is about $28 every day of the year. On Amazon Friday they were $188 a box, and now I hear some stores are having a run on toilet paper? Frikkin’ country is going nuts. Don’t you have something better to write about?”

Pat Schmidt said the Cheyenne Sam’s Club had a run on bottled water and toilet tissue.

Bill Schilling of Casper wrote me: “Bill, I would be careful on this. Give it two weeks to see how many spikes occur. My fiancee’s daughter and family live in Kirkwood, WA. Ground zero there. University of Washington with 40,000-plus students has gone to all online courses.”

As aside, the word coronavirus is more of an umbrella term that refers to a group of viruses that cause diseases like SARS, MERS and COVID-19.

As is often the case in the scientific world, coronavirus’ name is Latin. In the ancient language, corona means crown.

According to officials, virions give off the appearance of a crown when the virus is examined with an electron microscope. As for the new disease caused by the coronavirus, it was originally called novel coronavirus. In February, the World Health Organization gave us the name COVID-19.

The CO stands for corona. VI is for virus. And D means disease.

The 19 is for 2019, the year the disease first appeared in China.

To escape Wyoming’s recent cold and snow, Nancy and I sneaked off to Las Vegas, where we keep our motorhome in the winter. What we are seeing in a big city is astonishing. Every cart at the local Albertson’s, local Walmart, and local Sam’s Club is full of cases of bottled water.

My friend Dan Whetstone saw people buying entire pallets of bottled water at a Costco.

They are also buying toilet tissue by record numbers. You see lots of people wearing masks and you cannot find a bottle of Purell hand sanitizer for sale anywhere.

Whether an overreaction or not, this is shaping up to be the biggest story of 2020 with huge ramifications to the economy and the presidential election. Stay tuned.

Jim Hicks: Explaining Bicycle Tracks In The Snow . . .

in Column
3265

By Sagebrush Sven
(Translated by Jim Hicks, Buffalo Bulletin)

BUFFALO – A few weeks ago, you will recall, we woke up one morning to more than six inches of fresh snow and knew winter had really arrived.

One of the Bench Sitters was diving on DeSmet early that morning and noticed a “weaving” bicycle track on the road.

“You could tell whoever was riding a bicycle that morning was having a hard time trying to stay in a single tire track,” he said.

But those tracks were connected to an interesting story about a local guy on his way to work.
To understand how he came to be riding a bicycle to work in a snowstorm it helps to know how he thinks.

When he was just in grade school, one of his brothers recalls, this guy was working on his bicycle and needed a washer.

“He walked down to the hardware store and found the size washer he needed. Taking it to the counter, he learned the price was five cents,” says the brother. “So he went home and drilled a hole in a penny . . . saving four cents on the deal.”

Smart, but maybe not all that practical.

But to get back to the weaving bicycle tracks in the snow . . . this guy drives an old, smaller pickup with a few imperfections. One of which is that both door handles on the inside are broken off. So he often leaves the window down because he needs to reach outside to open the door to exit the vehicle.

He parks the $1,500 pickup without door handles in the garage and leaves a $50,000 pickup outside rather than bother winding up the window. A while back he backed into the newer pickup and broke a $25 tail light on the older vehicle and did $4,100 damage to the other . . . but we digress.

Late in the afternoon before the big storm he called his wife to say he was going to Sheridan with a rancher friend to “pick up a few parts.”
Apparently the part store occasionally doesn’t close until 2 a.m. And that can make wives a little angry.

As a result, the morning of the storm he realized his old pickup was still parked downtown and asking his wife for a ride might be out of the question. He could get the bicycle down from the hooks in the garage ceiling and pump up the tires in no time at all.

So, as you can clearly see, weaving bicycle tracks on DeSmet Street during a morning snow storm really can make a lot of sense if you know a few details.

Arriving at work, several employees asked why he was covered with snow and his shoes and pants were so wet.

“No big deal,” mumbled Rick as he headed for his office.


And this week Sven had a nice note from Lorilee Peterson who lives in LaCrosse, WI. It often takes a week for her copies of the Buffalo Bulletin to arrive by mail, but Lorilee took the time to write that she enjoys reading the “Sven” column each week.

Under the heading of “we doubt its true—“

When the District Court Judge hearing a divorce case told the husband . . . “I have considered this case carefully, including the cost of living in Johnson County and decided to give your wife $2,000 per month.”

“That sounds fair enough to me,” the soon-to-be-former-husband said. “And every now and then I’ll try to kick in a little extra myself.”

We are told the problems between this couple started after he took his wife to the emergency room last September and the doctor came out and told him . . . “I don’t like the looks of your wife at all.”

His reaction to that was – “Me neither Doc. But she’s a great cook and has been really good with the kids.

Well, that should be enough hot air for one week. The Bench Sitters will try to be serious next week . . . but don’t count on it.

Bill Sniffin: Interesting That Big I-80 Crash Did Not Occur On Snow Chi Minh Trail

in Bill Sniffin/Column
3262

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily Publisher

Most drivers experience their worst winter traffic nightmares on Interstate 80 in an area from Elk Mountain to Laramie.

Yet, the biggest crash in years occurred last Sunday, March 1, on a lonely desert section of road near Creston Junction (note: some early reports listed it as occurring near “Crescent Junction,” which is on Interstate 70).

This barren lonely stretch of highway includes a small population of oilfield folks, who populate the nearby town of Wamsutter. It is a home of man camps and trailer villages. It can be a brutal place in winter with unrelenting wind, icy roads, never-ending traffic, and the desolate feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.

Into this fray hundreds of big trucks and dozens of cars and pickups found themselves driving too fast and slamming into a huge string of vehicles that had crashed ahead of them.

It must have been horrible for the victims to know that it would be a long time before highway patrolmen, EMTs, and wreckers could get to them, when you are located so far out in the Big Empty in such terrible weather conditions.

Trying to get somewhere as fast as possible sounds familiar to me. In my life, it seems like I always needed to be somewhere at a specific time. Wyoming’s roads and winter weather rarely cooperated with my schedules. Today, I am able to monitor the weather and the roads and leave a day early or perhaps even re-schedule .

Most of those folks involved in that crash Sunday were on deadlines. They rolled the dice and took the chance that they could get through those awful conditions and say a prayer afterward for their good luck. But this was not to be their lucky day. Three people died and other reports said as many as 30 people were injured.

The video of that crash scene was seen by 500,000 people (according to Cowboy State Daily) and after viewing it, you again ask yourself why you would put yourself into harm’s way by driving a car or a pickup amongst all those gigantic trucks? What chance has a 3,500-pound car have when colliding with a 60,000-pound truck? In that video, some good Samaritans were trying to get a person out of a small black car that was unrecognizable, smashed so much in the front and in the rear. Truly a scary thing to see.

By the way, Wyoming was voted number-one for most dangerous state to drive in during winter weather. The nine other worst states for winter driving were: 2. Vermont 3. Montana 4. Idaho 5. Maine 6. Michigan 7. Iowa 8. New Mexico 9. Minnesota and 10. Nebraska. Not sure why Colorado was missed from this list.

John Waggener’s great book about Interstate 80, which he calls the Snow Chi Minh Trail, explains why federal highway officials picked the mountainous site rather than the longer U.S. Highway 30 route.

There were some very stubborn federal officials, headed by a rock head named Frank Turner, who were obsessed with the new road cutting off 19 “unnecessary miles,” compared to the route used by U. S. 30 through Rock River and Medicine Bow.

Waggener even recalls a heated exchange between Turner and former U. S. Senator Gale McGee. Turner prevailed.

Wyoming people fought valiantly in the 1960s to keep the new road out of the mountains. The federal people would not listen to them and threatened to not build it, unless it could be built on their route through the mountains.

Waggener says there are other places in Wyoming along Interstate 80 that offer problems, such as the Summit between Laramie and Cheyenne, but nothing compares to that daunting 77-mile trip from Laramie to Walcott Junction.

We old-timers recall a famous CBS TV newsman named Charles Kuralt, whose specialty was traveling the country and reporting on out-of-the-way places.

He famously declared that the stretch from Laramie-Walcott Junction was “the worst stretch of interstate highway in America.”

Waggener says another myth was the mystery surrounding why the Wyoming Department of Transportation re-built a stretch of highway 30 between Bosler and near Rock River as a four-lane road?

He points out the road needed re-building and speculation was that WYDOT favored the U.S. 30 route for the new interstate highway and was making a statement by creating a four-lane stretch on Highway 30 back in the late 1960s.

Waggener also discloses the Union Pacific Railroad chose not to build along this route because of the wind and the snow.

He reveals studies, which explained why there are such vicious winds near the Elk Mountain area. Due to the gap next to the mountain being the lowest elevation of the Rocky Mountains, wind blows at abnormally high velocities as the air rushes through there, causing havoc in the roads and stirring up the large amounts of snow that pile up.

On a personal note, I have driven Interstate 80 for almost 50 years and I still avoid the Snow Chi Minh Trail stretch during extreme winter weather.

One reason is the horrible snow and wind. A second reason is the huge increase in truck traffic, which makes driving along that stretch a game of Russian roulette.

Perhaps a third reason is that I like visiting the Virginian Hotel in Medicine Bow, which is one of the coolest places in the state.

About the only positive that Waggener pulls out of this discussion over the near half century of the Snow Chi Minh Trail’s existence is that the invention of the best snow fences in the world has resulted from this spectacular testing area.

The book is available from the Wyoming State Historical Society and fine stores around the state.

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