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Arizona Bowl was Wyoming Triumph, but also for Tuscon Local Charities

in sports/Dave Bonner/Column
2687

By Dave Bonner, Powell Tribune

So it isn’t an ESPN bowl game.

That didn’t matter to fans of the University Wyoming and Georgia State University football teams who squared off Dec. 31 in the Arizona Bowl at Tucson.  And it sure isn’t a big deal to the folks who own, promote and produce the Arizona Bowl.

In fact, it’s by design. You can add a couple of exclamation points to that statement.

Of the 40 bowl games played this year, only two were not televised and controlled by ESPN/ABC, Fox Sports and CBS.

The Tucson Bowl was one of them. It was televised nationally by CBS Sports Network, a step down from the big names in sports broadcasting (61 million households vs. 86 million households for ESPN).  

The key is the matter of control.  To Tucson attorney Ali Farhang, the brains and the face behind the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, it’s everything.  He is the principal founder of the Arizona Bowl and the chairman of the board of the group which owns the bowl, now in its fifth year. 

He and his founding partners are insistent that the Arizona Bowl is a community-driven event. That’s one way of saying that bowl decisions will serve Tucson’s interest, not national TV programming.

That starts with game day scheduling and start time. An afternoon kickoff for the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve is non-negotiable.

Tucson weather delivered for the Arizona Bowl last week. Fans basked under bright sun and a temperature of 62 degrees for the 2:30 p.m. game. 

Tim Medcoff, a law partner with Farhang who is also intimately involved in the Arizona Bowl, said the vision for the bowl grew out of a desire to remove “kind a black cloud over Tucson from days gone by.” He referred to the fact that Tucson in recent years had lost the Copper Bowl, MLB spring training,  PGA and LPGA tour events.

The road back, in the collective mind of Farhang and colleagues, was to look inward.

“Ali’s all about promoting everything that’s great about Tucson,” Medcoff said. “That includes the sunny weather of southern Arizona, the Air Force and military presence, the hospitality of the area and the great non-profits — the people who care about making others’ lives better.”

The economic impact in the area from a successful bowl game is, of course, a big deal. But giving  back to the community is not simply lip service either. The NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl is one of a kind in donating all bowl proceeds to non-profits in the community.

“We do everything we can to make things better for Tucson,” Medcoff said. “We want to give back.”

And for the record, the Tucson Bowl is happy to have the CBS Sports Network as a partner.

“They told us they support everything we’re doing,” Medcoff said.

Final numbers have not been tabulated, but game producers expect that up to $400,000 in cash will be generated for non-profits of the community.  That’s net proceeds from ticket sales and concessions.

Wyoming did its part. The Cowboys scored a 38-17 win over Georgia State of the Sun Belt Conference on the field, but that’s not all. Some 10,000 Brown and Gold clad fans helped propel Tucson Bowl beer sales to a new record.

Kym Adair, who pulls most of the levers in making bowl operations go, said she was excited by the strong showing of Wyoming fans that pushed bowl game attendance to 36,892.

She should be.

Sales of cold ones broke the previous bowl game record by $100,000. If you’re counting, that record $100,000 translates into 14,285 more of the 16-ounce drafts sold at $7 each than in any previous year.  

A new official Arizona Bowl Brew was introduced at the game, a product of the local Barrio Brewing Co. Wyoming fans gave it a big thumbs up.

Hurricane Winds Can’t Stop Commercial Air Service From Cheyenne to Dallas

in Column/Bill Sniffin
2661

By Bill Sniffin

Three cheers for that direct daily flight from Cheyenne to Dallas.

We took it for the second time over New Year’s and it is just so doggone handy. It is almost a miracle to me.

We live in Lander, some 250 miles from Cheyenne, so why am I am so psyched about this service?  Because, to me, it is personal.

Driving to Cheyenne works fine because we go through the capital city and head to Denver to see my 95-year old mother in a nursing home there.  We also have two brothers, a granddaughter, and a nephew living in the Denver area. It is fun to reconnect with them during the holiday season. 

Our youngest daughter lives in north Dallas, just 45 miles from the DFW airport, so they can come pick us up after we land. We enjoyed the New Year’s holiday and spent five days basking in 60-degree weather, while Wyoming was blowing and shivering.

Cabin of jet was full for the flight from Dallas to Cheyenne. 

Another reason for liking the flight is because it is a direct flight. However, we talked with two other Wyomingites who used the flight as part of more complicated trips.

Deb Hughes lives at Esterbrook near Douglas. Most recently her husband took a one-year assignment in Guernsey where they live right now.  She liked the service being so local. It was a springboard for her to visit relatives in Florida and Virginia.

Amber Rucker, a social worker at the Cheyenne Veterans Hospital, used the flight as a way to ultimately get to Mississippi. She flew out on New Year’s Day and came back Jan. 6. “Whew those winds were high in Cheyenne,” she said. She was impressed that the pilots handled the planes so well during the takeoffs and landings.

She said Interstate 25 was closed on the day she left, so had she booked her flight through Denver, she would have been unable to go. 

A little over a year ago, when I first heard about Cheyenne offering daily airline service to and from Dallas, I was skeptical.

With local, state, and federal help, a brand new terminal had been built in Cheyenne for what appeared to be non-existent airlines. It was seemingly a Wyoming version of the famous Alaska bridge to nowhere.

It was the airline terminal with no airline service.

Deb Hughes of Guernsey gets set to board plane in Dallas for the trip to Cheyenne.

Then some hard-working folks came up with the idea of non-stop daily service to Dallas, subsidized by local, state, and federal funds.

When I told my Lander friends that we were going to fly that route over New Year’s, they thought we were crazy. 

In recent years we have started a holiday tradition of celebrating an early holiday with our Lander-based daughter Shelli Johnson and her family. Then we plan our flight to Dallas over New Year’s, trying to be in two places at once over the holidays.

We chose to fly on New Year’s Eve day this year with two round trip tickets costing about $580.  It might have been cheaper flying from Denver but if you add in highway tolls, parking fees, and the hassle associated with DIA, well, it made going out of Cheyenne seem like a good choice. No regrets.

American Airlines uses 50-passenger jets. On our trip out of Cheyenne, they upgraded to a 70-seat plane for some reason. Lots of extra seats available, which made the trip super comfortable.

The trip home from Dallas to Cheyenne was on the smaller 50-passenger jet with 47 passengers.  Just two hours. Super convenient. The folks working the Cheyenne airport are great, too. Never seen TSA folks smile as much as that crew.

Overall, I would say this is a great experience.

It seems to me that Colorado’s Front Range folks might drive to Cheyenne to save money and avoid the big airport hassle.  Folks from all over Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado are potential travelers out of this airport. 

I’ve been told the next effort should be daily flights from Cheyenne to Salt Lake City and even Denver.  I wonder if they have made a pitch to Allegiant? Now that would be quite a coup. The airline future will be bright for Cheyenne with proper regional promotion.

Cheyenne’s airline past is storied.  United Airlines originally had its main maintenance facility here in Wyoming.  The very first flight attendant school started in Cheyenne in 1930 by Boeing Air Transport.

For over a decade, Cheyenne was headquarters for the large regional airline, Great Lakes Airlines.

Yes, there is a fantastic history of commercial aviation in Cheyenne. With flights like the one we took and future flights on the drawing board, it will be fun to see Cheyenne’s airline experience soar into the future.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

The Value of Rural Subdivisions

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Agriculture
Sublette County
2649

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Private ranches help to preserve open space and wildlife habitat, while urban dwelling condenses the size of the human imprint on the landscape. These benefits are readily understood, but the importance of rural subdivisions to local communities is often overlooked.

Rural subdivisions suffer from love/hate status. While many residents hate to see fragmentation of rural land, many other people dream of living on a few acres outside of town. They love the freedom offered by rural living, including raising their children with more outdoor space, and having animals that would be prohibited by municipal living. The large percentage of government land ownership in Wyoming serves to make land use planning for private property all the more critical since energy development on public land can cause a large influx of people in need of housing, yet the burden for providing housing falls to the limited amount of private land available.

Nearly half of Wyoming is managed by the federal government, and Wyoming continues to maintain its status as having the lowest human population of any state in the union. With our traditional public lands-based boom-and-bust energy cycle comes tremendous ebbs and flows in our human population. Sublette County is a prime example. With less than 6,000 residents in the county in 2000, the county boomed to a high of 10,476 people by 2012, with most of this growth associated with net migration due to energy development. With the energy bust, the county population declined more than 6 percent by 2019, to just over 9,800 people.

With the bust, Sublette County lost about 663 residents from its peak population. By 2017, 46 percent of Sublette County’s housing units were classified as vacant. That’s a startlingly high vacancy rate, but Sublette County has long been known for its hosting of “second” homes to people living outside the county. About 68 percent of the county’s vacant units are for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use (second homes), and 15 percent of the county’s vacant units are for rent or sale. But another 15 percent (428 homes) are classified as “other” vacant, which means they are not for sale or rent, or otherwise available to the marketplace. According to the Wyoming Community Development Authority, “These units may be problematic if concentrated in certain areas, and may create a ‘blighting’ effect.”

Although we lost more than 660 residents, what we see now is that some of the people who moved to Sublette County to work in the gas fields have decided to stay; either hanging on to what energy jobs are available, or finding other ways to make a living. They may have moved here for the boom, but have determined to stay for other reasons, despite the economic downturn. While some of these residents live in town, and some have constructed homes on large acreages, most often I see their presence reflected in rural subdivisions. They have greenhouses, art studios, vegetable gardens, and chicken coops. The kids learn to ride bicycles on dirt driveways; they construct primitive forts in their yards; and they go out into the pasture to “camp” in the summer. They wade in irrigation ditches on hot days, ride incessant laps on snow machines and dirt bikes, and feed calves, pigs, and lambs for show at the county fair.

Most of these families have animals – cats and dogs, chickens and other fowl, small and large livestock, and horses – and all of these animals require both space and food. Since the acreages are too small to be self-sustaining for their domestic animals, animal feedstuffs must be purchased and brought in, which adds to the local economy. I drive by a busy feedstore across from a rural subdivision every time I drive to town.

Although some decry rural subdivision of land for its scarring of the landscape and harm to nature, I maintain that for these rural residents, they are living as close to nature (blemished though it may be) as they possibly can. Their animals are what connect them to the land, and when the jobs that brought them here may go elsewhere, it is the land and animals that keep them here.

While some may notice the horses standing in a dirt-packed corral, I see that the horse owners have corralled the horses to give their limited pasture time to rest and grow. I see those horses loaded for roping competitions, fairs and rodeos, for family pack trips and hunting adventures, and for kids to ride bareback on the vast public lands nearby, where the kids climb off to explore horned toads and other wonders of nature that surround them.

While some see rural sprawl, I notice the installation of flowerbeds, scattered wildflowers over septic systems, and boxes lovingly crafted for bats, bluebirds, and kestrels. I see people who have taken some level of food security into their own hands, raising animals to provide meat for the freezer, and living and learning about the cycle of life and death, and knowing where their food comes from.

All forms of living have both societal and environmental impacts (negative and positive), but rural subdivisions are often maligned. This view fails to recognize that people can be drawn to our communities with properties in rural subdivisions, and these rural ranchettes can serve as anchors that connect communities while supporting local economies.

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.

Looking ahead: What 2020 will mean for Cowboy State

in Column/Bill Sniffin
2020
2628

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

I can see clearly now – the year 2020 will emerge as one of the most important years in Wyoming’s history as various trends emerge.

Like the perfect score on an eye test, 2020 has the makings of perfect vision when it comes to trying to identify issues important to the state. But wait; there is both excitement and dread. Is this the year for some exciting innovations to catch hold in the state?  Is this the year when our spending excesses catch up with us?

State leaders are looking for some home runs in job development.  Maybe more firearm companies will move here. Can we slow down the devastating blows to the fossil fuel industry, especially for coal?

The Legislature meets for its biennial budget session on Feb. 10 and you can bet some hellfire rhetoric will be heard about how “robbing our rainy day fund” is driving the state to the poor house.

Yet the facts will show we have over $1 billion in that fund and some $20 billion in other funds stashed in various coffee cans from the permanent mineral trust fund.  Going broke?  Compared to other states, Wyoming is a beacon of good financial governance.

Gov. Mark Gordon is not one of the shrill voices as he suggests austerity will be with us for a while. Rather than across the board cuts, he likes each agency head to adjust his or her budget in ways that make sense to it and to the state.  Tough decisions are expected to be made and some folks will lose their jobs. 

I am looking forward to covering the Legislature in its brand new remodeled digs.  State Sen. Eli Bebout reminded me that I was wrong in my last column about how much was spent on the remodeling. The correct number is $301 million, or $500 for each man, woman, and child in the state. By the looks of the place, the future will show that it was a good investment.

Looking ahead to 2020, I hope the statues of Esther Hobart Morris and Chief Washakie are placed back outside by the entrance of the building, where they belong.

Some 300 miles northwest of Cheyenne, the huge National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois will open in May.  Dan Starks has created Wyoming’s newest great museum.  Folks, this is going to be a treat. You have no idea just how big and how impressive this museum is going to be. It is a game changer for tourism in the western part of the state.

Commercial air service made some big changes when Sheridan, Riverton, Gillette, and Rock Springs all became aligned with United-SkyWest.  We have seen some amazing experiments in state and federally subsidized air service in these communities over the past ten years.  This new plan should be helpful for everyone.

The national election in 2020 will have ramifications in Wyoming. A Donald Trump reelection could provide an economic boost through his support of fossil fuels and his reducing anti-fossil fuel policies from taking effect. Trump’s efforts to improve Ag trade with China would be welcome, too.

In Wyoming, we will elect a new U. S. Senator. The assumption is that current U. S. Rep. Liz Cheney will run.  Former U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis is already running hard.  Former Gov. Matt Mead says he is not and Jackson GOP Megadonor Foster Friess says he is weighing his options.

If Liz Cheney moves up to the Senate race, the race for her House seat could be one of the all-time donnybrooks in Wyoming election history.  For political observers, this will be an exciting year in Wyoming.

Two big important jobs will be filled in 2020. The University of Wyoming will hire a new president after trustees did not renew Laurie Nichols contract in 2019.  Also, the Wyoming Business Council will be seeking a replacement for Shawn Reese.

The move toward more transparency (like 2020 vision?) will soon be getting one of its first big tests.  State Sen. Tom James (R-Rock Springs), has requested a list of every Wyoming school employee and his or her salary as he goes into the Legislative budget session.  Lots of folks are complaining and do not want that information out.

Some years ago, the Casper Star Tribune annually published a list of the highest paid state employees showing his or her wages. This request by Sen. James opens the door for some media outlet to also disseminate the list. 

Gov. Gordon and State Auditor Kristi Racines have both showed initiative when it comes to transparency. Will 2020 be the most open year yet?  Let’s hope so.

I am a big fan of the Rachel’s Challenge program, which works with schools to prevent bullying, teen suicides, and school shootings. It looks like 2020 will be a banner year in Wyoming as more schools sign up for the program.

There will be a push to have Wyoming join the federal Medicaid program, which will save the Cowboy State millions of dollars and provide needed medical service to many needy people.  Also on the medical front, there will be efforts to have medical facilities be required to publish their “cash/self-pay” prices for procedures and medical drugs.

Gov. Gordon is also leading an effort in 2020 to have the Public Service Commission investigate Rocky Mountain Power’s new plan, which will close most of its coal-fired power plants sooner than expected. 

Gordon is also working hard to open some ports somewhere where Wyoming coal can be shipped overseas.  Again with a Trump administration, there is promise for this development in 2020.

Also on the energy front will be the development of thousands of new giant windmills, as we see the state slowly transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in 2020.  The state’s biggest solar project is also due to be expanded, north of Interstate 80 in SW Wyoming.

Figuring out a way to pay for all the maintenance on Interstate 80 will see the beginnings of exploring a tolling system.  Meanwhile, it is hoped that Wyoming drivers pay better attention and fasten their seat belts more in 2020. The 2019 year was deadly on the state’s highways.

We can’t write a column like this without mentioning musical superstar Kanye West and what he is doing in Park County. Now that will be an interesting story in 2020 as he continues to expand his businesses there.

Let’s hope that with a year named 2020, we can maintain a clear vision for Wyoming’s future that improves the lives of its 580,000 citizens.

Happy New Year!

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Resolve to Childish Rules

in Cat Urbigkit/Column
Determination
2615

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

With the ringing-in of a new year, it’s that time when we feel the need to make resolutions, most of which are quickly broken. I know, I know; this time it’s going to be different. Really? I’m of the mind that rather than making new resolutions, we adults need to revisit and relearn some of the vital lessons of childhood. 

You know the basics: make your bed when you get up, bathe often, brush your teeth, wear pants if there is company, and don’t bother an adult until that adult has had coffee. Don’t pick up snakes. Don’t throw fits, or rocks, or call people names.

Share and take turns, and no fake crying. Chew with your mouth closed, and introduce yourself first when making a phone call before asking who is on the other end of the line. Don’t ask if we’re there yet. Sit down to eat your dinner. Try not to break anything.

Use your manners: say please and thank you, and take your hat off when you enter a building. Look people in the eye when you’re talking to them. If you make a mess, clean it up. Hold the door open for others.

If it’s none of your business, don’t ask. If it’s not right, don’t do it. If it’s not yours, don’t take it. Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t cheat. Remember that just because someone else is doing it doesn’t make it okay. Don’t talk about poop at the table.

Treat others how you wish to be treated. When you’re wrong, apologize. Forgive each other. Work hard, try new things, ask questions, make mistakes, and learn. No, you can’t beat your brother/sister/person with a stick. Insults don’t win arguments. Try not to hurt others. When you’re mad and frustrated, try not to yell too much. Work on using your inside voice. 

Plant a seed and water it. Skip rocks. Play fair. Be kind to animals. Be respectful and honest. Do it if it makes someone happy; don’t do it if it makes someone sad. Get dirty and have fun. Know that meanness is ugly, and kindness is beautiful. Watch the clouds float by. Marvel at stars at night.

Do hard things. Eat dessert first. Respect others. Take naps. Dream big. Treasure friendships. Root for the underdog. Don’t be a bully. Stand up for yourself, and for others. Do your best, and help each other.

Find time to play. Dangle your toes in a pond, creek, lake, or ditch. Sing in the car. Dance when you feel like it. Laugh often. Hug often. Stay awake reading a good book; fall asleep reading a good book. Make a snowman. Believe in yourself. Do good works, even when no one is watching. Be grateful for good things.

May the new year be your best year yet. And try not to bite anyone.

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.

Increased beer tax puts burden for service where it belongs

in Ray Peterson/Column
2611

By R. Ray Peterson

Recently, the Legislature’s Labor and health Committee voted down a proposed increase to the malt beverage tax.  This tax has not been increased since 1935!  

The tax on malt beverage in Wyoming is still at 2 cents per gallon or less than two-tenths of a cent per 12 oz. can.  Wyoming ranks 50th — last of all the states — with the lowest tax on malt beverage products.  All other states around us tax beer at an average of 20 per gallon.  

So why are we so reluctant to raise this tax?   There seems to be a disconnect from the costs incurred by the state from this market and what we charge in tax to help meet those costs.  

Here are some figures that might surprise many.  The direct cost that our state incurs from the abuse of alcohol is projected at around $27.6 million, (WYSAC 2010 study). 

The current tax on beer at 2 cents per gallon generates about $265,000 annually.  This leaves the state having to come up with $27.3 million to pay for the services we provide that are associated with alcohol abuse, for treatment centers, law enforcement, court costs, emergency services and correctional facilities.  Indirect costs, such as lost productivity, associated with alcohol abuse was estimated to be in the area of $800 million dollars.

The arguments against raising the beer tax in the past have been that it would only raise $2.3 million in additional revenue, which would not come close to meeting the $27 million costs to the state.  Another was that we would have many of our citizens driving to surrounding states to buy their beer and that it would put many of our beer retailers out of business.

First, if the tax was comparable to surrounding states, such as the 20 cents per gallon amount, there would be no savings by driving to another state to make your purchase.  The tax would need to be competitive with surrounding states eliminating that concern.  And second, $24 million in subsidies is better than $27.3 million.  

We seem to not have a problem with raising the tobacco tax over the years to help meet the costs associated with tobacco use as well as persuade folks to reconsider the health risks, but alcohol seems to be thought of differently.  Perhaps we don’t really associate these estimated costs to the abuse of alcohol.  Or maybe that alcohol abuse is not considered to be a health risk.  

What ever the disconnect is, or has been, the end result is millions of dollars over the years have been spent from the general fund to cover the costs that are directly related to alcohol abuse.        

This question should be asked if this money could be spent or used for things that could serve our state better?  These funds could be used for local government distributions, K-12 education funding, senior citizen centers, libraries, streets, bridges, recreation centers, ball fields, parks, tourism, economic development and on and on.   

For the last 84 years, Wyoming has chosen to subsidize the beer drinkers with a portion of the excess revenues we’ve enjoyed.  Now those excess revenues are diminishing and yet, we still can’t quite bring ourselves to the reality that services cost money, and now, with money that we don’t have.   But, for some odd reason, we take pride that we have the lowest beer tax in the nation.  Perhaps we have some that are looking at this as economic development by attracting more drinkers to our state by keeping the tax on beer low.  We even had serious attempts to do away with the sales tax on beer completely because it just did not generate any large revenue.  I don’t think I need to look up the definition of stupid.  

But not to worry folks, a healthy dose of reality is knocking at our door in the Cowboy State and our leaders will be forced to come to grips of making every dollar stretch. You can bet on one thing as we keep the tax on beer the lowest in the nation, that the costs that we all incur from the effects of alcohol will continue to increase, making the figures even worse with each passing year.  

For me, while I served, it was a matter of being practical with our state’s revenue as well as the fairness of the issue.  I made two attempts at raising the beer tax in Wyoming and was overwhelmingly defeated both times in the house, where all taxing bills must start.  I compare this issue with how we fund our highways.  Those that use our highways pay a tax for having a vehicle in licensing, registration, sales tax and fuel tax.  With the beer industry and our drinkers, they want nothing to do with helping pay for the expenses that are created by them.  Same old story: Let someone else pay for my expenses both now and in the future.  

My final thought on the subject.  I would be OK with eliminating the malt beverage tax and the alcohol tax in Wyoming as long as we eliminate all services that are provided for those who choose to use or abuse alcohol.  Wait, what?  How cold is that?  Funny how drinkers don’t recognize the costs associated with drinking but how dare we cut or eliminate the services they receive when they’ve had a bit too much to drink.  

When will we recognize that everything has a cost and who better to meet that expense than those that create the cost in the first place.  Now it should be understood that I don’t have a problem with the drinkers of Wyoming.  My problem rests with the state’s failure to properly tax those who create the tax burden.  As I served as the Senate Revenue Committee Chairman, I always tried to be fair and equitable in sharing the tax burden, as we considered each tax proposal.  In this particular case, it certainly is not fair to under-tax the users while expecting others to pick up the tab.  The one comforting thought I have in this matter is that state revenues are shrinking and as the money for budgets disappear, we will be forced into making these so-called tough decisions that we have put off 84 years.

Cheers everyone!

R.Ray Peterson is a Cowley resident who served as a state senator from 2005 to 2018.

Just how wintry is it? Some of Wyoming’s coldest stories

in Column/Bill Sniffin
2609

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

An old joke about the weather:

         “My feet are cold.”

         “Well, all you have to do is go to bed and have a brick at you feet.”

         “I tried that.”

         “Did you get the brick hot?”

         “Get it hot? It took all night just to get it warm.”

As I write this, it is 1 degree out and fog has enshrouded our town. It is pretty darned nippy out there. But it has not been nearly as bad as it could be or has been here in Wyoming.

Since getting dumped on over the Thanksgiving holiday, much of Wyoming has shivered and we all took a little consolation over having a white Christmas.

This got me thinking about what were the coldest temperatures in Wyoming’s recorded history?  Many folks sent me anecdotal stories, which I will mix here with a few facts.

Personally, I recall the winter of 1978-79. Again, here in Lander, the entire month of January was below zero, according to local radio legend Joe Kenney. Amazingly dangerous and bitter conditions.

What is the official coldest temperature ever? Historian Phil Roberts of Laramie says: “I think the record is still -66 recorded Feb. 9, 1933, at Moran. I heard the temperature was actually colder, but the thermometers didn’t have the capacity to register a lower reading!”

The late Clay James, who operated Jackson Lake Lodge at Moran for decades, recalls -54 one cold winter day in the mid-1970s. “Thankfully we woke up as the power went off.  We called all of our employees to turn on the faucets and start the fireplaces.  The power was off for several days.  Never have I been so cold,” he recalled.   

Former Cheyenne, Torrington and Sundance publisher Mike Lindsey recalled the blizzard of 1949, which history generally considers the worst ever in the state.   

“Up in Sundance, cattle froze standing up. Wind blew drifts into buildings through keyholes in doors. Machinery would not start. Kids who stuck their tongues to the door handle did not get thawed until their junior year!” Not sure about that last fact, which was reminiscent of the famous scene from the movie A Christmas Story.

Jim Smail of Lander recalled snowmobiling with a group that included Charlton Heston at Togwotee Lodge in 1964 where the mercury dipped to -64.  No, they did not go snowmachining that day.

Former Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau of Gillette recalls playing Laramie in football when the wind chill was -65. 

Dewey Vanderhoff of Cody recalls: “It was New Year’s weekend of 1979 when Jackson Hole went -60. Friends from Meeteetse had gone to ski there but came back with horror stories of busted pipes, bone-cold motels, blackouts, everything closed, no skiing opportunity at all. Nothing fun except sharing beds for warmth and drinking a lot. Consolation prize I suppose. Was there a spike in babies born in September-October?”

Jody Coleman of Riverton says about that same ski trip: “I was in Jackson that New Years of 1979. The power was off and we woke up at the Antler motel with the walls inside covered with frost. We went outside and started our pickup every hour. The next day we spent the day jump-starting other people’s cars. My mom bought me a ski suit. But urged me to move home to California.”

The late Ken Martinsen of Lander was also in Jackson on that cold holiday. He recalled people going to convenience stores and buying charcoal grill packs, which they would put under the engines of their pickups and SUVs and set them afire to thaw out the engines.

 Worland can get pretty cold. Former resident Debbie Hammons recalled: “That super-duper cold winter of 1978-79 was when the weather was sub-zero.  I moved home to Wyoming in September 1978.  Best New Year’s Eve ever was Jan. 1, 1979.  All the young singles in town packed into the Three Bears Bar downtown and kept their cars running into the New Year. We knew if we shut off our vehicles, we might not be able to start them again until March!”

When Pat Schmidt was publisher of The Lovell Chronicle, folks there arranged a hay bale mission to rescue the poor wild horses in the Pryor Mountains. “The BLM and others organized a hay drop from a helicopter to bands of horses stuck on mountain ridges. I recall taking a picture with one hand as I was dropping a bale with the other. The effort only compounded the problems, we learned later, as the horses’ digestive systems were not used to the protein in the hay. Their systems compacted, causing death. Only 75 survived.”

These are some of my favorite “how cold is it” stories. What about yours?

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Deadly highways, new capitol, coal collapse, new governor & UW president forced out

in Column/Bill Sniffin
Cowboy State 2019
2596

By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming columnist

The year 2019 will go into the Cowboy State’s history books for a great many reasons – many of them not very pretty.

One big example was Wyoming’s normally benign highways turned deadly in 2019, as a nearly all-time record was set for people killed in traffic accidents.

As of this Dec. 15, some 142 people had died compared to 111 for the entire year of 2018. And getting close to previous all-time record of 150 set in 2014.

Worst economic news came with the bankruptcies of coal companies and the human toll that resulted from them.

In Gillette, companies are still sorting out the aftermath of the Blackjewel companies’ financial demise.  Two huge mines, the Belle Ayr and the Eagle Butte, were shut down by that financial fiasco by the national coal company giant, idling 600 workers.

On the bright side, it looks like many of the Gillette area jobs will be preserved for the near future.

A worse situation is in the small towns of Kemmerer and Diamondville, both a coal mine and a power plant are in the process of being shut down, leaving 300 workers idled. And even long time retirement benefits are threatened because of the bankruptcy actions.

On a bigger statewide picture, the Rocky Mountain Power Co. says it will be closing down giant power plants in Rock Springs, Glenrock, and Gillette sooner than previously expected. 

The demise of the fossil fuel industry both nationally and locally could be welcome news to folks who believe that industry causes climate change, but the harsh reality to Wyoming citizens is that this will be a cold, hard reality check to thousands of people relying on paychecks from that industry.

The Donald Trump presidency has seen the elimination of some onerous regulations such as one rule that resulted in a fine to a Wyoming rancher of millions of dollars for building a small pond. That rule was eliminated and the rancher was saved.  

Bad news hit the ag community when a major canal collapsed near Torrington during prime irrigation season.  High summer temperatures almost ruined crops before repairs were made and the water flowed again to 488 producers in two states.

As of the country’s most windy state, the good news is that thousands of huge turbines continued to be developed in 2019.  Plus there are more on the drawing boards. 

Squabbles over how, or whether, to tax these whirling behemoths will be a continual bone of contention going forward.

The year saw the installation of a new governor, Mark Gordon, who is arguably the most prepared person for the job we have seen in the last 50 years.  He had been the State Treasurer.

Our biggest state institution, the University of Wyoming, sustained a big shock when the trustees failed to renew the contract of President Laurie Nichols. It was all done in secret; no reasons were ever given. She has moved on to Black Hills State in Spearfish and UW is on the hunt for a new president. Lots of controversy swirled around that situation, including efforts by state media to learn the rationale behind the dismissal, but at this time, still no answers have been forthcoming.

In 2019, Wyoming citizens saw their state capitol building turned into a treasure. After fours years and $337 million ($581 for every man, woman, and child in the state), this amazing edifice opened in mid-summer to rave reviews. The facility rivals any museum or attraction in the state, according to former Thermopolis publisher Pat Schmidt, who now lives in Cheyenne.

Longtime geologist Ron Baugh of Casper has a dim view of our energy future: “The first thing that comes to mind about the high (low) points of the last year is the continued demise of the coal industry and the continued shrinking of Wyoming’s tax base,” he says. “This will have a continued negative impact on every person, town and county in the State. If not felt individually, it has and will continue to be felt collectively.” 

“I believe that Wyoming is on the brink of major changes the likes of which we old timers have not seen in our lifetimes. I hope that Wyoming can make the changes and still be Wyoming,” he concludes. 

Also in 2019, moves were made whereby the state’s seven community colleges can start offering four-year degrees in some fields. This was heralded by Brad Tyndall, the president of Central Wyoming College in Riverton.

Wyoming was founded because of the railroads. In 2019 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the construction of the rails across the country. Wyoming and the nation celebrated the driving of the golden spike in Promontory Summit in Utah Territory on May 10, 1869.

 In commemoration of that, the biggest steam locomotive ever, the newly-restored #1404 Big Boy, left Cheyenne and traveled west and back again to celebrate the event, delighting crowds wherever it went.

And perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was Kanye West adopting Wyoming as his new home. The musical superstar bought ranches near Cody and Greybull and is planning on moving some of his business interests to the Cowboy State.

And finally, we all celebrated the 150th anniversary of Wyoming giving women the right to vote.  What a wonderful milestone that only Wyomingites can celebrate! It can be argued about the why and how it came into being way back when in 1869, but the fact remains it happened here first and it was real.

Next: Looking ahead to 2020.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

O’ Holy Night

in Cat Urbigkit/Column
O Holy Night
2589

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth”
- Adolphe Adam, 1847

It’s the holiest of days and nights, with believers of different faiths around the world sharing in celebrations. While our family honors the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger, others will observe Hanukkah, Posadas Navidenas, Ashura, Kwanzaa, and other religious holidays. 

We live fairly far out in the rural countryside and since we tend to sheep as part of daily life, Christmas brings reflections on the birth of a baby in a manger, and the lessons set forth by the Good Shepherd.

While our small household no longer participates in shopping-and-Santa outings, we celebrate the season with other traditions – some old, some new. Our treasured gifts are books and wool socks (because there is nothing more luxurious than wool socks and a good book). And food, generous food gifts sent by thoughtful friends and loved ones: cookies and candies made by messy little hands under the cheerful supervision of young parents; steak or fish sent by friends from afar who we think of and talk about as we prepare these family meals; boxes of luscious chocolates crafted by bakery artisans and sent from fellow natural resource advocates; and buttery cookies from grandma.

We enjoy reading and displaying cards and letters that arrive in the mail, setting out festive decorations, making donations, cooking and drinking together, writing thank-you notes, collecting pinecones into small bowls, and placing juniper branches in glass vases.

We make snowy treks to chop down a tree or sagebrush, enjoying the earthy smells brought into our living room. We place a string of small white lights, add handcrafted wooden ornaments and sheep bells, and our Sherpa/Shepherd Santa graces the top of the tree. The tree is firmly tethered upright by strong cotton yarn so that the wild kittens we adopted a few months ago don’t pull it down in their nighttime escapades. Hud, our bearded collie herding dog, especially seems to enjoy the atmosphere of the festive tree in a darkened room on a cold winter night. Carrying the sign of the cross on their shoulders, the burros nudge through our coat pockets, seeking out the gingersnaps they know hide there. The animals seem to understand the changing ambiance of the season, the change from long darkness to light. Of course, the animals understand; the animals have always understood.

I play Elvis Presley’s Christmas songs on Christmas morning, and Jim and I usually end up dancing across the living room. The outside ranch chores are still first priority, and we heap extra feed to the flock. Hud finds a new stuffed toy, and all the working dogs get full bellies with warm treats. Although we don’t prepare any special feast for the day, after the chores are done, we often find friends and neighbors resting their elbows on our kitchen table, breaking bread with us – whatever form that bread happens to take any given year. We prepare and deliver food for other friends living or working alone nearby.

Our thoughts turn with fond remembrance to those who have left their earthly confines but still share our lives and hearts. And mostly importantly, we pray for comfort and refuge for those who are suffering from illness, or loss, or loneliness, or from whatever harsh darkness shrouds them.

Each beautiful winter morning serves as our reminder to show gratitude, and love, as we look out across the quiet beauty of a wild Wyoming landscape. As we set out feed for the flock, we celebrate this special season through traditions of shepherds before us, fully aware that from the humblest of places comes the greatest of joys.

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.

Cameras in classroom would increase school accountability

in Ray Peterson/Column/Education
2583

By R. Ray Peterson, Cowley, WY 

Accountability from our schools has been an ongoing concern for years as the Legislature has struggled to understand how much the state spends for the results received. I remember a bill I sponsored years ago in an attempt to address this issue. 

The measure was nicknamed the “camera bill,” but its actual title was “Improving Teacher Evaluations.” It passed introduction, only to fail in the Senate Education Committee by one vote. Simply put, it was a concept for a pilot program to put cameras in the classroom to use for evaluations and provide security for both teachers and students. 

I thought it was an ideal time to implement the concept as we were building schools at a fast pace. The pilot program was to involve four schools, each of a different size, around our state. The program would continue for one year and a report on its effectiveness would be given to the Legislature.

The nexus of this concept came when I asked a few retired teachers how they were evaluated over the many years they had taught. Their answers were varied and inconsistent, which led me to believe that teacher evaluations across our state were somewhat of a “hit and miss” process. Stories of teachers suing school districts for wrongful termination or superintendents being reluctant to fire teachers with guaranteed contract status because of the personal hits they took led me to take a serious look at the evaluation process or how we might improve the process to address these concerns.

Think of it! The student and teacher would never know if the principal or instructional facilitator were watching! This alone would have a positive affect for both the student and the instructor. 

I only wish that every citizen from our state could have seen my presentation of this bill to the Senate Education Committee. Many certainly would have been entertained while listening to the point/counter-point between the Wyoming Education Association representatives and myself. It was classic. Perhaps this is where I made myself an enemy to these folks. 

Anyway, this idea was meant to be an additional tool an administrator could use to evaluate teachers. No disruption of the classroom with personal visits, no tip-off to give the teacher a chance to prepare. And the best part? Now a recording could be reviewed by the teacher, principal, the instructional facilitator and one of the parents of a student. 

Wait, a parent? How dare we suggest such a thing! Hold on, let me explain. The parent was to attend the viewing and submit a simplified evaluation form. Did the teacher seem prepared? Did he or she seem to maintain class discipline? Simple and basic questions. Then the parent representative would be asked to leave. Then the three people remaining in the room would get down to business while making recommendations and assignments for improvements as needed. The instructional facilitator would be assigned to work with the teacher in certain areas and all three would be required to sign off on the evaluation report. A work plan for improvement would be made, assignments given and a follow-up visit would be set to re-evaluate for these areas to be worked on. Think of the effect this would have on wrongful termination lawsuits. Or more importantly, how the schools could address the strengths or shortcomings of a teacher or administrator!

So why the parent involvement? In order for this to work, we must first, insure that the evaluations are happening. The parents group representative attends the monthly school board meeting to report on how many evaluations parents have participated in that month. Now everyone is on the hook! Not just our teachers and students but everyone from parents to administrators. No personnel problems or employee confidences are threatened. Just a quick report on whether the evaluations are happening to the school board and superintendent. 

Make no mistake, evaluations are the hardest part of school administration, but also the most critical. New school buildings and curriculum have less to do with a student’s education than a teacher’s desire and ability to teach. I would encourage parents around our state to ask their school administrators how teacher evaluations are performed in their own school districts. How often they are performed? How is the follow up performed? Who is involved in carrying out the improvement plans for an under-performing teacher? What you may find out could surprise you. It is as varied as you could imagine, from no evaluations to some. 

When I asked for myself, I was surprised to find out that the teacher was asked by the principal if the principal could attend a class sometime in the future. The time was set by the teacher and I’m sure the preparation began. I’m sure everything went to plan and the evaluation was deemed a success. I thought to myself, ‘How many things were wrong with this type of an evaluation?’ From reporting the evaluation to the effectiveness of the actual evaluation. Where was the hook or accountability for any of the players that we deem critical to our child’s education?

Second, we would reduce the wasteful wrongful termination lawsuits. Not only would we have documentation of the evaluations signed by all parties, but also from the instructional facilitator. This person is the best qualified teacher in each district, assigned the task of assisting other teachers become better instructors. The principal and the instructional facilitator would both work at improving the quality of teaching in our schools. This would also reduce concerns of personal attacks, inconsistent evaluations, new administration, personality conflicts and surprise terminations. Proper and consistent evaluations should remove all of these concerns.

Third, this proposal would involve and make more players accountable than just our teachers. Parents need to be more involved. How could a principal use the recording of a parent’s child struggling in one of their classes? How could parents reporting to the school board each month help improve the performance of our principals in conducting regular evaluations? If I were serving on a school board and the parents reported to us that they had been invited to only one evaluation that semester in a school with more than 20 teachers, I would think that we have a problem in evaluating our teachers consistently and properly.

Finally, this program would focus the efforts of not only our teachers and students but also our instructional facilitators, principals, parents, school board members and superintendents on educational excellence. If we really believe that education is the most important thing we do in this state, then I would ask the question, what is wrong with this concept? These are public institutions of learning and we have the technology to improve our efforts, so why not implement a pilot program to see what the effects might be? 

As a closing thought, having cameras in most parts of a school would only add to the security of our students and faculty. Bullying would be handled properly with video evidence being used to show all parties involved. 

Throwing additional money at a problem does not always solve the problem. Sometimes more effort is required. Maybe some courageous legislator can blow the dust off of my old bill and introduce it again. But beware of those that want nothing to do with accountability in our schools because they will come out in droves in opposition to this effort. More money is what they want.

I remain convinced that if implemented, this one improvement could do more for the quality of education in this state than anything else we could possibly do. More so than additional money or higher salaries, new buildings, more activities or even improved curriculum. This one effort to improve evaluations in our schools would hit the bullseye for boosting the quality of education in Wyoming. It would certainly eliminate the wrongful termination lawsuits. It would blow a hole through the guaranteed contract status of teachers and would provide the proper incentive to continually improve education efforts in schools. 

I’ve always believed that if evaluations were done correctly, we would have better teachers, happier teachers, accomplished teachers and better test scores for our students. Is it any wonder why our friends at the WEA were opposed to this concept? It did not fit with their desire for higher wages, guaranteed positions with less accountability. Perhaps it’s time for a new organization that puts our students first. W4E. Wyoming For Education. I would hope that such an organization would not fear innovation, technology, accountability, and responsibility.

Now who is serious about educating our children?

Ray Peterson served as a state senator for 13 years, from 2005-2018. He lives in Cowley.

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