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Recreation

New Bike Route Stretches From Yellowstone To Minneapolis

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A new bike route mapped out by the Adventure Cycling Association will lead cyclists on an adventure through Yellowstone National Park all the way to Minneapolis — nearly 1,300 miles.

The Pikes, Peaks and Prairie Route was created so cyclists could have the opportunity to see iconic American parks such as Yellowstone, Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and the Black Hills, the ACA said.

The network of biking trails is broken into three routes, beginning from West Yellowstone, Montana, through Yellowstone and on into Gillette, from Gillette to Midland, South Dakota, and from there on to Minneapolis.

The route only runs for 2.3 miles in Montana, and then the cyclists will ride through Yellowstone, leading to the Sylvan Pass, going nearly 60 miles downhill along the North Fork of the Shoshone River into Cody.

The route will run through a majority of northern Wyoming, allowing the rider to see small towns, wildlife and much more during their time on the road, the ACA said.

In total, the ride is around 1,288 miles from West Yellowstone to Minneapolis. The highest elevation is 9,665 ft. at Powder River Pass between Buffalo and Ten Sleep.

The Needles Highway and Sage Creek Road in South Dakota are offered as alternate routes, although riders should be aware that the Needles Highway in Custer State Park, near Rapid City, is a strenuous ride and the road is narrow. The Needles Highway is usually open from April to October.

The western half of the route can be ridden from May through October, but the portion east of the Black Hills has a wider time window, from March through November. The route in Yellowstone is closed in the winter.

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Enzi Proposes Raising National Park Fees

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Entrance fees for the country’s national parks must be raised to pay for the backlog of maintenance projects at those parks, according to U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi.

Enzi has unveiled his proposed amendment to the Great American Outdoors Act, which aims to address the maintenance backlog at parks at a cost of about $12 billion.

Simply appropriating money to complete the maintenance projects would amount to a “one-time fix that is neither responsible nor permanent,” he said during his comments in support of his amendment.

He added that his amendment would address the backlog responsibly and permanently without adding to the nation’s debt.

“Without some changes, this legislation will force our country to borrow more money, burying us deeper in debt, and only provide funding for five years,” Enzi said earlier this week. “Fixing this bill will help ensure we no longer have to put our parks’ current obligations on the backs of future generations.”

Enzi’s amendment would increase fees for foreign visitors entering the United States. According to the U.S. Travel Association, nearly 40% of people who travel to the country from abroad are visiting one national park, amounting to more than 14 million people.

The amendment would also raise entrance fees for U.S. citizens by $5 and the cost for annual passes by $20, to a total of $100.

Enzi emphasized that bringing a vehicle into a park would still be cheaper than taking a family of four to a movie or visiting an amusement park for a day.

“No one likes to pay more for things, especially during times like these, but to maintain these national treasures for future generations, we either borrow money and put it on the national credit card or we take some modest steps to address the issues responsibly.”

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Out-Of-State Visitors Flock To Wyoming Parks

in Coronavirus/News/Recreation/Travel
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By Mari Heithoff, Cowboy State Daily

As the warm weather returns to Wyoming, so does its annual influx of tourists. 

And although the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the nation’s way of life, Wyoming’s tourist season is well underway.

A brief stroll through Lander City Park and the main campground in Sinks Canyon State Park reveals crowds of of vans, pop-up campers, RVs, and SUVs, many of them sporting license plates from such far-flung states as California, Tennessee, Washington, Texas, and Iowa, as well as from neighboring states such as Colorado and Utah. 

Ann and James Yearout of Chickamauga, Georgia, were drawn to Wyoming by its natural beauty.

“We’ve been to Wyoming many times,” said Ann. “Cody is my favorite place, but we also love Jackson, and of course, Yellowstone.” 

The couple said their plans were not greatly impacted by the coronavirus. Their daughter, Julia, was interning at Sinks Canyon with Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources division through the Student Conservation Association, and a Wyoming trip was on the books for the spring.

“We had to wait to see if everything would open back up, of course, but we weren’t too worried about it,” said Ann, who works at an infectious disease clinic in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

“We tend toward more remote activities and areas when we come out here, and so there’s plenty of opportunity for social distancing in the backcountry,” she continued. “We come out here to go on remote hikes—we want to get away from crowds.”

The couple said although they had never been to Sinks Canyon before, they were happy to have stopped on their way to Cody. 

“I have friends that ask me why I’d want to come out here, and when I get out here, I always wonder how they could ask that,” said Ann. “I mean, why wouldn’t you? It’s so peaceful and absolutely beautiful.”

According to Augie Castorena, who volunteers as a host at the main Sinks Canyon campground, visitors this season have been diverse and plentiful.

“In mid-May, everybody was out here,” he said. “Like opening the floodgates. There have been lots of out-of-state plates, lots from New York.” 

Castorena explained that the campground has reopened in stages.

Originally, it was completely closed. It then reopened for in-state campers with reservations, and finally out-of-state campers were allowed back in to camp. 

The State Parks and Cultural Resources division has instituted measures designed to help control any possible spread of the virus, such as extra cleaning and reservations for campsites, but Castorena emphasized that much of the responsibility rests with the visitors themselves.

“We ask visitors to please practice safe distancing,” he said. “We’re not trying to be rude, we just want to keep you safe. It seems like a lot of visitors forget to be mindful when they’re out here.”

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Mt. Rushmore To Hold Lottery For Independence Day Celebration With Trump

in News/Recreation/Tourism/Wyoming
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Applications for a lottery for people hoping to attend the first fireworks show at Mount Rushmore in a decade — complete with an appearance by President Donald Trump — are now being accepted. But only for a limited time.

The lottery application process is open between now and 9:59 p.m. Monday. Only 7,500 tickets are available.

The celebration will be held from around 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on July 3 and will include a massive fireworks display and other entertainment.

The National Park Service shut down the fireworks celebration following the 2009 Independence Day.

On Dec. 13, 2018, South Dakota Gov.-elect Kristi Noem raised the idea of the fireworks celebration while meeting with Trump in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

In May 2019, Noem and the Department of Interior announced the fireworks celebration would be back. Trump tweeted his excitement about the return of the event and this May, he announced he would be attending the celebration.

“This year, after more than a year of diligent efforts, we’re finally bringing fireworks back to Mount Rushmore,” Noem said in a news release. “There’s truly no better place to celebrate America’s birthday. We’re excited that President Trump is coming to enjoy the show with us. He and the Department of Interior have been great partners in bringing this celebration back to our great state and the entire nation.”

There will be two zones available for viewing: zone one, which is in the amphitheater area or on the Grand View Terrace and zone two, along HIghway 244 within the Memorial.

For the first zone, visitors may be subject to a health screening. For the second, visitors will need to provide their own seating and viewing may be limited in some areas.

Tickets will be assigned at random. Applicants will be notified on June 12 with the results. Each ticket includes up to six participants.

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Wyoming Parks Again Open To Non-Resident Campers

in Coronavirus/News/Recreation
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

As of Monday, camping in Wyoming parks is again open to out-of-state residents.

This announcement from the state parks system comes more than a month after Gov. Mark Gordon stated that overnight camping would be allowed in state parks by May 15, but only for Wyoming residents.

Gordon said in late April that the state has been cautious about reopening its parks for overnight camping because of the number of visitors who came from outside the state in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic and stayed at the parks.

“The number of people who came to Wyoming to use our campgrounds in February was the same as it would have been any other June,” he said in April. “The cars and campers that were in those campgrounds came from North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Utah, Nebraska and Montana. There has been a tremendous amount of out-of-state pressure on these campgrounds.”

Wyoming parks have been open to outdoor recreation, but not overnight camping, since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March. Because the state has seen a relatively low number of cases, camping was allowed for Wyoming residents in May.

With other states beginning to open their own parks for camping, state officials decided to open Wyoming parks for overnight stays.

“Our team is excited to be able to increase our economic impact to the State and local economies by bringing in our consumers from around the country.” Darin Westby, agency director of Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources said in a news release. “Our criteria for opening camping to non-residents  has always been when surrounding states opened their camping, and their respective COVID-19 cases began leveling. Now is the time.”

Regardless of residency, anyone interested in camping at a state park must go through the reservation system to secure a site at all locations except Hawk Springs State Recreation Area, some sites on the west side of Boysen State Park and Connor Battlefield State Historic Site. These campgrounds are still open on a first-come, first-serve basis.

While visitors do not have to reserve a campsite before traveling to a state park. However, once they find a campsite after reaching the park, they will have to use the reservation system to use that site.

Headquarters buildings at the various state parks have reopened, allowing for the sale of annual day-use and overnight camping permits. Visitors are asked to adhere to social distancing recommendations whether meeting in offices, recreating outside or working at fish cleaning stations.

Cabins and yurts are available for three-day reservations, Friday through Sunday. This will ensure all of the structures have been cleaned and disinfected prior to the next reservation.

Gordon’s original announcement limiting overnight stays to residents received mixed responses from residents, according to comments on the Cowboy State Daily Facebook page.

A few praised Gordon’s move to only allow only Wyoming residents to camp at the state parks, while others questioned how people could be properly monitored.

“How about opening up…COMPLETELY!!!” one commenter wrote. “Let Freedom Ring!!!”

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Devils Tower National Monument To Reopen Friday

in Coronavirus/News/Recreation
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Devils Tower National Monument will reopen in a limited capacity on Friday, Gov. Gov. Mark Gordon announced late Monday night.

The monument’s website confirmed this, noting that park roads, trails, rock climbing and the picnic area would reopen Friday. However, the visitor center and campground will remain closed for the time being.

The monument has been closed for about two months.

On March 25, the Park Service said the closure was due to a request of local public health officers from Crook County, WY.

“The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners is our number one priority,” the Park Service said. “The National Park Service (NPS) is working with federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The announcement of the opening came on the same day that Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks reopened to the public.

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Wyo Local Officials Ask Congress to Fully Fund Land & Water Conservation Fund

in Coronavirus/Economy/News/Recreation
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

On Wednesday, four Wyoming elected officials joined more than 100 of their counterparts across the West in sending a letter to Congress to urge full funding for public lands in an upcoming stimulus package.

Jackson Mayor Pete Muldoon and City Councilman Jim Standford, Albany County Commissioner Pete Gosar and Cheyenne City Councilman Pete Layborn signed the letter.

The letter asks for full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in upcoming legislation designed to provide an economic stimulus to restart the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter explains that outdoor recreation is a critical driver of local economies in the West and says investing in the fund will help with long-term recovery for gateway communities and states that rely on visitors to public lands.

The letter was drafted by the Mountain Pact, an organization of mountain communities in the West.

 “Our national, state and local parks, trails and public lands are a critical economic driver for communities big and small, urban and rural, across the nation. Across the west, the travel and tourism industries have been taking a hit in the current crisis. Investing now in full funding for LWCF will help with a strong long-term recovery for gateway communities and states that rely on visitors to public lands,” Telluride, Colorado mayor DeLanie Young said in a news release.

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Sleeping Giant Ski Area to Close After Season Ends

in News/Recreation/Tourism
Sleeping Giant
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The mountains of western Wyoming and eastern Idaho, along with southern Montana and central Colorado, are meccas for people of all ages who love the thrill of sliding down the hillsides at high speeds.

Skiing can be expensive, however, and one non-profit organization is struggling with providing affordable access for families while keeping the books in the black.

Otto Goldbach is a member of the Yellowstone Recreations Foundation, the board responsible for the Sleeping Giant ski area near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park. 

The board announced recently that Sleeping Giant would close for good after this spring’s ski season, but Goldbach and other board members are hoping that they can find a way to extend the hill’s life by a few years through more volunteer hours and fundraising.

Goldbach pointed out that the ski hill is more than just a winter recreation area.

“It’s a community center that happens to have some ski lifts on it,” he said.

The hill, which was first opened in 1930 as the Red Star Ski Area, had closed in 2004, but a community effort brought it to life again in 2009. 

“Some really generous donors came in and put in the new infrastructure, remodeled the lodge, put in a new lift,” Goldbach said.

Sleeping Giant is a relatively small ski hill – with just 900 vertical feet and 184 skiable acres, it lacks the “excitement” that draws more experienced skiers to Montana’s nearby Red Lodge, just an hour north of Cody, or just a bit farther away to Jackson or Big Sky, also in Montana. 

But the family-friendly lift ticket prices ($16 for children 6 to 12 and $42 for adults) and programs such as free skiing for fifth graders make it a draw for local residents.

While the foundation has a broad base of support in nearby Cody, it hasn’t been able to raise enough funds to balance the budget and the facility is running at a $200,000-per-year deficit. 

Goldbach said the board has tried to think out of the box for ways to keep Sleeping Giant open, including constructing a zip line that has low overhead with a higher rate of return.

However, that tactic hasn’t been enough.

“They tried to get the revenue off of the zip line to pay for the ski area,” Goldbach said, “but it hasn’t been performing like it was hoped.”

Sleeping Giant isn’t the only ski area that’s facing hard times. The snow sports industry nationwide is facing downturns tied to changes in the weather patterns. 

According to a report released in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, there’s been a 41 percent drop in snowfall amounts across the American West since the early 1980s. 

But Goldbach said the hurdles they face at Sleeping Giant are more than just fewer snow days.

“It’s a tough industry,” he lamented. “You’ve got bad years, you’ve got competition from other ski areas and other sports that are going on.”

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. 

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