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Wyoming’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation To Generate Millions In Economic Benefits This Year

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Abandoned Mine Land Division will create nearly 800 jobs and generate about $200 million just this year in economic benefits with its mine land reclamation projects, it has announced.

The division, part of the Department of Environmental Quality, said in a news release it expects the number of projects it launches to reclaim abandoned mines to increase this year over 2019.

“Obviously, the core benefit of these projects is to reclaim the land back to productive use and reduce the environmental and human health impacts left by these abandoned mines,” Todd Parfitt, director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, said in the news release. “However, these projects have also financially stimulated Wyoming communities and our citizens for decades.”

The state has been working for more than 40 years to reclaim and remediate abandoned mine lands to avert environmental and human health impacts.

There are hundreds of abandoned mine lands all over the state, all of which were abandoned prior to the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Work to reclaim those properties generates economic benefits for both the state and its communities, the division said.

In 2019, the AML division had 86 projects with a total cost of $54 million, which varied from filling underground mine tunnels with concrete grout to filling large open pit mines with literal tons of dirt.

These projects helped employ 774 people. The 2019 projects pumped more than $155 million into the economies of communities.

So far this year, AML has had 39 projects that with a total cost of $29 million, but the division expects there will be a total of 96 projects amounting to $67 million by the end of 2020.

It’s estimated the economic benefit will be $201 million.

Since 1977, more than 25,000 acres have been reclaimed and 110,942 cubic yards of concrete grout have been placed in underground mine workings by the DEQ and the division.

These underground mines are found throughout Wyoming in many communities. Underground mine workings can lead to sinkholes or subsidence.

“Wyoming’s management of the AML program has transformed former coal mines into hundreds of acres of pasture, trees and water features,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in the release. “It truly is a form of recycling. Wyoming gets the benefit of millions of dollars from the coal and these areas are restored for the benefit of our communities.  During these challenging economic times, we have lengthened our stride to provide jobs through this valuable program.”

The funds for the AML projects are generated through a fee assessed on each ton of coal produced. The revenue is then distributed to coal-producing states for use in reclamation projects.

“As Wyoming produces most coal nationally, we in turn pay the most into the AML program to help remediate these abandoned sites,” Alan Edwards, DEQ deputy director and AML administrator said in the release. 

According to Edwards, the AML fee collection is slated to end in 2021 if the program is not reauthorized by the U.S. Congress.

Both U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi have brought forth a new bill for reauthorization of the abandoned mine land fee.

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Dubois Named Wyoming’s Best Place To Escape

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Travel website Expedia has declared Dubois as Wyoming’s best place to escape, according to an article making the rounds again online.

In the article, the travel site broke down the best places in each state where someone can get away from the hustle and bustle and just unwind.

“From political unrest to natural disasters, the world is facing some trying things, and we’re right there with you in craving a peaceful retreat and a good place to relax,” the article began. “From quaint small towns to quiet nature preserves, this country is full of places to escape to, and we’ve chosen our favorite in each state, highlighting the perfectly restful things to do there.”

Expedia hailed Dubois’ Old West charm, even comparing it to a setting in the HBO series “Westworld,” saying the town would “cure your frontier fever and fulfill your Wild West daydreams.”

The article suggested checking out the Bitterroot Ranch for an expert-guided pack trip, the summer yoga and horseback riding retreat and the town’s skiing and snowshoeing offerings.

Other towns included on the list included Salida, Colorado, Red Lodge, Montana, Garretson, South Dakota and St. George, Utah.

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“Captain Marvel” Star Brie Larson Secretly Scaled Grand Teton Last Summer

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Brie Larson has won an Academy Award, been a superhero and has now become one of the people who have successfully scaled the Grand Teton summit.

The “Captain Marvel” star posted a 16-minute YouTube video to her account this week, detailing her trip to Wyoming last summer with her personal trainer, Jason Walsh, and Academy Award winning photographer and videographer Jimmy Chin.

Walsh is from Wyoming and Chin is based out of Jackson. He recently nabbed an Academy Award for his work on the documentary film “Free Solo,” while Larson was honored for her lead role in the drama “Room.”

In the video, Larson discusses her workout regime with Walsh as she was preparing to film “Captain Marvel,” which was released in March 2019. She said that although she felt she’d hit every goal she wanted to, Walsh and his friend Chin had another challenge for her.

“Jimmy said, ‘I want to bring you to my home turf. Come to Wyoming, we’re going to climb the Grand,'” Larson said. “I, of course, accepted because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

However, the actress worried about whether or not she would be able to complete the climb, even with all of the training she did for the superhero film. She joked that although she plays a superhuman in movies, there are “a lot” of CGI and wires to help her achieve that portrayal.

None of the three climbers, Larson, Walsh and Chin, told anyone about the excursion until now, because they wanted to find a proper way to release the film of the journey.

In the YouTube video, the three provide commentary over footage recorded from the climb in August 2019. Chin is seen telling Larson how to properly pack her backpack for the long climb.

“You don’t think about how much water weighs until you have to carry it,” Larson joked in her commentary.

Larson also is seen viewing the Grand Teton mountains, which she describes as “gnarly” and notes that she didn’t even Google the mountains before going on the trip.

Larson and Walsh trained for about six weeks prior to the climb, but they were thankfully in “pretty good” shape prior to that.

The rest of the video details the trio’s exhausting and exhilarating trip up the mountain.

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Wyoming State Parks On Track For Record Year For Visits

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

From the numbers seen by the Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails staff so far this year, the state’s largest parks are on track to set a visitation record, according to Deputy Director Nick Neylon.

In an interview with Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday, Neylon discussed the state’s reservation system for campsites in the parks and said a surprising number of state residents are taking advantage of the beautiful Wyoming recreation areas this summer.

While the July numbers weren’t available yet, Neylon said that early feedback shows the state’s largest parks with water (Glendo, Curt Gowdy, Boysen, Keyhole, Guernsey and Buffalo Bill) saw a 150% increase in attendance.

“I think we’re on pace to have a record year,” he said. “It’s been very hectic, very taxing on our staff. But people still want to recreate outdoors. It’s good for their physical, emotional and mental well-being.”

Many of those visitors came from within Wyoming, due largely to the fact that for a time earlier this year, out-of-state visitors were barred from purchasing day passes or reserving campsites, precautions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Since tourists couldn’t come into Wyoming, state residents decided to take advantage of the temporary downtime, Neylon said.

He also credited the state’s camping reservation system for the uptick in visitors, noting that although the reservation system was criticized by many Wyomingites at first, he’s heard much praise about it now.

“I’ve had people tell me they haven’t camped at Curt Gowdy for years because they could never get the spot they wanted,” he said. “There are still some people who don’t like the reservation system on principle, but overall, it’s been a huge success.”

Neylon added that beginning sometime in October, the parks staff will meet and discuss the positives and negatives of the reservation system, figuring out what can be improved or what should be removed.

One improvement the staff plans to make in the system soon is to add the ability to purchase day use passes on the WyoParks website. Currently, only annual passes can be purchased.

The reservation fee will also be changed soon. Until now, the fee has been $7.75 per person, which is pocketed by the reservation company, but soon the fee will be $8 for out-of-state campers and $4 for in-state visitors, Neylon said.

“I think people have come to like the reservation system more because now they can take comfort in knowing they will have a spot when they get to the site, they won’t have to spend time driving around, hunting for one,” Neylon said. “The important point is that the system, statewide, worked as we hoped it would.”

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Wyoming Officials Dedicate Malcolm Wallop Park In Sheridan

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily. Photo: Courtesy, Rob Wallace

Rob Wallace spent many years working with the late U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop.

As Wallace would say, he had a front-row view of Wallop’s career as a national figure, working with the late senator during his 18 years in the U.S. Senate, from 1977 to 1995. Wallop was an influential figure, both in Wyoming and the rest of the nation.

But it was his home in Sheridan County where Wallop was truly happiest, so it made sense for the city of Sheridan to rename a park in his honor.

Last week, the city held a dedication ceremony for the park, with Wallace, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi and former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson speaking at the event.

Wallace was the keynote speaker and focused on highlights of Wallop’s career, particularly the Wallop-Breaux Act, the Strategic Defense Initiative and other moments from Wallop’s political tenure.

“If you look at Malcolm’s career, he wasn’t the type of guy to go out and naturally promote himself, even after he left office,” Wallace told Cowboy State Daily. “But he had so many consequential initiatives he was responsible for. We wanted to go back to Sheridan County and remind them what a figure he was.”

Wallop died in 2011 at the age of 78.

Wallace said that while working on Wallop’s staff, he was awed by the late senator’s ability to empower people.

“The former president of the Boston Celtics, a chief justice on the Wyoming Supreme Court, a kid who ended up on the cover of Time magazine are just a few of the people that Malcolm helped empower,” Wallace said. “There’s a Thomas Edison quote, ‘Vision without execution is just hallucination.’ Malcolm was the type of execute his ideas.”

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Two Wyoming Teachers Receive National Recognition For Work In Science, Math

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Two Wyoming teachers recently received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

President Donald Trump announced Monday that teachers in Thermopolis and Jackson were among the nation’s 2019 winners, according to a news release from the Wyoming Department of Education.

Aimee Kay, a science teacher at Thermopolis Middle School, and Jennifer Kelley, a math teacher at Jackson Hole High School, were the Wyoming recipients this year.

The award is the highest recognition that K-12 mathematics, science or computer science teachers can receive in the United States. Nominations and awards are facilitated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation.

“The PAEMST award is an honor that has already connected me with a network of exceptional teachers around our state who are willing to share ideas and collaborate, inspiring my continued growth,” Kay said in the news release. “I look forward to connecting with STEM teachers nationally as well. It has validated my efforts as I prepare the next generation of scientists and problem solvers to make the world a better place. Through it, I have also gained more confidence in my methods and a rejuvenated sense of purpose and passion.” 

“This award inspires and encourages me to continue on my amazing journey as an educator,” said Kelly, who teaches Algebra, AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC at JHHS. “ It recognizes my desire to provide the best opportunities for all students to advance their knowledge and excitement in mathematics. It recognizes my desire to provide the best opportunities for all students to advance their knowledge and excitement in mathematics. Being able to help young adults figure out how to self-advocate and become lifelong learners is very rewarding. I am fortunate to work with incredible students and colleagues who continue to motivate me to strive for excellence.”

Each year, up to six finalists in each state are chosen for the award through a rigorous peer review process. The applications are forwarded to the National Science Foundation, where the final selection for the national Presidential Award is made.

Enacted by Congress in 1983, the program authorizes the President to award 108 math and science teachers each year in recognition of their contribution to excellent teaching and learning.

“Aimee and Jennifer set the gold standard when it comes to teaching math and science to students,” Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said in the news release. “It is befitting that they are being recognized for this prestigious honor.”

Awardees come from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools and schools in four U.S. territories.

Each awardee will receive a certificate signed by Trump and a $10,000 award from NSF. Awardees will also travel to Washington, D.C., for a ceremony at a future date.

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ABC Releases Teasers For C.J. Box TV Show, “Big Sky”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

ABC recently released two teasers for “Big Sky,” the series based on Wyoming author C.J. Box’s Cassie Dewell novels.

The teasers were released Sunday on YouTube and on the show’s official Twitter account. Each video is 15 seconds long.

One teaser shows shots of the Montana landscape while viewers hear a radio announcement from the fictional AM radio station 790 when suddenly the soundtrack is disrupted by gunshots.

The second teaser features a woman narrating, again with images of Montana, ending with a person running through the woods.

“They say Montana is like no place on Earth,” the woman (likely Cassie Dewell) says. “People come here to relax, unwind or even just…disappear.”

The show is being created by TV writer and producer David E. Kelley, who has also created shows such as “Big Little Lies,” “Boston Legal,” “Ally McBeal” and “Mr. Mercedes.” Kelley will write multiple episodes and serve as the showrunner for the first season.

Box will act as an executive producer on the series.

The show will focus on private detectives Cassie Dewell and Cody Hoyt, who team up with Cody’s estranged wife, Jenny, to search for two sisters who have been kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote road in Montana. The detectives soon find out those aren’t the only girls who have disappeared, beginning a race against time to stop the killer.

The cast will inculde Kylie Bunbury as Cassie Dewell, Katheryn Winnick as Jenny Hoyt and Ryan Phillippe as Cody Hoyt.

“(The television series will) be dark and scary,” Box said in an interview in February. “A lot of people who have read it say it is one of the creepiest things they’ve ever read. The pilot I read scared me, even though I knew what was going to happen.”

The series is set to premiere later this year and has already been ordered for a full first season.

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Wyoming Family Receives Replacement Handicap Van After Theirs Was Stolen in Denver

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A Wyoming family that had their handicap-accessible van stolen in Denver while their two-year-old special-needs son was receiving critical medical treatment received a replacement vehicle on Friday thanks to Cowboy Skill Games of Wyoming.

Cowboy Skill Games, an organization comprised of amusement and coin-op vending companies in Wyoming, presented the vehicle to Ira and Yvonne Fischer at their house on Friday afternoon in Sheridan.

Leslie George, co-owner of Wyoming Amusement in Sheridan, said she was heartbroken when she heard about the plight of the Fischer family who were left stranded in Denver.

George said she immediately called her colleagues at Cowboy Skill Games in order to raise money to buy a replacement vehicle.

“We just had to step up and do something for this dear family,” George said.  “But that’s what we do in Wyoming. We help each other.”

The Fischer’s two-year-old son, Lane, has Down syndrome and requires surgeries and other medical treatment numerous times per year in Denver.

“It is heartbreaking that someone would even think to take, even if it wasn’t his, any handicapped vehicle,” Yvonne Fischer told Denver TV station KMGH. “I just don’t understand.”

Through the help of the AutoFarm Castle Rock car dealership in Evanston, Wyoming, George was able to find an already-upgraded handicap accessible van in Indianapolis.

Another Wyoming car dealership Midway Auto & RV – Worland volunteered to fly-out to Indiana to drive back the van to Wyoming.

Yet another Wyoming car dealership, Fremont Motors in Sheridan, then offered to pay for a year’s worth of Fremont Care service maintenance.

George said the gift to the Fischer family is emblematic of what the companies of Cowboy Skill Games do.

“We’re a tight group of Wyoming families who have been here for a long, long time,” George said. “We love Wyoming and our Wyoming people.”

Yvonne Fischer said he was stunned when George called and told him about the gift.

““We were shocked. I couldn’t believe it,” Fischer said. “Thank you Cowboy Skill Games from all of our family. We are just so thankful that we can get both of our twins safely to our weekly doctors’ appointments.” 

Cowboy Skill Games of Wyoming is a group of Wyoming-based amusement and coin-op vending companies who offer legal skill games to restaurants and bars across the state.

These legal skill games have breathed new life into neighborhood bars, taverns, clubs, VFWs, American Legions, and other fraternal organizations across the State of Wyoming.

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Cowboy Skill Games to Replace Vehicle For Sheridan Family Whose Van Was Stolen in Denver

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SHERIDAN—This Friday, representatives of Cowboy Skill Games of Wyoming will present a replacement vehicle to the Sheridan family whose van was stolen while they were in Denver receiving medical treatment for their disabled son.

Ira and Yvonne Fischer take their son Lane, who has Down syndrome, to Denver multiple times a year to receive critical medical treatment.

Earlier this month, their 1996 Chevrolet van specially-outfitted with medical supplies and equipment was stolen from their hotel.

The family was stranded.

Denver’s Channel 7 — through a program they call Contact7 — raised money for the family and were able to get them back to Sheridan.

When Leslie George, co-owner of Sheridan-based Wyoming Amusement, read the story on Channel 7’s website, she knew she had to help.

As a member of Cowboy Skill Games of Wyoming — a group of amusement and coin-op vending companies in the state who offer legal skill games to restaurants and bars in Wyoming — she called her colleagues in the organization to raise money for a replacement van.

Within a couple days, a friend of George’s who runs a car dealership in Evanston, Wyoming, located an already-upgraded handicap accessible van in Indianapolis.

The Cowboy Skill Games companies pooled their money together and purchased the van.  George will present the Fischer family with the van at 12noon on Friday at the Fischer’s house in Sheridan.

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