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Full Buses Back at Yellowstone (If Tourists Are Vaccinated or Tested Immediately Before Trip)

in News/Tourism

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The tourism industry received some welcome news Thursday from Yellowstone National Park as officials announced the lifting of some restrictions on tour bus passenger numbers.

Park officials announced that there will be no restrictions on group sizes for tour buses whose passengers have either been vaccinated or tested for coronavirus immediately before their trip.

An email to industry partners sent by the park’s Concession Management office also said restrictions will be lifted in the case of bus passengers who have recovered from COVID-19 within three months of tour departure.

For operators who aren’t able to attest to having all passengers vaccinated or otherwise safe from COVID-19, passenger numbers will be limited to 10 people or 50% of vehicle capacity, whichever is greater.

Elaine Dejong, a group tour planner for Allied Tour and Travel in Iowa, said her company is relieved and happy to be able to resume touring in Wyoming’s national parks.

“The past year (plus) has been difficult on travelers, especially our senior and adult clientele,” she said. 

Dejong went on to compliment the National Park Service for putting together a plan to allow motorcoach travel to resume.

“What better way to celebrate our country than visiting a couple of our favorite national parks,” she said.

The National Park Service email noted that the new rules had been created in collaboration with the motorcoach industry and the U.S. Public Health Service in an effort to increase access to the park. 

And there’s really nowhere to go but up, when one takes a look at the statistics.

In 2019, more than 300,000 of the park’s roughly 4 million visitors arrived via motorcoach. Last year, there were fewer than 500.

So from the perspective of Rick Hoeninghausen, marketing director for Xanterra, the concessionaire in Yellowstone National Park, the lifting of the restrictions is a step closer to “normal.”

“Parks are a huge piece of the motorcoach industry and the packaged group tour business,” Hoeninghausen said. “They’ve also been really struggling through this pandemic, when you go from, you know, a strong business, perhaps to none. So this is big for them.”

Hoeninghausen does caution, however, that “normal” is still some time away.

“Bus companies can’t quite resume full operations, because the rooms and the locations they would have had access to are not yet available,” he said, citing the Park Service’s decision to delay the opening of some lodging and restaurants in Yellowstone. 

But Hoeninghausen is said he was pleased to see steps been taken to encourage motorcoach travel to northwest Wyoming. 

He added that because tour buses to Yellowstone typically run longer routes, the ripple effects will make a difference for the communities outside the park as well. 

As a result, the news was also good for businesses such as the Irma Hotel in downtown Cody.

Mike Darby, the Irma’s co-owner, said tour buses make a huge difference for gateway communities like Cody.

“Tour buses are the backbone of our business in Cody,” Darby said. “They not only take up mass blocks of rooms, they also add a buffer and a foundation to our restaurant  infrastructure, and just totally help everything move smoothly, and give us a guaranteed income, so to speak. So the rest of it ebbs and flows, but the tour buses keep going. And we’re glad to have the opportunity to serve them.”

Darby is also on the board of the Cody Stampede Rodeo, which operates Cody’s nightly rodeo June, July and August. 

“As far as the rodeo is concerned, it’s going to basically ensure that we get 50 to 100 people extra per night, which is another, say, 10% business,” Darby explained. “And that’s just icing on the cake.”

Another popular tourist attraction, Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue in Cody, saw almost a 70% drop in business last year because group tours were canceled during the pandemic. So Miller also welcomed the tour bus news.

“That’s all we have to say, isn’t it?,” he said, smiling. “Buses are back. To me that’s the best news we’ve heard since a year ago this time, when they said ‘The buses are gone’.”

Miller pointed out that from his perspective, tour buses level the playing field.

“It lets everybody go back to business,” he said. “I won’t say ‘back to normal,’ because it’s not perfect. But boy, from where we stand, it’s pretty close.”

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Fatal Crash: Speed, Substance Use, And Equipment Failure Identified As Possible Causes

in News/fatality

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By County 17

A fatal motor vehicle accident occurred Wednesday morning that was possibly caused by driver fatigue, alcohol/drug use, and equipment failure, according to the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

The incident occurred just before 9 a.m. around milepost 199 on Interstate 90 east of Sundance.

The driver, identified as 42-year-old Rapid City resident Kelsey Conner, lost control of his 2008 BMW X5 when the vehicle’s left rear tire tread separated from the tire. Conner’s vehicle exited the right side of the roadway and overturned.

Conner was not wearing a seatbelt and succumbed to his injuries at the scene of the crash.

Speed, alcohol/drug use, and equipment failure are all being investigated as potential contributing factors, per WHP officials.

This marks the 28th fatality on Wyoming’s roadways in 2021 compared to 24 in 2020, 50 in 2019, and 25 in 2018 to date.

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Man Who Hit Golf Balls in Yellowstone Committed Illegal Act; Park Service Investigating

in News/Crime

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

There are places where you can legally hit a golf ball and there are places where legally you cannot. 

Put Yellowstone National Park in the latter category.

And now a man who is attempting to hit a golf ball in every state is in trouble for trying to turn the country’s first national park into a driving range.

Jake Adams, a self-described standup comedian and golfer, was nearing the end of his quest (state number 45) when he decided to choose Yellowstone National Park as the place for his golf shot in Wyoming.

Unfortunately, hitting a golf ball in a national park is not allowed. In fact, it’s illegal.

When criticized — repeatedly by people on his Instagram account for his shot selection — Adams defended it by saying his golf balls were biodegradable.

Makes no difference. It was an irresponsible and illegal decision, according to the National Park Service.

“The individual who recently was captured on video hitting golf balls in Yellowstone National Park showed a lack of judgment and common sense,” Linda Veress, public affairs specialist with Yellowstone National Park, told Cowboy State Daily. “He violated regulations designed to preserve Yellowstone and protect the experience of other visitors.”

“The National Park Service is investigating this illegal act, and we ask that visitors assist us by following park regulations and notifying park rangers of any illegal behavior they observe,” she added.

Veress was quite polite compared to many of the commenters on his Instagram page.

“Wow good job littering a-hole. Hope you get banned from Yellowstone,” wrote ZimKnives.

This isn’t the first time people have gotten in trouble for treating a national park like a golf course.

Just last year, the former head of concessions at Yosemite National Park was fired immediately after a video surfaced of him hitting balls in a meadow at Yosemite.

As for the incident in Yellowstone, park officials are urging visitors heed the law.

“Since we expect record levels of visitation in 2021, following park regulations is more important than ever,” Veress said.

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Wyo Company Offering Free AR-15 With New Roof Getting International Attention; Calls From England & Russia

in Guns/News

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A Powell construction company’s unique marketing tactic has generated international attention.

Wiggins Construction, a small family business based in northwest Wyoming, this month began offering a free AR-15 (Armalite) rifle for every new roof it installs. And the promotion has drawn attention from around the world.

“We’ve had probably 300 missed phone calls in the past two days, upwards of 500 emails, Facebook messages, stuff like that,” said Matt Thomas, marketing director for Wiggins Construction.

He added the company estimates about 95% of the response has been positive.

And the feedback isn’t just coming from the company’s primary market in the Big Horn Basin. Thomas said Wiggins’ has received requests for jobs just a bit out of its geographic reach.

“We’ve got calls from all over the United States, and the world, asking us to come do a roof,” he said. “Somebody sent a message from the UK, saying ‘Hey, come do my roof, you know, we can’t own an AR-15 here.’ And so, there’s a little bit of humor behind it.”

But not all the attention is positive.

“We are getting phone calls, voicemails from people saying all sorts of negative stuff about us, you know, stuff like ‘baby killers,’ and ‘we’re distributing weapons of mass destruction to the public,’” Thomas said.

And in an era of increasing attention on gun regulation, Thomas said the promotion has caught the attention of a larger audience. 

He said state, national, and even international media soon picked up on the story.

“From Cowboy State Daily, it went to USA Today, it’s been shared to Yahoo, we’ve been on Fox twice,” he said. “The Sun, UK Times, over in the United Kingdom has posted about it. A Russian newspaper has posted an article about it over in Russia, and we have no clue what it says because we don’t read Russian.”

Thomas pointed out that one of the reasons the company’s owners decided to conduct such a promotion was to show their support for Second Amendment rights.

“One thing that’s confused a lot of people is they said, you know, ‘How in the world can you own these guns?’” Thomas said. “I’m like, well, we live in America, and you live in America. And this is still a right that we have as a nation.

“Wyoming has the most lax gun laws in the country, hands down,” Thomas continued. “But we also have, last time I checked, the least gun violence in the country, hands down.”

But even with the relatively relaxed gun regulations in Wyoming, Thomas said the company’s owners want to go above and beyond to reassure the public that they take gun issues seriously. 

“We will be conducting FFL (Federal Firearms License) background checks on anybody who would like a firearm and we do business for,” Thomas explained. “And it’s just a pretty simple process. We’ve got actually FFL dealers all over the state of Wyoming who have reached out to us in almost every single county, saying that they’ll do transfers for free for every single one of our customers.

“Today, I talked to Sheriff Scott Steward in Park County,” Thomas continued, “and he’s assured me that everything we’re doing is legal and above par.”

And the promotion has been expanded to appeal to potential customers who may not be in the market for an AR-15.

“If you don’t want the gun, we’re donating $800 in either your name or our company’s name to Serenity (Pregnancy Resource Center) in Park County,” Thomas said. “That’s even more than the actual cost of the gun, just because it’s a cause that we really stand behind.”

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Cheney Fists Bumps Biden; Bouchard, Gray Respond With Impeachment Calls

in News/Liz Cheney/politics

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A fist bump exchanged between U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and President Joe Biden before Biden’s joint address to Congress on Wednesday night has drawn the ire of Cheney’s congressional opponents.

While attending Biden’s speech on Wednesday night, Cheney could be seen fist-bumping with the president, who was not shaking hands due to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden fist-bumped multiple other politicians as he entered the House of Representatives’ chambers.

However, this friendly gesture was seen as a slight against the Republican Party, as Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, noted on their respective social media accounts.

“The lady in blue, @RepLizCheney is probably the only republican allowed in the room,” Bouchard wrote on Twitter. “She is a disgrace and fails to represent the people of Wyoming. #embarrassing#resign#impeachlizcheney. Let’s get her out! Help me fight!”

Bouchard wrote two posts about the fist-bump, encouraging impeachment of the representative.

“Never Trump RINO Liz Cheney spends her time attacking Donald Trump but fist bumps her pal Quid Pro Joe Biden,” he wrote Wednesday night. “Liz Cheney cares more about being liked by the Fake News Media, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi than she does about standing up for America. FIRE LIZ CHENEY!”

Gray’s message was more subdued, but offered a sentiment similar to that of the Cheyenne senator.

“Liz, fist bump your way right out of Wyoming. We need to fire Liz right now,” he wrote.

Both men linked their messages to their respective campaigns, telling prospective voters to donate to them. They each launched their campaigns in the wake of Cheney’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump, who she blamed for helping to incite the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

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Man’s 2nd Appeal Of $50 Child Support Payment Rejected By Wyoming Supreme Court

in News/Wyoming Supreme Court

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Supreme Court has for the second time denied a man’s challenge of his $50 per month child support payment.

The court on Thursday upheld a decision by a state district court that left Michael Scott Carroll responsible for child support payment he was ordered to make in a 2012 divorce decree.

In an opinion written by Justice Lynne Boomgaarden, the court unanimously rejected Carroll’s argument that the Wyoming law setting out some child support levels was unconstitutional, so the court order that he pay $50 a month was void.

According to the ruling, a district court in Laramie County entered an order establishing custody and support for the children of Carroll and his ex-wife in 2012.

Because Carroll was incarcerated at the time, he had no income the court could use to determine a child support payment, so the judge set the payment at the lowest level allowed by law, $50 per month. An order was also entered to withhold the amount from Carroll’s income.

Carroll in 2018 challenged the withholding order, saying the law setting Wyoming’s minimum child support payment was contrary to federal law. The case made it to the Supreme Court, which rejected the appeal, saying Carroll should have challenged the child support order issued by the court, not the order to withhold money from his income.

In his second challenge, Carroll focused on the child support order itself, saying it was based on an unconstitutional Wyoming law that was contrary to federal child support payment laws, and as such should be void.

But the opinion said the law in question was never found unconstitutional, so Carroll’s support order should stand.

Justices also noted that Carroll could have challenged the law’s constitutionality during his divorce proceedings in 2012.

“Mr. Carroll could have challenged the statute’s constitutionality in the district court during his divorce proceedings — the cases from other jurisdictions he relies on to support his argument that the statute is unconstitutional were decided before the divorce decree was entered — and he could have appealed the divorce decree,” the ruling said. “He did neither and cannot now use (court procedure) for the relief he seeks.”

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Wyoming Fire Management Officer On 2021 Wildfire Risk: “It’s Not Looking Good”

in News/wildfire

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s wildfire outlook for the 2021 season is not a good one, according to the Wyoming State Forestry Division’s fire management officer.

However, Anthony Schultz did offer the caveat that while the outlook may seem bad now, there is a possibility nature could change its course and provide a rainy summer.

“Around 2017 or 2018, we were looking to have a pretty active fire season, but we ended up getting a lot of rain into June and July, so the fire season was muted,” Schultz told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “It wasn’t something heavily predicted, so we weren’t really expecting it.”

So although nature is a fickle beast and nothing about the coming summer season is certain,, Schultz said Wyoming and numerous other western states are trending toward having a drier, warmer fire season than normal, meaning there could be wildfires spreading throughout the state this summer.

Schultz noted that South Dakota, in particular, has already been seeing wildfires this year, such as the Schroeder Fire that closed Mount Rushmore last month.

The fire season in Wyoming usually begins around June, but is at its most dangerous in July and August, Schultz said, with fire restrictions across the state usually being fully lifted by the fall.

He added that for Wyoming, the southwestern corner of the state and the northeastern portion (including Sundance and Newcastle) could very likely see wildfires this season.

“The northeastern portion of the state hasn’t had a major fire season since about 2016, so it’s due for one,” Schultz said.

He reminded visitors and residents of Wyoming to remember to practice certain fire safety rules, such as fully extinguishing campfires when leaving a site.

Additionally, keeping trees trimmed and firewood away from a home will help keep down fire risk at a person’s home, he said.

“Use common sense measures, keep your home in a general sense of order, observe good campfire practices, all of these things will reduce our wildfire risk,” he said.

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Wyoming Game and Fish Resuming Bear Capture, Collaring Operations

in News/Bears

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has launched its annual grizzly bear capture operations in northwestern Wyoming.

Beginning this spring and continuing through early fall, department biologists will trap grizzly bears in both front and backcountry areas to collect data needed to assess the health of the area’s grizzly population.

All trap sites will be posted with area closure signs in the direct vicinity, the department said. Department officials added It is critical that all members of the public heed the signs.

When captured, the bears are collared, released on site and monitored in accordance with strict guidelines developed by the department and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

The annual monitoring of this population is vital to the ongoing management and conservation of grizzly bears in Wyoming. Information obtained through these efforts is used to assess the status and health of grizzly bears in the ecosystem and provides insight into population dynamics critical to demonstrate the continued recovery of the Greater Yellowstone population.

Last summer, the department managed to capture about 20 bears.

From July 27 to Aug. 21, six different grizzlies were captured southeast of Moran Junction, with five of them being collared. A sub-adult male bear was tagged and biological samples were taken, but he wasn’t radio-collared due to his small size.

Two black bears were captured in the Jackson region, but were released unhandled.

Information obtained through these efforts is used to assess the status and health of grizzly bears in the ecosystem and provides insight into population dynamics critical to demonstrate the continued recovery of the Greater Yellowstone population.

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Wyoming Will Use A $2.5 Million Federal Grant To Boost Tourism Marketing

in News/Tourism

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Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

Wyoming will put $2.5 million of a federal grant toward marketing the Cowboy State’s tourism opportunities this year.

As a separate part of the CARES Act, the grant is from the U.S. Department of Commerce and earmarked for tourism marketing to help states’ tourism economies recover. Last year, the bottom dropped out of the national tourism economy as stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19 diminished travel.

Wyoming’s tourism economy contracted by about 25% last year, less than the national average of about 45%, thanks to its voluminous outdoor attractions and open space.

“We didn’t have to reinvent ourselves, and that’s a fortunate thing for the state of Wyoming in terms of the visitor economy,” Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT), told The Center Square. “What we’re doing is actually broadening our footprint. We’re casting a wider net with our messaging.”

Shober said the money will go toward a fully integrated, layered marketing approach that will use research to target demographics most likely to act upon a marketing message. Individuals who have already been identified as interested in the outdoors and cowboy culture will see ads promoting Wyoming as a destination show up when using social platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Print ads in magazines like Outside Magazine and TV spots are another facet to the approach, Shober said.

One of the most popular ways to visit the Cowboy State is via road trips, and last year was no exception, yet many of those visitors spent fewer dollars within the borders. WOT wants that to be different this year.

Shober said reasons for the reduced spending connect back to COVID-19. Many went camping, which is fairly self-contained and keeps visitors out of areas where they might spend money at a restaurant or on activities, she said.

“There were a lot of attractions and activities that did not operate or could not operate at full capacity last year,” Shober said. “So therefore, large events like a lot of our major rodeos and festivals across Wyoming didn’t operate last year. If you were running a sightseeing business, you were limited in the number of guests that you could take with you.”

There was also a large increase in day-trippers, who spend less as they don’t spend time in accommodations, Shober said.

Much of this will be self-correcting, Shober said. With restrictions being lifted or lightened and all of Wyoming’s rodeos and festivals on the calendar in 2021, in conjunction with the targeting marketing, Shober expects spending to increase.

Indicators that signal intent to travel are pointing toward a successful year of tourism, she said. Organic search on Wyoming Travel’s website, which Shober points out is a very strong indicator, is up anywhere from 27% to 70% ahead of last year.

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95 New Coronavirus Cases In Wyoming Wednesday; 517 Active

in News/Coronavirus

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s active coronavirus cases increased by 115 on Wednesday from Tuesday.

Wyoming Department of Health figures showed that the department received reports of 11 new recoveries among those with confirmed or probable cases.

At the same time, the state reported 95 new laboratory-confirmed and 21 new probable cases, leaving Wyoming with 517 active cases. This is the first time that cases have topped 500 since March 1. 

Laramie County had the highest number of active cases at 108; while Albany increased to 71 cases. Meanwhile, Sweetwater had 66; Natrona 51; Fremont 44; Park 32; Uinta 28; Teton 20; Sublette 17; Campbell and Sheridan 14; Carbon 12; Big Horn and Goshen nine; Lincoln and Washakie five; Platte four; Weston three; Hot Springs two, and Converse, Crook and Johnson had one,

Niobrara County had no active cases.

Active cases are determined by adding the total confirmed and probable coronavirus cases diagnosed since the illness first surfaced in Wyoming on March 12, 2020, subtracting the number of recoveries during the same period among patients with both confirmed and probable cases and taking into account the number of deaths attributed to the illness.

The new confirmed and probable cases brought to 57,999 the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus since the first case was detected in Wyoming in March 2020.

Of those, 56,775 have recovered.

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