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Recreation

Five Fun Ways to Enjoy Wyoming’s Winter

in News/Recreation/Tourism
2794

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Weathering Wyoming winters can wear down even the most resilient Wyomingites, but hidden within the snow and wind is a veritable “wonderland” of recreation, a Wyoming Office of Tourism spokesperson said.

“I think winter in Wyoming is great, because it’s so accessible,” said Piper Singer, an Office of Tourism public relations and media manager. “There’s not just one spot for winter recreation and getting to those activities is usually a short drive from wherever you’re staying.”

Listed below, the Office of Tourism suggested some winter activities to help residents and visitors break a bad case of cabin fever.

Winter rodeo

February is a lame duck for economic development in northeastern Wyoming.

But in 2019, Sheridan Travel and Tourism Executive Director Shawn Parker decided to shake up the city in the most Wyoming way ever — a ski rodeo.

“I worked with the WYO Rodeo Board and the city engineer to put together something crazy for the slowest spending day of the year,” Parker said. “The result was Sheridan Winter Rodeo.”

The main attraction — skiijoring — combines horseback riding and skiing in a mad dash for the finish line.

“Skiijoring is a sport where a horse and rider tow a skier or snowboarder along a snow-covered course with jumps and obstacles, competing for fastest time,” Parker explained. 

The event was a success last year, drawing thousands, and this year, he said the organizers are stepping it up a notch.

“We’re adding Nordic skiing and fat biking the weekend before the rodeo,” Parker said. “And we’re extending the rodeo a full day to give all the (skiijoring) teams an opportunity to compete.”

Scheduled for Feb. 15-23, the event is quickly growing in popularity, but he said visitor lodging is still readily available.

“Not a lot else is going on, so people will probably be able to easily find a room,” Parker said. “But, the rodeo is becoming such a big hit that people will want to think about booking ahead to get the best accommodations.” 

Hot springs

When the weather outside is frightful, visit the hot springs in Thermopolis, Singer said.

“It’s in a central location with great options for lodging and dining,” she said. “With the Hot Springs State Park, not only can you soak in the natural hot springs, but you’re just a hop, skip and a jump away from great opportunities for watching wildlife.”

Home to bison among other native wildlife species, the park boasts a free bath house, allowing visitors to bask in nature’s hot tub with water temperatures averaging about 104 degrees.

“It’s a charming town, and it definitely has that Western feel so many people come to experience,” Singer said. “Plus, for many, it’s on the way to Yellowstone National Park. It really is one of Wyoming’s hidden gems.”

While the park’s public restrooms, drinking systems and outdoor pool are closed during the winter, the bath house is open year round.

National parks

The Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks are as synonymous to Wyoming as the Statue of Liberty is to New York, but some people miss out on the opportunities these destinations offer during the winter, Singer said.

“Both parks are open throughout the year, but for Yellowstone, you’ll need snow coach transportation to get there,” she explained. “There are several companies located at either entrance people can book rides with.” 

Exploring the parks in the off-season grants visitors an opportunity to see nature’s splendor through a different lens, Singer added.

“In many cases, it’s even easier to see the wildlife in the winter,” Singer said. “There’s several guides and outfitters that offer winter tours.” 

Lodging is available in Yellowstone, but Grand Teton National Park is accessible via a day pass only.

“It’s absolutely beautiful and a whole different world up there in the winter,” Singer said. 

Skiing, sledding, snowshoeing 

For just the price of a cold, wet backside, sliding down a snowy hill is perhaps the most affordable and memorable winter activity in the history of mankind, closely followed by snowball fights and snow sculptures.

But at some point, the neighborhood sledding hill just isn’t enough, and that’s where Wyoming shines brightest, Singer said.

“Jackson is internationally known as a world-renowned ski destination, but we have high-quality skiing in nearly every corner of the state,” she said.

In the southeast, Snowy Range Ski Area offers numerous downhill and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails about 30 minutes  from Laramie. Eleven miles from Casper in central Wyoming, Hogadon Basin Ski Area features 28 machine-groomed trails, two lifts and minimal lift lines. On the Western side of the state, Pinedale is home to one of Wyoming’s oldest ski destinations: White Pine Ski Area. And, to the North near Cody, Sleeping Giant Ski Area and Antelope Butte Ski Area provide Rocky Mountain skiing opportunities without the hassle and long wait-times common to ski resorts south of the Wyoming border. 

With snow flying during as many as nine months a year, Singer said the state boasts numerous state parks and public lands for residents and visitors to discover their own trails via cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Snowmobiling

For those with a need for speed, snowmobiling combines the petrol-fueled antics of off-road motor sports with the ability to visit awe-inspiring landscapes previously inaccessible without spending days or weeks slogging through the snow.

Mike Gray, the Laramie Area Visitor Center operations manager, said interest in Wyoming’s snowmobile trails has significantly grown during the last decade.

“Albany County sells the most snowmobile permits of any county throughout the state,” Gray said, explaining permit sales is the primary method for tracking the sport’s popularity. “We’ve definitely seen an upward trend in recent years, too. I think it’s because the Snowy Range is the perfect backdrop for spending a day on the sled.”

Albany County is home to 200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and about 120 of un-groomed trails, he added.

Farther north and east, Singer said snowmobilers can follow trails for hundreds of miles along the Continental Divide. 

“The Black Hills area near Sundance is another nice area to ride,” she added. “They have a 295-mile trail that loops through South Dakota, which is a great way to see some of the state’s greatest offerings like Devil’s Tower.”

Whether on horseback, snowmobile, skis or snowshoes, Wyoming is a frozen theme park for outdoor enthusiasts.

“All of these activities come together to create a unique winter wonderland that is sure to have people coming back year after year,” Singer said.

How a 42-Foot, 2,000-Pound Submarine Periscope Ended Up at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens

in Economic development/News/Recreation/Tourism
2741

By Seneca Flowers
Cowboy State Daily

On some busy summer days, more than 100 people may walk through the Grand Conservatory in the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. They wait in line to peer through the 42-foot submarine periscope that stands in the building’s second floor classroom that gives them a view stretching many miles around the city.

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens volunteers boast theirs is the only botanic gardens in the nation to have a periscope. But the journey that ended with the periscope finding its new home in Cheyenne took a lot of planning, fast thinking and even more luck. 

Retired Navy Chief Jim Marshall said the idea to put a periscope in Cheyenne first surfaced during Cheyenne Frontier Days of 2005. 

Navy submariners who were part of the crew of the USS Cheyenne and the USS Wyoming visited Cheyenne during the rodeo to participate in community service. But the weather prevented them from working outdoors. 

“It rained and rained the whole week,” Marshall said. 

During the down time, one of the submariners suggested the group obtain a submarine periscope for Cheyenne residents and tourists to look through.

Later, Marshall said he attended Kiwanis meeting in 2007 where Cheyenne Botanic Gardens officials gave a presentation revealing the group had its sights on getting a periscope for the Paul Smith Children’s village.

However, Marshall spoke with those involved and soon realized they may have not considered the logistics of moving a 42-foot periscope weighing more than 2,000 pounds.

So Marshall decided to contact the group he was holed up with during that rainy Cheyenne Frontier Days week in 2005 and have them help get a periscope. However, he couldn’t find the original group members.

Marshall kept searching for anyone who could assist. He ended up contacting the past commanding officer of the USS Wyoming, who added his talents to the search for a periscope until one was found at a U.S. Navy facility in New England. 

The periscope was previously used in three submarines: the USS Corpus Christi SSN-705, the USS Alexandria SSN-757, USS Minnesota-St. Paul SSN-708. Marshall learned it could be moved to Cheyenne if officials at the New Hampshire facility could be persuaded to give it up.

Marshall eventually convinced them to hand over the periscope, but they had a condition — he had to arrange the transportation. This led him on a new quest to find an organization capable of carrying it across the country. The C-130s transport airplanes at the Wyoming Air National Guard in Cheyenne were too small. They were unable to carry the 50-foot long box. 

“A friend of mine in Virginia at the Fleet Reserve Association said, ‘Let me see what I can do to help,’” Marshall recalled. 

His friend contacted some higher-ups and reached the right people, finding a way to to transport the periscope via a larger C-130 housed at the Rhode Island Air National Guard’s headquarters in Cranston, Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Air National Guard brought the periscope to Cheyenne on Father’s Day in 2007. 

Dorothy Owens, who volunteers in the classroom with the periscope, said she remembered the day the periscope arrived. 

“It was a nice summer day,” she recalled. 

The plane arrived and a handful of volunteers, including Marshall and Owens, greeted it. The pilot looked at Owens and asked her what the group planned to do with the periscope in Cheyenne. 

“We’re going to build a building around it,” she replied.

The construction took time. In fact, people weren’t exactly sure what the building surrounding the periscope would look like. The boxed periscope waited in a stockyard surrounded by overgrown grass and weeds until the former Botanic Gardens Director Shane Smith could settle on a location. 

Smith originally wanted to house the periscope in the Children’s Garden.

However, plans for the building that would house the periscope grew with every new idea for features and education. The price tag also grew. The estimated cost for the periscope’s housing unit soared to $40,000, and funding was nowhere to be found.  

When the conservatory construction became closer to reality, Smith decided to move the periscope to the second floor to expand the view available through it, according to Marshall. 

Things began to fall into place from there, literally. It took two attempts to install the periscope in its housing unit on a windy Flag Day in 2017.

The periscope was officially opened to the public August, 2017. Operated by a unique hydraulic lift system to accommodate both children and adults, Owens said those who take a look through the 7.5-inch diameter periscope are usually impressed with the view.

“‘Amazing’ is the word I get most,” Owens said. “People are just enchanted. They cannot believe what they can see, how far they can see or how clear it is. People really are enchanted with it, both tourists and locals.”

Owens said she encountered several children and adults who did not know what a submarine was, so, as a former librarian, she has taken on a mission to educate the visitors.

“I feel like it’s my duty to let people appreciate this (the periscope). Owens said. “I just do this because it’s fun.” 

She added she and the community wouldn’t have had the opportunity if it weren’t for Marshall’s creative solutions. 

Marshall wanted Cheyenne visitors to experience a unique opportunity than many across the country wouldn’t otherwise. Through the periscope’s journey to Cheyenne, it found its place as an attraction far beyond its original intended use. 

“It’s one of a kind,” Marshall said. 

Wyoming-based group hosts hunts with terminally ill children

in Community/News/Recreation
2606

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

For some terminally ill children, hunting can be a break from the grueling regimen of treatments and a chance to experience normalcy, Muley Fanatic Foundation Co-founder Josh Coursey said.

But for 20-year-old Noah Walters, it could be more — a reason to continue fighting 10 years after doctors predicted he would die, said his mother Denise.

“A few years ago, Noah was dealing with some real depression,” she explained. “If he did not have hunting, I don’t know if he would still be with us.”

Of the 3 million people in Mississippi, Denise said Noah is the only person diagnosed with Morquio Syndrome Type A, a progressive disease that prevents the body from breaking down sugar chains called glycosaminoglycans and can cause abnormal bone and spine growth, resulting in diminished stature and reduced mobility.

Despite his ailments, which include heart and respiratory conditions, Noah harvested his first pronghorn this year in Wyoming with the help of the Muley Fanatic Foundation.

“He may be a little person, but he’s a firecracker,” Denise said. “He does not allow his disease to control him.”

Noah was one of 17 people, mostly children, the Wyoming-based foundation took on hunts through the “Putting the U in hunt” program in 2019, Coursey said. “We know how important this is for children with terminal illnesses,” Coursey said. “We see it as an opportunity for us to do good.” 

‘Furthering the sport’

Founded in 2011, Muley Fanatic is a nonprofit organization dedicated to wildlife conservation primarily in Wyoming, though chapters have recently popped up in Colorado, Utah and Virginia.

“We’ve been facilitating these youth hunts from the outset,” Coursey said. “As a conservation group, part of our mission includes furthering the sport of hunting, and we recognize this as an opportunity to do that good work for these kids who are at a disadvantage.”

The idea for the program came from a friendship between the foundation’s founders and a local family whose child was terminally ill. 

“We knew as a nonprofit we could petition the game commission to have these (hunting) tags allocated to allow for these opportunities in areas conducive to the individual hunter and their needs,” Coursey explained.

Under Section 13 of the Wyoming Game and Fish hunting regulations, the game commission can issue a limited number of licenses for deer, elk, pronghorn and turkeys to nonprofits for the use of terminally ill people between the ages of 12 and 20.

“It allows the youth hunter to be in the area five days prior to the area being opened to the public,” Coursey said. 

To be eligible, applicants must submit their paperwork with a statement from a licensed physician stating the license recipient is clinically diagnosed with a life-threatening or serious illness. The application must be submitted by Jan. 31 of the requested year — a full nine months ahead of the opening of hunting season in some cases.

“It’s a long process,” Coursey said, “but that gives us time to get everything together and the families time to ensure the kids have the green light from their doctors.”

Meeting unique needs

Muley Fanatic provides the young hunters, who come from all over the nation, with an all-expense paid experience for both them and their caretakers.

“They have enough to worry about as is, so we take care of everything while they’re here,” Coursey said. “We buy the tags, provide the meals, pay for the travel and any hotel expenses they might have.”

The average hunt costs about $1,800, he explained.

“We do that through fundraising throughout the year and have donations earmarked just for this program,” Coursey said. “But we couldn’t do it without our volunteers. We have a lot of great resources in Wyoming in our wildlife and wide-open spaces, but our greatest resource of all is our people.”

For hunters with disabilities, the standard array of hunting gear doesn’t always meet their needs. In some cases, the foundation has worked with other organizations such as Holy Pursuits Dream Foundation, based in West Virginia, to supply specialty equipment for the hunters.

“We’ve had five children now that have been able to hunt with a specifically designed firing mechanism using a breathing tube,” Coursey said. “It takes a little practice out on the range to get used to, but we’ve seen some good success with the mechanisms.”

While hunters can request what type of animal they would like to pursue, he said mobility remains a factor.

“We’ve had children that have no motor function from the shoulders down,” Coursey said. “The mule deer hunts require more mobility than the antelope and elk hunts, which takes some of the access away.”

Muley Fanatic volunteer and Red Desert Outfitters owner Jason Faigl said patience is key when looking for an animal the participants could have an opportunity to harvest.

“A lot of the challenge is being able to get the hunter to the area and set up to shoot,” Faigl explained. “We do everything we can to make sure they are comfortable and make sure we’re not affecting their illness in any way.”

Word of mouth

Starting with only a couple hunts in the first year, “Putting the U in hunt” was slow to gain momentum, but participation more than tripled in 2019.

“We typically have about four to five hunters a year,” Coursey said. “This year, we had 17.”

Healthcare data is protected by federal law, so the foundation relies on word of mouth and social media to attract participants.

Having logged about 25 hunts since 2011, Noah and his family are well-acquainted with hunting organizations who help the terminally ill, but it was only recently his family learned about the Muley Fanatic Foundation.

“I’d seen the Muley Fanatic Facebook page, but I hadn’t really reached out until another organization told us about the program,” Denise recalled.

Without word of mouth, Noah might have never discovered his ability to hunt. 

“It was always something he was interested in as a kid, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to do it,” Denise said, explaining the doctors predicted shortly after birth Noah’s life expectancy would be about 10 years. “The pastor at our church heard him talking about it one day and decided to look into it.”

With the pastor’s help, Noah discovered a group in Wisconsin that was willing to take him bear hunting.

“He’s been hooked on it ever since,” Denise said. “Not every hunt is successful, but Noah says that’s why it’s called hunting. If we were successful every time, he says it’d be called shooting.”

Having hunted all over the country, Noah was excited about the prospect of nabbing a pronghorn.

“We’d seen several antelope that morning, but they were far off or too quick,” Denise recalled about the Muley Fanatic-sponsored hunt. “It takes a long time to set up the shot. Sometimes he sits in his dad’s lap, sometimes he sits in mine. It’s a mom, dad and Noah team effort, but we get the job done.”

The team successfully harvested an antelope during their visit, an experience Denise said Noah cherishes.

“The people are absolutely wonderful, and the state is gorgeous,” she said. “Are we going to visit again? Absolutely.”

For more information about the Muley Fanatic Foundation go to www.muleyfanatic.org or call (307) 875-3133.

Yellowstone opens for winter visitors

in News/Recreation
Yellowstone in winter
2580

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park is open for over-snow travel for the season, allowing travel by those who may want to see the park in the solitude of winter instead of the busy summer season.

All entrances to the park opened for the winter season Dec. 14, meaning staff has been busy with grooming trails, stocking gift shops and opening restaurants at the Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs.

Rick Hoeninghausen, director of marketing and sales for Xanterra, Yellowstone’s concessionaire, said people who visit the park in the winter are often looking for a different experience than they can get in the summer.

“We’re at 4 million-plus visits in the course of a year,” he said. “Winter time, it’s closer to 100,000, plus or minus. So that gives you an idea of the difference between winter and summer. And I think that’s the appeal for some people.”

Visitors often have much of the park to themselves in the winter, Hoeninghausen said.

“There’s a chance for a little more of an experience if you’re out on a trail on skis or snowshoes and it’s quiet,” he said. “There’s a lot less people here.”

Much of the attraction stems from the appearance of the park itself in the winter, Hoeninghausen said.

“It’s gorgeous in the winter,” he said. “You’ve got that clear, blue Wyoming sky, there’s no moisture, the snow is just sparkling. Geyser basins are like nothing else. In the winter time, they’re special. They’re magical places.”

Despite its isolation, a winter break in Yellowstone should not be considered a hardship, Hoeninghausen said.

“There’s a perception in the world that it’s too rugged, it could be too severe for folks,” he said. “We have these snowcoaches that are very comfortable and heated and warm with big windows and big tires. And then (visitors) realize ‘I’m traveling in basically a mini-bus and I’m staying in a nice hotel, eating in a nice restaurant. Everything else is the same, it’s just colder outside.”

Accommodations are especially luxurious at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, where a major renovation was completed this year that put bathrooms in every room, replacing the communal bathrooms that were part of the hotel until recently.

Powell man part of team to row across Atlantic

in Community/Recreation
FightOrDieTeam
The members of Carl Christensen’s “Fight OAR Die” team, from left to right: John Fannin of San Antonio, Texas, Luke Holton of Juneau, Alaska, Christensen of Powell and Evan Stratton of Denver, Colorado. (Courtesy photo)
2443

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Fight OAR Die.

No, that’s not a typo. It’s the slogan for a group of military veterans who next week will begin a weeks-long journey across the Atlantic Ocean… in a rowboat.

Powell resident Carl Christensen is part of a four-man team of former military servicemen who will take off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands next month in their “Woobie” to raise awareness and support for the mental and physical health of U.S. veterans. 

The team will take part in the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge, rowing 3,000 miles from the Canary Islands to Antigua. It’s a symbol of the hardships faced by veterans, and the steps that can be taken to overcome them.

Christensen is a 2001 Cody High School graduate who attended the Naval Academy, then served as a submarine officer and an instructor until his service was over in 2014. He said he watched last year’s team, which boasted members from both Powell and Cody, and was inspired to join the movement to support fellow veterans in their struggles with both mental and physical health post-service. 

But the task he’s facing is no small feat, either.

“Last year’s team did it in 54 days. 40 days is the average, the world record is 33 days,” he said. “We do have 60 days’ worth of food on board.”

Fight OAR Die map
This is a map of the path to be followed by Powell resident Carl Christensen and the other three members of his “Fight OAR Die” challenge to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

Christensen’s team represents more than just the Navy, however. Two Marines will be in his boat – one from San Antonio, Texas, and one from Denver, Colorado – and an Army veteran from Juneau, Alaska will round out the crew. It’s the first time for each of them. 

“The goal is to put four new veterans on the team each year,” he said. “We’re showing other veterans that they can row their own ocean, overcome their challenges.” 

He said the Fight OAR Die team has one mission – they want veterans to stop taking their own lives, and start living them instead.

Training is a must for a physical feat such as this. Christensen said he’s been staying in shape as a member of the Park County Search and Rescue volunteer crew. In addition, his wife, who is a personal trainer, purchased a rowing machine to help him train specifically for this journey.

In August, Christensen said the team did a month of training on an actual rowboat in Mobile, Alabama. There, the city’s mayor presented team members with a key to the city for their efforts in raising awareness of post-traumatic stress and post-combat hardship, as well as raising funds for treatment and research.

Part of the team’s mission is to raise support for other organizations that assist veterans, according to Christensen. The Sturm Center at the University of Denver and the Marcus Institute for Brain Health in Aurora, Colorado, are both working on ways to help veterans adapt and heal after their combat missions. 

“We are actually research subjects,” Christensen said. “They’ll follow us for a year.” 

In fact, he says the Sturm Center is now offering students the opportunity to follow a new specialized path – professional military psychologist – specifically to help veterans. 

Christensen pointed out that people who want to support their team’s mission financially can donate to the Sturm Center and the Marcus Institute to further their efforts.

Of the upcoming challenge, Christensen said it’s important to him to continue to serve his brothers and sisters in arms. With 60,000 veterans dying by suicide over the last decade, he said he is proud to be a part of a group that is working to raise awareness – and funds – to help support those who can perhaps end that trend.

“We’re trying to turn the tide,” he said.

In hunting, who is at the top of the food chain?

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Recreation/wildlife
hunting
2376

By Bill Sniffin

One of the largest armed forces in the history of the world is taking to the field right now.  We are talking about the 36 million hunters who stalking the mighty deer and elk in the USA.

Here in the Cowboy State, hunting is a fall tradition.  It is viewed as an entitlement. But the biggest difference between now and 50 years ago is that often the human hunter is not at the top of the food chain out there in the wild. More on this later.

The first time I heard the phrase about the “fun ending when you pulled the trigger,” was from my old friend, former game warden Bill Crump, when he recalled all his Wyoming hunting trips. He, of course, was talking about enjoying the fall scenery. Once you pull the trigger and kill your prey, it is time for some serious work.

Not sure what all those thousands of wives and girlfriends get in return, but they seem eager to send their hubbies and boyfriends off armed to the teeth and loaded down with food in rustic old campers. Or super-fancy brand new RVs with flush toilets, plus quad runners, huge pickup trucks, and even portable satellite television receivers.

Oh yeah, and cards.  Lots of playing cards. And quantities of liquid refreshment.

Cigars used to be a big part of the equation but surprisingly a lot of the groups I talked to recently just do not smoke. Not even a celebratory cigar?

There are a lot of very serious hunters in Wyoming.  But even some of them have decided that that hunting trip is still going to happen, the rifle may not even be removed from the scabbard. 

Sometimes these old veterans are just tired.  Maybe their wives finally confided to them that they are tired of cooking elk, deer, antelope and even moose.

Other times these hunters are more interested in taking their sons (or daughters), or grandchildren on the big hunt and really just want to concentrate on those younger folks getting their first kill.

A big reason for that annual hunting trip is that weather in the mountains or foothills of Wyoming can be so darned nice in the fall. They are just wanting to get away from the humdrum of daily life and enjoy the paradise that God has put at our disposal called Wyoming.

Plus another reason the “fun ends” is that when you pull the trigger it often signals the end of the hunting trip. Darn it, we have to leave the mountains and go back to our regular lives.

Now let’s talk about the “real” hunters.  Those men and women who are truly serious about killing their prey and filling their licenses. Most of these folks have a strong ethic where they plan to eat what they kill. They deserve our respect.

In the northwest part of Wyoming, these hunters are discovering that they are no longer at the top of the food chain.

Many folks suspect that grizzly bears are reportedly stalking both human hunters and the game those same hunters recently killed. Several hunters told me that the most uneasy feeling they can recall is when they are gutting their animal and suddenly things get real still.  Sort of like maybe some big critter has smelled your animal and is sizing up the fresh carcass.  And yours, too?

A famous photo circulated around the internet a while back showing a hunter taking a selfie photo of himself with his kill. In the background was a huge mountain lion.  Yikes.

A Cody hunter considered himself the luckiest man alive in Wyoming after his close encounter with a grizzly in the fall of 2011.    

Steve Bates, ended up on the losing end of his scrape in the Shoshone National Forest. He was happy to be alive, despite fractured ribs and cuts on his face and scalp.

A grizzly rushed him on a dead run before Bates could react.  After he was knocked over, the bear worked him over, clawed him, and chewed on him, before ambling off.

Once he recovered his senses, Bates grabbed his rifle and aimed it at the bear, then paused.  He wisely let it lope off.  Game and Fish officials said they would not track down the bear because it was reacting normally to its perceived threat.

“Considering what happened, “ Bates, recalled at the time, “I think I came out pretty good.”

That same year, a grizzly bit an Oregon hunter on the hand, also in our Shoshone National Forest.  Now that hunter must have one helluva story to tell. Names were not released.

One of my favorite bear stories concerns an old grizzly bear known as “Old Number One” – a sow in Yellowstone National Park. She was the first grizzly to ever wear a radio collar in the park.

A long-time agent for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Roy Brown of Lander, told me this story.

When the bear died some years ago, Brown headed up a necropsy procedure on the bear and the team found a surprise. The bear had six .38 caliber bullets in her head.  It must have happened many years before because skin had even grown over the injuries.

Roy says people wondered: “Hmmm, what happened to the guy who emptied his revolver into this bear?”

That poor guy may have found out first-hand where human beings are finding themselves in the food chain these days.

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.

Outdoor Recreation & Tourism: A Look at the Numbers

in Column/Range Writing/Recreation/Tourism
Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Tourism:
2267

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows that outdoor recreation contributes 4.4. percent of Wyoming’s gross domestic product. That’s something to celebrate, with Wyoming’s percentage among the highest in the nation, behind only Hawaii, Montana, and Maine.

According to the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office, outdoor recreation “contributes $1.6 billion to Wyoming’s economy” and “accounts for 23,036 jobs or 8 percent of total employment in Wyoming which is the highest in the nation. Those jobs also account for 4.7 percent of total compensation in the state, which is second in the nation behind Hawaii at 5.1 percent.”

Curious about how these numbers are compiled, I turned to the BEA website for the details, including the methodology used in these estimates. The BEA report attempts to isolate the economic activity associated with outdoor recreation spending and production within a state’s economy.

The largest chunk (72%) of the $1.6 billion outdoor recreation value contributed to the state’s economy is in the form of “supporting outdoor recreation,” primarily via travel and tourism (food, beverages, lodging, shopping, souvenirs, and transportation) more than 50 miles from home.

Another 20% of that $1.6 billion is classified as “conventional” outdoor recreation such as bicycling, boating, fishing, climbing/camping/hiking, hunting, shooting sports, motorcycle/all-terrain vehicle use, recreational flying, RVing, snow activities (skiing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, dog mushing), and other conventional outdoor activities such as skating, rafting, rock hounding, races, running/walking/jogging, and wildlife watching and birding.

The remaining 8% is “other” outdoor recreation including amusement/water parks, festivals, sporting events, concerts, guided tour and outfitted travel, gardening, game areas (tennis and golf), field sports, swimming, yard sports, and multi-use apparel and accessories (bug spray, sunscreen, coolers, GPS equipment, watches, backpacks, etc.).

The new BEA report puts outdoor recreation’s contribution to Wyoming’s economy at $1.6 billion, and I understand the methodology used to generate that number. Seeking more information about our state’s top industries, I turned to the Wyoming Business Council’s industry profiles, where I read that the #2 industry in Wyoming is tourism, with “$5.6 billion consumer spending on outdoor rec.”

Although the business council suggests “50,000 jobs created by outdoor rec – more than oil, gas, mining and extraction combined,” the BAE reports the total outdoor recreation employment level in Wyoming is just over 23,000 people in 2017. It took some searching, but I found that the numbers cited by the Wyoming Business Council came from the trade group Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). The bottom line is that the OIA’s numbers were about double the numbers released by the BEA, apparently because they used a different methodology.

The Wyoming Office of Tourism uses yet another number: “domestic and international visitors in Wyoming spent $3.8 billion” in the state in 2018, with the state’s tourism industry supporting 32,290 full and part-time jobs.”

Further digging revealed that the State of Wyoming’s website description of the state’s economy is sadly outdated, with most recent statistics more than a decade old. That same state information page still lists Matt Mead as Wyoming’s governor, an indication of neglecting to keep up with the times.

Curious about the state’s other top industries, I looked for agricultural statistics. The Wyoming Business Council’s estimate of $1.8 billion in agriculture worth to the state’s economy annually was an easy one, since that number comes from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the majority of that number ($1.44 billion) is simply cash receipts for ag products sold (cattle, sheep, hogs, hay, sugarbeets, corn, etc.). But those statistics don’t attempt to demonstrate the total value of ag spending in the state (such as the sales of vehicles, machinery, equipment, veterinary services and supplies, outdoor clothing and farm/ranch supplies, etc.) or the investment in ag facilities and properties.

Mining (oil, gas, trona, and coal) have ranked #1 in contributions to Wyoming’s economy, providing substantial revenues to governments, employing workers, and gross production values. But with so much upheaval in various segments of the state’s mining industry in the last few years, and wary of the importance of what was being measured or and how it was being valued, I gave up trying.

I don’t doubt the importance of the outdoor recreation industry, and my guess is that the BAE report is the closest to being accurate, but it also has its limitations. All these assessments for various industry sectors sum up what we already knew: they compare apples to oranges and every segment of Wyoming’s economy is important.

What we can agree on is that the majority of people in Wyoming participate in outdoor recreation, whether it’s rig hands stopping to admire a bull moose on the way to work on a drilling rig, a parent purchasing a child’s first bicycle, or a rancher taking new neighbors out to visit a local sage grouse lek. We’re all in this together.

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.

Outdoor recreation major contributor to Wyoming’s economy

in News/Recreation/Tourism/wildlife
2188

By Cowboy State Daily

Outdoor activity in Wyoming contributes a larger share to the state’s economic activity than the majority of states, according to a federal report.

The report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that in 2017, outdoor recreation in Wyoming generated $1.6 billion, about 4.4 percent of the state’s economic activity, well above the national average of 2.2 percent.

And the industry in Wyoming shows no signs of slowing, said Dave Glenn, of the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, a division of the Parks and Cultural Resources Department.

“The RV industry’s continuing to grow, the mountain bike industry’s continuing to grow, the (off-highway vehicles), the snow machines, the fly fishing, hunting, all those thing are growing in the state of Wyoming,” he said.

Wyoming is behind only Hawaii, Montana, Maine and Vermont in terms of how much outdoor recreation contributes to the state’s economy. Nearly 8 percent of the state’s jobs are also in outdoor recreation, the highest figure in the nation.

Glenn said he believes the state is poised to see tremendous growth in outdoor recreation, thanks to its plentiful resources.

“I think we have the ability to double or triple that number,” he said. “Wyoming has the access to public lands, we’ve got our big three national parks, we have all kinds of national forests, (Bureau of Land Management land), Red Desert, all kinds of great country. We need to work on our infrastructure so when people come here, they have something to do and to stay longer as well.”

The Parks and Cultural Resources Department, along with the state Game and Fish Department, recently joined forces to promote activities on state lands by helping commemorate National Public Lands Day.

The observation on Sept. 28 was designed to encourage people to get out and enjoy their public lands.

“Whether it’s recreation, hunting, hiking, fishing, the Game and Fish (Department) properties are open to all that,” said Ray Bredehoft, with the department.

Bredehoft said his department is working to minimize conflicts between recreational users of the land and wildlife as the number of people using public lands grows.

“We’re trying to balance that, there’s always going to be some sort of conflict,” he said. “We’re here for the wildlife, to make sure they’re here for generations to come.”

First lady encourages Wyoming youth to “be best”

in News/Recreation
FLOTUS Melania Trump in Wyoming
2168

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Melania Trump is encouraging Wyoming young people to “Be Best.”

The first lady this week visited Jackson, Wyoming — her first visit to the Cowboy State since her husband became president. She spent the day Thursday meeting the local Scout troop and rafting the Snake River, enjoying the outdoors and national park system.

Grand Teton National Park

The first lady was in Jackson to promote her “Be Best” initiative, which encourages positive social, emotional, and physical habits. 

Shortly after her arrival, Trump met with local scouts at the landmark Jackson Town Square. She was met by a cheering crowd surrounding the square, some singing the national anthem, others calling out, “We love you, Melania!”

Trump, who was accompanied by Steve Ashworth, head of the Jackson Parks and Recreation Department and Mindy Kin-Miller, Jackson’s first female scoutmaster, held up the Scouts in the Jackson area as a shining example of young adults and children taking leadership in conserving and preserving natural history while embodying healthy living. 

Since the 1960s, the Scouts have partnered with the National Elk Refuge to collect shed antlers from the protected area. They then use a portion of the proceeds from an annual antler auction to help with conservation projects.

Trump thanked the young leaders in the Scouts, commending their commitment to public service and protecting historic national treasures. 

“I applaud their dedication to such important causes,” she said.

Later that day, Trump rafted the Snake River, along with a group of 10 fourth graders from the Teton County School District and guides from the local Rafter X Ranch. White House Officials said the activity was intended in part to set an example for young people, encouraging them to get outside and enjoy the natural resources the nation offers. 

The first lady was in a raft with a group of five school children, while the guide talked about wildlife in the area, including antelope, moose, and bears. 

“We should continue encouraging our children to experience and preserve the diverse rivers, mountains, and landscapes that make up the natural beauty of Wyoming that we had the privilege of enjoying today,” the first lady noted.

White House officials say the raft trip also complemented the National Park Service’s Every Kid Outdoors program, in which fourth graders across the nation get free access to all National Park attractions.

Trump’s visit to northwest Wyoming was scheduled to continue Friday in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, but weather cut the visit short.

According to the official web page, the mission of “Be Best” is to focus on some of the major issues facing children today, with the goal of encouraging children to “Be Best” in their individual paths, while also teaching them the importance of social, emotional, and physical health.  

The first lady has emphasized other pillars of the “Be Best” Initiative in previous visits around the country. She has visited with school children in Florida while promoting online safety, as well as a stop at Microsoft headquarters in Washington.

‘Shootout’ challenge reflects Shoshoni’s can-do spirit

in Community/Economic development/News/Recreation
Now entering Shoshoni
2032

By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

Like a challenge delivered out of the Old West, a shootout at high noon was held Saturday in Shoshoni.

Mayors of Fremont County’s towns, or their designees, met at the Shoshoni Rifle Range on the south edge of town to compete in three shooting categories – rifle, handgun and Annie Oakley shotgun-style shooting – as part of a fundraiser for the Fremont County Republican Women.

“When the Republican Women’s president, Ginger Bennett, called me, she wanted the shootout at high noon on Shoshoni’s Main Street,” said Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith. “I said, ‘Anything is a possibility in Shoshoni, let’s talk about it.’”

Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith exhibits a can-do attitude that characterizes his efforts to make things happen in Shoshoni.
Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith exhibits a can-do attitude that characterizes his efforts to make things happen in Shoshoni. Highsmith — whose father also served as Shoshoni’s mayor — said residents care about the community and have good ideas for its future. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)

Highsmith was elected Shoshoni’s mayor in 2018. Like Saturday’s mayoral shootout, his can-do spirit is reflected throughout the 650-resident town.

It’s all about building and maintaining a community, its people and a great place to live, according to Highsmith.

“Shoshoni has always been my hometown, the place I consider my home, and the place where I always planned to retire,” Highsmith said.

Highsmith’s parents moved to Shoshoni in 1962. His wife Kathy’s parents moved to Shoshoni about 1950.

“I married my wife in 1972. That’s when we purchased our first real estate in Shoshoni. We have three beautiful daughters we raised in Shoshoni until 1989. We returned to Shoshoni in 2009,” he said. “We are Shoshoni people with Shoshoni roots.”

In fact, Highsmith’s father Joel Thomas Highsmith Sr. was mayor of Shoshoni in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Shoshoni in 2019 is a microcosm of life these days in central Wyoming. Local economies are struggling, even in Shoshoni where ConocoPhillips operates a gas plant in Lost Cabin, east of town.

Some people have left town. People make long commutes, usually through Shoshoni and the town’s famous intersection, to work in the oil and gas industry. Young people graduate out of the Shoshoni school system, and most leave. And few young people and their families live year-around in the community that boasts small-town amenities and is bordered by one of Wyoming’s best fishing reservoirs.

Boysen Reservoir, which borders Shoshoni, is a major focus for the community, with a committee considering ways to bring more people to the reservoir to take part in various activities and help revitalize the town. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)

“Besides our school system, I believe Shoshoni’s crown jewel is Boysen Reservoir,” Highsmith said.

Shoshoni also benefits from residents willing to look at ways to breathe new life into the community, the mayor said.

“People care about the future of this town and they have ideas,” he said.

The Shoshoni Town Council, or as Highsmith calls it, “the governing body,” has established a pair of committees focused on Boysen Reservoir and the rifle range.

“We are looking at different options to enhance our town. The Lake Committee has met with Boysen State Park officials and the new owners of the Boysen Marina, who are both doing a great job,” Highsmith said. “We are looking at developing more activities and fishing opportunities so that Boysen becomes more of a destination for people on their way to Jackson and other places.”

Highsmith said the goal is to bring more events to Boysen Reservoir, which in turn, will help the town. At one time, winter carnivals, high-altitude drag races, fishing derbies and other events flourished at Boysen throughout the year and brought visitors and their money to Shoshoni.

Highsmith said the same committee approach is being used to draw people to Shoshoni’s rifle range, arguably the best in the county and central Wyoming. Grants and donations have helped the local rifle club improve safety at the range through steps such as having local range enthusiasts act as monitors when the range is open.

Shoshoni continues to host a number of community events, including its Labor Day Ranch Rodeos and its annual Don Layton Memorial Antique Tractor and Engine Show.

The landscape of Shoshoni is changing for the better, too, Highsmith said.

He recalled the days when downtown Shoshoni boasted a Gambles store, grocery store and movie theater.

This photo shows some of the old buildings that line Shoshoni’s streets. The town recently demolished six old buildings on Main Street, along with a hotel and the community’s old school. Residents are now looking into ways to fill the empty space with businesses to help the town. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)

Today, some of the older, unusable buildings, including six separate buildings of the old Main Street, have been demolished, as has an old motel and the Shoshoni school in the center of town.

A new $39 million K-12 school has been built on the north end of town and is in its fourth year of operation.

The mayor said town officials are keeping an open mind to the opportunities for Shoshoni.

“We’ve been talking to the developer who bought our old school land,” Highsmith said. “We’ve been thinking and discussing, what can survive here.”

Town officials and many citizens agree Shoshoni needs an active motel/hotel and a local gathering spot, such as a café.

“That would be a big bonus for school activities and activities at the lake and rifle range,” Highsmith said. “Boysen State Park and the marina need more camper spots. Maybe we need a campground, because the lake is an important part of what we may do. Maybe our future is senior housing. We need more housing so our teachers can live here.”

The future for one of Wyoming’s busiest intersections – where U.S. Highways 20 and 26 meet – is involved, too, because it’s in the middle of town. Contrary to billboards on the edges of Shoshoni proclaiming the superiority of each highway, both provide convenient and scenic pathways to Yellowstone National Park.

The main intersection in Shoshoni takes travelers north on U.S. Highway 20 to Thermopolis or west on U.S. Highway 26 to Riverton. The intersection plays a role in attempts to revive the community, with residents looking at possible ways to build up businesses in the area. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)
The main intersection in Shoshoni takes travelers north on U.S. Highway 20 to Thermopolis or west on U.S. Highway 26 to Riverton. The intersection plays a role in attempts to revive the community, with residents looking at possible ways to build up businesses in the area. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)



“There will be changes in our intersection, even possible business expansion,” Highsmith said. “Our history involves a time when there were seven gas stations, and one on each corner of our intersection.”

Highsmith said Shoshoni people want businesses that benefit the community, including its school.

“We are open to ideas, and we are looking at things,” he said.

New Shoshoni school is a bright light in town

Bruce Thoren is in his sixth year as superintendent of Fremont County School District No. 24.

Shoshoni’s school district is very rural in nature, covering nearly 2,000 square miles.

“We’ve got kids attending from Natrona County, from Missouri Valley, Hidden Valley, Burma, Riverton, Shoshoni … the valley is where the vast majority of our students live,” said Thoren.

The school provides kindergarten through 12th grade education for more than 390 students and about 25 of those live with their families in Shoshoni. A school bus also makes daily stops at Riverton’s old Kmart to serve the more than 100 Shoshoni students who live in Riverton. Other students drive themselves to town, or ride school buses.

The school district is easily the largest employer in Shoshoni, with nearly 100 part- and full-time employees.

“These employees are a big deal for the Town of Shoshoni, and I believe the new building is definitely helping the viability of the town. Without the school, quite honestly, I’d hate to see what would happen to the town,” Thoren said.

There’s history attached to Shoshoni schools, too, as the first Shoshoni School opened in 1906 with 58 children and two teachers. After its first year of operation, a new school was built to educate 134 students at a cost of $7,000. The new building allowed the first- through fourth-graders to escape the old Shoshoni jailhouse, where they were attending school.

Thoren is proud of the school district’s ongoing partnership with the town.

“Things are headed in the right direction in Shoshoni, and the town council and mayor are looking to increase the viability of the town. Everyone wants to put the nicer things in place, including more paved streets,” Thoren said. “While most of the school employees and the Conoco gas plant employees commute from other places to work, a lot of those people would live in Shoshoni if we are able to get some of these community upgrades completed.”

Thoren points to future oil and gas development, including the Moneta Divide project, as possible boosts to the Shoshoni-area economy.

The Shoshoni Recreation District is part of the school district’s partnership with the town.

“This is a small Wyoming town, but it’s thriving with recreation,” said Recreation Director Michelle Rambo, who herself attended Shoshoni schools for 13 years.

The recreation district is currently preparing for its annual Halloween haunted house involving the efforts of more than 30 volunteers. It’s said to be one of the creepiest and best of its kind in Wyoming.

“People come to Shoshoni from all over the region to participate. It’s a huge event,” Rambo said.

Rambo, like the mayor and school superintendent, is positive about the future of Shoshoni, a community grounded in volunteerism “that works together to do what’s best for all of Wyoming.”

“My childhood friends live here, raising their families. We are all part of this community. We support our town,” Rambo said, adding a statement of her pride for Shoshoni schools and the mascot. “We ‘Ride for the Brand, be a Wrangler.’”

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