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Tourist Season Begins as Yellowstone National Park Opens Up East Entrance

in Yellowstone/News

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

There’s an air of excitement on the first weekend in May at the eastern entrance to America’s first national park. 

And the tradition held true Friday as the park opened its eastern gate for the 2021 season.

For tourists who come the park’s eastern entrance through Cody, a trip to Yellowstone National Park is often a lifelong dream. 

Tim Austin from upstate New York said he’s been planning this trip for seven years, and drove over 1,800 miles to get here.

“This is like the place to go in the lower 48 for wildlife photography,” Austin said. “So I will be here until it’s so cold I can’t take it anymore.”

Vehicles began lining up at the east entrance to Yellowstone early Friday morning, with visitors waiting for their chance to experience the wonders of the park.

Stacy Boisseau of Powell, who arrived early Friday morning with her daughter and some friends, has been the first in line for the spring season opening for the last three years – a tradition she and her friends are proud of. 

Others from the region also make the pilgrimage each year — like Brian Johnson from Billings, Montana. 

He noted that the line of cars waiting to enter the Park this year was significantly longer than normal.

“I’ve been coming for the last 10 or 15 years on opening day,” said the wildlife photographer. “But this is the longest I’ve ever seen it, far and away.”

With the shutdowns related to the pandemic, Yellowstone last year was a prime destination for those who had been cooped up for too long under quarantine. 

This year promises to be just as busy, now that travel restrictions have been lifted in most parts of the country. 

And that’s good news for gateway communities like Cody. 

The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce each year hosts a “Parks and Pancakes” celebration to mark the opening day of the east gate.

Tina Hoebelheinrich, the chamber’s executive director, said opening day is a jump start for the community.

“It sets the pace for this year,” she explained. “Those of us who live here, I think we miss the opportunity that Yellowstone represents on a day-to-day basis all winter long. So when this day finally comes, it’s such a great opportunity to get in the Park and remember why we live here.”

Hoebelheinrich added that a celebration like “Parks and Pancakes” gives Chamber board members and staff a chance to brush off the cobwebs of the winter and prepare to show off what Wyoming has to offer.

“We’re known for our exceptional western hospitality, and when you don’t have a lot of visitors all winter long, it just feels good to do what we do,” she said.

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Wyoming Man Charged For Intentionally Starting Two Wildfires In Big Horn County

in News/wildfire/Crime

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Wyoming man has been charged with intentionally starting two wildfires in Big Horn County almost three years ago.

Brandon Kenneth Nyberg is charged with unlawfully starting a fire and burning timber, trees and other fuels on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land. If convicted, he could spend up to one year in jail, serve one year of supervised release and pay a fine of up to $1,000.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Casper, in July 2018, BLM Supervisory Ranger Brad Jones was working near the Terek Fire in Big Horn County when he was alerted to another fire in Manderson. While attempting to gain access to the Manderson fire, another fire on the same highway was reported.

Both fires were believed to be human-caused.

When Jones arrived in Manderson, he saw Nyberg and Sierra Brown with a water hose standing near a barn and house.

When the ranger interviewed him, Nyberg said he hadn’t seen much and he had been watching the fire in the distance when he noticed it burning in the field near his grandparents’ house. He said he didn’t see anyone in the area who could have started the fire, so he believed it was a spot fire caused by embers from the Terek Fire.

Nyberg denied starting either of the two smaller fires.

Brown said she was sleeping when Nyberg woke her and told her to turn on the water. She didn’t see anyone in the field who could have started the fires.

The next day, BLM Ranger Robert Lind was on the scene of the first smaller fire when he was approached by Nyberg on a bicycle. Lind asked Nyberg if he had any photos of the prior day’s fires, which Nyberg did, and he agreed to transfer photos to the ranger.

He repeated a similar story to Lind, that he and Brown returned home from a hike, she took a nap and he woke her when he noticed the fire in the area.

One week later, it was determined that the first fire was started on and burned 6 acres of BLM land, while the second fire was started on private property and spread to BLM land.

In May 2019, Nyberg was interviewed by police at his grandparents’ residence in Manderson. When confronted with evidence, he initially claimed he might have accidentally started the fires with a lit cigarette, but when pushed, he admitted to starting both fires with a lighter.

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Gordon Officially Bans Vaccine Passports In Wyoming

in News/Mark Gordon/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon has officially banned state agencies, boards and commissions from requiring “vaccine passports” to access state spaces and services.

The new directive, issued Friday, instructs state agencies, boards and commissions to provide full access to spaces and services regardless of a person’s coronavirus vaccination status.

“Vaccine passport programs have the potential to politicize a decision that should not be politicized,” Gordon said. “They would divide our citizens at a time when unity in fighting the virus is essential, and harm those who are medically unable to receive the vaccine. While I strongly encourage Wyomingites over the age of 16 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, it is a personal choice based upon personal circumstances.”

The new directive also encouaged Wyoming’s counties, cities and towns, as well as private business, to follow the state’s example in providing access to public spaces and services to all.

This follows in the steps of other Republican governors across the country, such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who have issued similar orders over the last month.

Nebraska Governor Pete Rickets of Nebraska said the idea of any type of medical passport “violates two central tenets of the American system: freedom of movement and health care privacy.”

Gordon had previously said he had no intention of implementing a vaccine passport, but Friday’s order made it official.

More than 180,000 Wyoming residents have been vaccinated against the virus, about 26% of the state’s population, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The governor again encouraged residents to get one of the three available vaccines.

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Fremont County Man Sentenced For Stabbing Uncle In The Leg

in News/Crime

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Fremont County man was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison this week for stabbing his uncle in the leg last fall.

Shane Kyle Armajo, 34 of Kinnear, was sentenced to 42 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release for assaulting his uncle with a knife.

In October 2020, Armajo and his uncle had been drinking heavily and were driving home from visiting friends when an argument over money ensued. The uncle pulled to the side of the road and the two exited his truck.

They continued arguing until Armajo stabbed his uncle in the leg with a knife. Shortly after, he left the scene in his uncle’s truck.

A passerby spotted the unresponsive victim lying by the side of the road on the Wind River Indian Reservation and called 911. The uncle was life-flighted to the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper due to significant blood loss, but ultimately survived the assault.

“Even though both men had been drinking heavily and should not have been operating a motor vehicle, the fact that Armajo left his uncle for dead is extremely concerning. Because of his reckless behavior, he nearly killed a man and could have injured others while driving drunk,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray. “Thanks to the passerby, the FBI and Wind River Police Department, the victim survived, and his attacker was held accountable.”

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Supreme Court: Traffic Stop Went On Too Long, Evidence Must Be Tossed

in News/Wyoming Supreme Court

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A traffic stop that led to a man’s arrest on meth charges went on for too long to use drugs found in his car as evidence against him, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.

A divided court ruled that meth seized from the car of William Mahaffy should have been suppressed as evidence because the sheriff’s deputy who stopped Mahaffy’s car acted improperly to extend the amount of time it took him to write a traffic citation.

According to the ruling, Mahaffy was riding in a car driven by his wife when he threw a burning cigarette out of the car window. A deputy pulled the car over.

The deputy testified the car’s driver appeared “very nervous,” so he called for a drug-sniffing dog to be brought the location. He then wrote the citation for throwing a burning cigarette out of the car.

The dog and its handler arrived and began inspecting the car while the deputy was completing the ticket. The deputy had Mahaffy get out of the car so he could explain the ticket. After issuing the ticket, the deputy asked Mahaffy why he was so nervous.

The ruling said the dog’s handler then indicated to the deputy that the presence of drugs had been detected and the deputy began asking Mahaffy whether he had drugs in the car.

A search revealed meth and a pipe and Mahaffy was charged with possession and two counts of child endangerment.

Federal courts have ruled that when making a traffic stop, law enforcement can only detain the people being ticketed long enough to issue the ticket unless there is a reasonable cause to extend the stop.

Mahaffy argued the deputy improperly extended the duration of the traffic stop to allow the dog’s search to be conducted in violation of his rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

The trial court in Mahaffy’s case rejected his argument, but justices, in an opinion written by Justice Kate Fox, ruled that the deputy improperly extended the duration of the stop by one and one-half minutes.

“We are concerned here with inquiries that did extend the duration of the stop because they occurred after (the deputy) had completed the citation, and the reason for the stop had been resolved,” it said. “(The deputy) unlawfully extended the duration of the traffic stop after he had completed the citation by asking unrelated questions about the nervousness.”

The case was returned to district court for further proceedings.

However, Justices Lynne Boomgaarden and Keith Kautz, in a dissenting opinion, said Mahaffy failed to raise some of the issues brought up in his Supreme Court appeal when he originally asked for the trial court to suppress the evidence found in his car.

The dissent said Mahaffy did not tell the trial court about the deputy’s questions about his nervousness and did not identify when the purpose of the traffic stop ended.

As a result, Mahaffy should not have been allowed to raise those issues in his appeal to the Supreme Court, Boomgaarden and Kautz said.

“Applying the majority opinion’s analysis, so long as a defendant asserts that law enforcement unlawfully, or unreasonably, extended the traffic stop … he need not clearly identify for the district court the unlawful or unreasonable action(s) or case(s) on which he relies,” the dissent said. “Instead, the ‘mere mention’ of law enforcement’s actions during the stop … will suffice to preserve his right to argue on appeal that his stop was unreasonably prolonged…”

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Yellowstone Officials: It’s Elk Calving Season, Don’t Put One In Car

in Yellowstone/News

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park officials are reminding visitors that elk calving season will soon begin and to be aware of the animals while in the park.

As Cowboy State Daily has noted before, animals do not want to be hugged or be our friends (as disappointing as this might be). And being more than usually aware of that fact, the National Park Service is offering up a few helpful tips about how to be not quite as friendly with the park’s natural residents.

Cow elk are much more aggressive towards people during calving season, and may charge or kick. Visitors are advised to look around corners before exiting buildings or walking around blind spots, since cow elk may bed their calves near buildings and cars.

If a person sees an elk calf by itself, they should leave it alone. Really. Do not put the cuddly baby animal in your car because it looks cold. Because mama elk is probably nearby and will not be amused.

Selfies with animals are not recommended, and neither is sneaking up on animals.

People should stay at least 25 yards away from elk at all times. If an elk charges, find shelter in a vehicle or behind a tall, sturdy barrier as quickly as possible.

Calving season runs from May to late June and calves usually weigh around 30 pounds at birth. Full grown bull elk are around 700 pounds and stand 5 feet high at the shoulder, while cow elk weigh around 500 pounds and are shorter.

There are usually around 10,000 to 20,000 elk in Yellowstone during the summer season. Elk are the most abundant large mammal found in the park.

This is an annual warning by the park, but as we have seen before, there is always some tourist that ignores the rules and attempts to pet an animal. It usually doesn’t end well.

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Cheyenne Attorney Darin Smith Announces Run For Congress

in Darin Smith/News

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne businessman and attorney Darin Smith told Cowboy State Daily on Friday he will run against U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in the 2022 U.S. House race.

Smith, a Republican, said he sees Cheney as much more vulnerable to a primary challenge than she was in 2016, when he last faced her in an election. He finished fourth in the nine-way GOP primary.

“Obviously, her national stature is going down the tubes,” he said. “She does not share the same world view of the Republican Party.”

Smith said Cheney aligns herself too often with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden.

Smith said he has also learned much about campaigning in the last five years.

“Back then (in 2016), my wife Alicia and I were so new at this,” he said. “We didn’t even know how to raise money and run a campaign.”

Smith is a Wyoming native who grew up in Rock Springs and attended the University of Wyoming and UW Law School, representing the university on its wrestling team.

In addition to maintaining his law practice, Smith has also worked as an executive and consultant with nonprofit organizations including the Family Research Council and the Christian Broadcasting Network.

To dedicate his time to his run for office, Smith has resigned from the Family Research Council, which describes itself as a “research and educational organization dedicated to articulating and advancing a family-centered philosophy of public life.”

Smith and his wife Alicia also run a real estate business in Cheyenne, but Smith said he will now work full-time on his congressional race.

Since the race in 2016, Smith has been active in politics, serving as state chairman for Foster Freiss’ gubernatorial campaign in 2018.

Freiss is now Smith’s campaign chair.

Smith also served as the chair of the Laramie County Republican Party in 2017 and 2018.

Cheney has faced some opposition in Washington, D.C., and in Wyoming since voting for the impeachment of former President Donald Trump. The two have traded barbed words ever since.

Cheney is now the Minority Conference Chair in the House, the third-ranking Republican position. However, Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisana has spoken in favor of replacing Cheney in the position. Trump has endorsed U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York to replace Cheney.

In Wyoming, Smith will be the fifth candidate to challenge Cheney, two of which are legislators: state Sen. Anthony Bouchard of Cheyenne and Rep. Charles Gray of Casper.

The others are Marissa Joy Selvig of Riverton and Bryan Eugene Keller of Cheyenne.

Despite the fact Cheney has already raised more than $1.5 million for her campaign, Smith said he is confident he can defeat her in the primary.

He noted that Cheney outspent his campaign by 30-1 in 2016.

“If she outspends us by 3-1, I think we can beat her,” he said.

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Wyoming Obituaries: April 26 – May 6, 2021

in Wyoming Obituary/News

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By Jen Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Here’s a list of recent deaths of Wyoming residents and those with close affiliations to the state for the week of April 26 – May 6. Our condolences to family and friends:

April 26:

  • Robert D. Robertson, 65, Jackson Hole
  • Virginia Lee Hicks, 87, of Cape Carteret, North Carolina (formerly of Gillette)
  • Helen Jean (Kaltenbach) Marton, 93, Buffalo
  • Abel Santillanes Jr., 76, Douglas
  • Chantell Garcia, 41, Rock Springs
  • Quinn Suzanna Dutson, 11 days old, Laramie,
  • Dolores C. “Lori” Reynolds, 69, Laramie
  • Nancy K. (Atkinson) Riley, Laramie
  • Rheta Caroline Charlton, 84, Evanston

April 27:

  • Nancy Barnum, 73, Casper
  • Margaret Rose “Maggie” Peterson, 67, Torrington
  • Loren A. Trimmer, 86, Cheyenne
  • Karon Gaye Keahey, 68, Sheridan,
  • Hugh “Marvin” Clark, 89, Cody,
  • Barbara Ann Hoy, 71, Cody

April 28:

  • Leon P. Ridenour, 96, Casper
  • Dennis S. Michael, 72, Cheyenne
  • Thad Logan Mitchell, 86, Sheridan
  • Jeannette B. Hall, 83, Sheridan
  • Ema L.W. Bixler, 90, Laramie

April 29:

  • Harriet Joan Davis, 91, Gillette
  • Jay Aldo Sanford, 66, Thermopolis
  • Cynthia “Cindy” Flanagan, 60, Riverton
  • Dorothy Mayrene White, 93, Lovell
  • Merwin “Gene” Eugene Spragg, 78, Lovell

April 30:

  • Malcolm Wintringham, 78, Cody
  • Dan L Ashment, 69, Afton
  • Neltje, 86, Sheridan
  • John Watson, 72, Sheridan
  • Jody George Taylor, 77, Casper
  • Richard Lee, 73, Green River
  • Keith Lawrence Haukereid, 54, Douglas
  • Grey Knudsen, 13, Laramie

May 1:

  • Rowena Gayle Cochran, 83, Cody
  • Elaine “Katie” Neal, 79, Cody
  • Ronald Young, 79, Cody
  • Ronald Jerred, 74, Gillette
  • Rod Owen DeCent, 57, Carlile
  • Charles F. “Chuck” Guschewsky, 64, Lander
  • Rowena Gayle Cochran, 83, Cody
  • Katie Neal, 79, Cody
  • Daniel “Dan” Isaac Tippetts, 71, Cowley
  • James Dexter Emmons, 78, Basin
  • Milton Mapp, 71, Casper
  • Beatrice “Betty” Jean (Knight) Rife, 90, Torrington
  • Milton William Small, 89, Wheatland
  • Michael Joseph “Mike” Gonzales, 69, Encampment
  • Betty Jean Baker, 89, Laramie
  • Brandy Winter, 36, Rock Springs

May 2:

  • Ryan Whyard, 38, Big Horn
  • Twila Meyer, 72, Shoshoni
  • Avelina Flores Cruz, 98, Powell
  • John Clinton Adamson, 59, Cody
  • Mary L. Spence, 83, Pinedale
  • Velma Joyce Weekes, 86, Basin
  • Zachary Waring, 18, Rawlins
  • Rodger “Rod” Commander, 77 Cheyenne
  • Raymond Eugene Parsons, 89, Casper
  • Maria Yeager, 72, Casper
  • Cipriano Mendoza, 93, Laramie

May 3:

  • Debra Doreen Heiman, 67, Moorcroft
  • Bessie Lea Dickerson, 87, Buffalo
  • Marlene Gale (Torgerson) Christofferson, 89, Thermopolis
  • Robert Millard “Rob” Myers, 71, Thermopolis
  • Debra “Debbie” Jean Bluel, 64, Cheyenne
  • Russel J. Anderson, 85, Green River

May 4:

  • Zette N. Friday-Underwood, 70, Mill Creek
  • Kathyrn “Kathy” Aeschliman, 68, Casper
  • Raymond M. Stubberud, 92, Casper

May 5:

  • Rhona Wollen, 55, Sheridan
  • Richard Wirth Jensen, 88, Byron
  • Lee Edward Tromble, 82, Sundance

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Cheyenne Man Convicted For Trafficking Heroin Alongside Undocumented Immigrant

in News/Crime

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne man and his Honduran partner were sentenced to prison this week in connection with their convictions on heroin distribution charges.

Keith Richard Garcia, 35, was convicted and sentenced to almost six years in prison (70 months) for the heroin charges and to another five years for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

His accomplice, Roger Enrique Sandres Orellana, 32 of Honduras, was sentenced to three years in prison and was also convicted of illegally enterting the United States, for which he received a sentence of time served of approximately nine months.

“This case combines two of the top priorities of the Department of Justice: illegal drug trafficking and criminal immigration enforcement. We work with our local and federal law enforcement partners to aggressively investigate and prosecute all suppliers that distribute illegal drugs in Wyoming,” said Acting United State Attorney Bob Murray. “At the same time, we work to identify, prosecute, and remove persons who violate our sovereign immigration laws. These offenders posed a significant danger to public safety in Laramie County, Wyoming with their distribution of heroin and I am pleased to see justice was served.”

According to a news release from Murray’s office, Drug Enforcement Administration officials suspected Garcia was distributing heroin that he had obtained from a Honduran source in Denver. Subsequent investigation led law enforcement officers to identify Sandres Orellana as the heroin distributor and drug runner.

Sandres Orellana initially gave officers a fake ID but when questioned later, admitted to lying about his identity, to being in the country illegally and to being a drug runner for an unknown male he met online.

Law enforcement recovered approximately 59 grams of heroin, items related to the distribution of controlled substances and a firearm.

“This investigation is a great example of law enforcement efforts in Wyoming to protect our communities from drug trafficking organizations which are polluting our neighborhoods with dangerous narcotics,” said DEA Denver Field Division Special Agent in Charge Deanne Reuter. “The fact that this organization was also using firearms in furtherance of their crimes is a reminder to all of us just how dangerous these groups are. I am very proud of another great example of the hard work and dedication of our agents and law enforcement partners in Wyoming.”

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Wyoming Will Re-Open 9 Of 10 Closed Rest Stops

in News/Transportation

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily 

It appears truckers and travelers will find relief more often when traveling through Wyoming this summer with the reopening of state rest stops closed last year in the face of budget cuts.

Governor Mark Gordon on Thursday announced that nine of the 10 closed rest stops would re-open — at least temporarily — for the duration of the 2021 tourist season.

 The nine rest areas include:

  • Lusk on US 18
  • Guernsey on US 26
  • Greybull on US 16
  • Moorcroft on I-90
  • Star Valley on US 89
  • Sundance on I-25
  • Upton on US 16
  • Orin Jct on I-25
  • Chugwater on I-25

“With the summer season just around the corner, I’m glad we will be able to reopen these facilities to travelers,” Governor Gordon said. “We are glad to have this chance to find a temporary solution.”

According to a news release, the Wyoming Department of Transporation (WYDOT), the Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) along with the governor’s office will work together to secure a temporary federal funding source to allow the nine rest areas throughout the state to reopen. 

“WYDOT is extremely grateful to Governor Gordon and Director Shober for identifying new federal funds to temporarily reopen our rest areas for the tourist season,” said WYDOT Director K. Luke Reiner. 

The rest areas should reopen ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Before Gordon’s announcement, there were some developments pointing to the reopening of the rest stops.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation late last month called for bids for janitorial maintenance at nine of the 10 closed rest stops.

In addition, companies that have previously provided janitorial services for the closed rest stops reported they were contacted about submitting bids for the work again.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation in June of last year closed 10 of its 37 rest stops because of budget cuts implemented by Gordon. The closures were expected to save the state $200,000.Rest stops were closed in Star Valley, Chugwater, Greybull, Lusk, Orin Junction, Sundance, Upton, Fort Steele, Moorcroft and Guernsey.

Many of the closed rest areas were along heavily trafficked, yet undeveloped areas and roadways, including state highways passing through Lusk, Guernsey, Moorcroft, Upton and Star Valley as well as smaller cities dotting the I-80 and I-90 corridors such as Chugwater, Sundance, Fort Steele and Orin Junction. 

The move inconvenienced many drivers who were then forced to travel long distances between cities without access to public restrooms or a place to safely stop for the night.

LaCynda Fortik, an independent contractor that provided janitorial services for the Chugwater rest stop, said she was contacted within the past week about providing services again when the rest stop reopens.

Fortik said she was told the state obtained money to reopen the rest stops.

The calls for bids issued by the Department of Transportation mentioned providing services for all of the closed rest stops except Fort Steele near Rawlins.

Fortik said she was happy to hear that the rest areas will again be open after watching travelers stop to take bathroom breaks at the closed Chugwater rest stop and dump their garbage regardless of the lack of facilities or the chain-link barriers cutting off entry. 

“They just dumped their garbage and used the restroom wherever they wanted or could,” she said. “It was pretty disgusting.”

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