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Better Weather For Wyoming Ski Areas Coming In December

in News/Recreation
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The outlook for snow in Wyoming through the rest of November is not good, especially for the state’s ski areas preparing to open their lift lines for the season, according to a Wyoming meteorologist.

But that will change once December rolls around, according to Don Day, founder of Cheyenne’s DayWeather.

“While the ski areas are probably sweating bullets right now, I am bullish things will turn around in December,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “And it will happen in early December.”

One of the state’s ski areas, Grand Targhee in Alta, opened for the season Wednesday with a snow base of 30 inches and 69% of the resort open for skiing.

The Jackson Hole Mountain Resort planned to continue its long-standing tradition of opening for the season on Thanksgiving Day, although the terrain available for skiing would be limited, according to the ski area’s website.

“Mother Nature has been off to a slow start on the lower mountain, but with increased snowmaking capacity and a dedicated staff working around the clock, we are thrilled to open our lifts this Thursday,” Mary Kate Buckley, the area’s president, said.

Four of the state’s other ski areas — Snow King Resort in Jackson, Hogadon near Casper, Snowy Range near Centennial and Sleeping Giant near Cody — planned to open between Dec. 3 and Dec. 11, according to the website Ski Central.

Day said by the time the areas open in December, decent snow should start falling in the state’s mountains.

“About the first weekend in December, it will get much colder and the mountain snows will kick in,” he said.

Day attributed the sudden switch in weather conditions to La Nina, a weather event that occurs when temperatures on the surface of the Pacific Ocean fall to levels that are lower than normal, affecting weather globally.

“It’s very typical in a La Nina to have alternating months that can go warm and dry and then the next month it can go the opposite,” he said.

The only ski area that has not announced an opening date is White Pine near Pinedale.

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Outdoor Recreation Bolstered Wyoming’s Economy In 2020, Despite Pandemic

in News/Recreation/wyoming economy
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Even though total income dropped, outdoor recreation still contributed 3.4% to Wyoming’s gross domestic product as park visitation numbers increased and more people took part in some outdoor activities, according to the latest numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

According to the bureau, the total value added by outdoor recreation to the state’s gross domestic product dropped from $1.69 billion in 2019 to $1.25 billion in 2020, with the total contribution dropping from 4.2% to 3.4% of the total. 

Employment in the sector saw a decrease from 21,344 to 14,187 but the percentage of total wages declined only 0.1%.

“Many outdoor activities saw significant growth, including snowmobiling and (off-road vehicle) riding, which saw an increase in permit sales of over 18% and 16% respectively from 2019 to 2020.”  said Chris Floyd, Manager of the Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation.  “Although the overall outdoor recreation economic impact numbers declined, most of the losses in the sector were due to limits on a few activities, such as snow skiing and outdoor events, which experienced heavy impacts due to closures and other restrictions during the pandemic.”

There were also increases in the economic impact of boating and fishing by 79%, bicycling by 13%, climbing/hiking/tent camping by 6%, motorcycling and ATV riding by 5% and RV camping by 2.5%.

Wyoming state park visitation in 2020 increased by 41% over 2019 and other managers of other public lands reported similar increases in use. The growth helped increase economic activity statewide as other economic sectors saw declines during the pandemic, according to the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources.

Wyoming was ranked fourth nationally in value added in both percentage of GDP and percentage of total wages in 2020, trailing only Hawaii, Vermont and Montana.

Many Wyoming businesses reported strong sales of outdoor recreation equipment and vehicles, which would have been even higher had supply chains been able to keep up with the demand, officials said.

The economic impact from snow activities, particularly at ski resorts, saw a decline of 37% or $40 million, which wiped out many gains in other recreational activities.  Equestrian activities and hunting and shooting sports also declined by 28% and 21% respectively.

“Our gross sales were up over 40% in 2020 compared to 2019 and it is continuing through (2021) where we have surpassed 2020 gross sales year to date,” said Mark Black, owner of Cycle City Wyoming, a powersports business in Evanston. “Our issue now is the supply chain, where the manufacturers are limiting not only quantities but models as well, and sometimes shipping incomplete units that are waiting on chips for instrument clusters. The demand has been pretty consistent and I don’t see it dramatically decreasing for the near future.” 

Wyoming State Parks expects next year’s BEA report to show that outdoor recreation activities played a strong role in the state’s economic rebound, particularly since most closures and travel restrictions were eased or lifted.  

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Lander Residents Divided Over ‘Giant Ladder’ For Climbing Debate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The proposed addition of what has been described as a “giant ladder” to help visitors climb a steep cliff in Sinks Canyon near Lander has many of the city’s residents divided.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, is one of the people fighting against the proposed “via ferrata,” a cable and rung system that allows users to climb steep rock faces, while resident and author Sam Lightner, Jr. is one of its most vocal supporter.

Case told Cowboy State Daily that nearly 200 signs protesting the proposed via ferrata — which means “iron path” — have popped up all over town in recent weeks.

“Everybody is opposed to the development of Sinks Canyon,” Case told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “They love Sinks Canyon. They just don’t want to see it overdeveloped.”

Sinks Canyon State Park is a somewhat small but heavily used park in Fremont County that sees several hundred thousand visitations annually. Though operated by Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department owns the majority of the park’s 585 acres.

Case noted that much of the issue isn’t with the via ferrata itself, but the proposed location, a north-facing cliff near the mouth of the canyon that is home to peregrine falcon nests.

Peregrine falcons saw a major decline in their population during the 20th century across the United States and species was listed as endangered in 1970.

However, the population began to bounce back in the 1980s and 1990s due to various conservation efforts. According to WyoFile, some opponents of the via ferrata cite the negative impact on the birds as one of the reasons to fight it.

Case said that other animals regularly pass through that canyon area as well, so the via ferrata and a proposed visitor center would have a negative impact on them.

“Ignoring the importance of this narrow section [of the canyon] to the movement of animals, State Parks intends to plug  the critical part with a new visitor center building and associated facilities,” Case wrote in an “alternative master plan” about the via ferrata. “At the same time, activity  related to improved access for the via ferrata will disturb the constricted paths on the other side of the  river, the only place animals are able to move without close human contact.”

WyoFile reported that Wyoming State Parks initiated a master plan process in 2019. Prior to that, park improvements were guided by a plan from 1975.

When the plan was released in October 2020 following more than a year of meetings, surveys, small group interviews and more, it laid out a vision of a park with better parking and more trails, a larger visitors center, more educational opportunities and augmented recreation opportunities. 

Among the proposals was the via ferrata. The idea for its construction was proposed by a group of Lander residents as a way to draw visitors and boost the town’s tourist economy.

According to a column Lightner wrote for Cowboy State Daily in April, an independent study conducted on a via ferrata built in Ouray, Colorado, concluded Lander could expect $1 million in added revenue due to increased visitation by people taking advantage of the climbing system.

Lightner sent Cowboy State Daily a new proposal for the via ferrata on Monday which suggested that it be built on the Gunky Buttress area, a sandstone wall across from the Sawmill campground on the north side of canyon’s main entry road.

The via ferrata proponents proposed that $2,000 of the donated funds for the iron path be donated to Sinks Canyon for an interpretive site at the petroglyphs at the far north end of the buttress, which would “help make the area a focus of attention in the park and enhance interest in the legacy the local tribes have in the park.”

They also suggested that a trail that continues up to a high point in the canyon would be “excellent” for an interpretive site.

“One of the things we like about the via ferrata on the northwest facing wall is that from its highpoint…you can see many of the peaks of the central Wind River Range. A trail above the Gunky Buttress location could reach a similar view point (roughly the same elevation),” the proponents wrote. “Though it would not afford great views of the central Winds, it would reveal the peaks of the southern Winds and much of the canyon could be seen. An interpretive site explaining the view and perhaps the geology and geography could be built here with a trail that links back down into the canyon and parking.”

In return for this compromise, the group asked the Sinks Canyon Wild and Friends of Sinks Canyon (two groups opposing the via ferrata) to endorse the project and asked that Sinks Canyon Wild contribute another $2,000 to the interpretive sites.

“The Sinks Canyon Via Ferrata will likely make a few Yellowstone bound tourists stop to try out what we in Fremont County already know –  Lander is a wonderful place with lots of recreation,” Lightner wrote in his April column. “Perhaps they will take in the family-friendly via ferrata, then have dinner in town, stay in a hotel, have breakfast, shop, etc. They may even find out that we are a growing center for mountain biking, or that partaking of the via ferrata is a good first step in learning to climb, which they can do in Lander. This will be done using a natural resource we have and in a way that does not harm the wildlife.”

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Laramie Peak Named One Of The Nation’s Best Hikes

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The walk to the top of Laramie Peak in northern Albany County has been named as one of the top hikes in the nation by a popular travel magazine.

Last month, “Travel and Leisure” magazine named Laramie Peak as one of its top nine hikes in the United States and Canada, hailing its rugged terrain and the opportunity the trek provides to see wildlife.

“The highest and most prominent peak in the rugged state of Wyoming, Laramie is one of this list’s more rigorous hikes,” the magazine wrote. “It’s a 9.9 mile out-and-back with copious chances for wildlife sightings, including black bears, deer, and mountain lions.

“Like the La Perouse Bay trail (in Hawaii), Laramie’s base is a bit out of the way; it must be accessed by vehicle along a rough-and-tumble gravel road,” the article continued. “Its true off-the-beaten path location, however, means seclusion and mountain zen in spades. The majority of the hike is tree-covered, so fall visitors are pretty much guaranteed a colorful journey.”

The next 10 days will be a great time to see the fall colors on such hikes, according to Wyoming weatherman Don Day.

Other hikes included on the publication’s list include the aforementioned La Perouse Bay in Hawaii, Springwater on the Willamette in Portland, Oregon, and Tom’s Thumb Trail in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Hikers seem to agree with the praise for the Laramie Peak trail, as it is highly rated on the website AllTrails, which documents information about hiking trails around the world. Currently, Laramie Peak has a 4.3 rating out of 5 stars on the website.

“The first (two-thirds) of the hike is moderate, as the trail has a more gradual incline in its switchbacks, is relatively free of tripping obstructions, and goes surprisingly quick. The last (one-third) of the incline is noticeably steeper and the trail is much rockier. The views at the top are amazing, and show two different landscapes. As noted, there’s a fee to utilize the path,” user Chris Nelson said.

“Excellent trail with many places to pause and see great views. The peak is a bit of a mess with abandoned equipment. The views are awesome,” user Tambra Loyd wrote.

“Incredible hike! The dirt roads to get to the trailhead aren’t too bad, a little bumpy, but any pickup or SUV can easily make it. The climb up is moderate for experienced climbers and probably hard if you’ve never climbed a mountain with over 2,500ft of elevation gain. Saw no other people on trail on a Monday morning. I did see a black bear cub at the summit so be aware of bears in area,” user Zac Rhodes wrote.

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Wyoming Offers Gorgeous Fall Colors All Over State

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The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

From Cody to Cheyenne and all corners of the state, there’s basically no way you can miss the fall foliage colors in Wyoming over the next 10 days.

Wyoming weatherman Don Day told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that the weekend of Sept. 25 was going to be one of the best times to see the peak of the fall colors, especially at higher elevations such as the Snowy Range Pass between Albany and Carbon counties.

“It’s hard to find a place where it’s gonna suck,” Day said.

While Wyoming may have fewer trees than most other states in the nation, the ones the state does have can produce some gorgeous colors by the time the end of September rolls around.

Day suggested some of the state’s more well known routes, such as the Snowy Range Pass and Beartooth Pass in Cody, as great options for longer drives to see tons of color.

However, he added a trip anywhere in the state will give viewers the opportunity to see the gorgeous reds, oranges and yellows of fall as the leaves prepare to hit the ground.

Aspen Alley in Carbon County is one great option, Day said.

“I know some people who will do a day trip by starting in Fort Collins, Colorado, go to Walden, Colorado, then head to Steamboat Springs, Colorado,” Day said. “Then, they will go from Steamboat to Baggs and then over to Encampment. If you’re into a really long drive, you can go from Encampment to Saratoga over Snowy Range Pass back to Cheyenne.”

One lesser-known spot Day recommended was Battle Mountain Pass between Baggs and Encampment, although he also said Ten Sleep Canyon will also be a great spot to see the fall foliage.

“I saw a picture of Aspen Mountain that’s not far from Rock Springs and it was just gorgeous,” he said. “There’s areas where you’re not going to see the colors over long stretches, but more like pockets.”

Other great spots for leaf-peeping in Wyoming this weekend include Bear River State Park near Evanston, Hot Springs State Park near Thermopolis, the Loop Road near Lander and the Star Valley Scenic Byway.

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Yellowstone, Grand Teton Officially Have Busiest First Quarter Ever

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

The claims that both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are seeing more visitors than ever before this summer have been confirmed by a state report.

A report on the economic indicators for the first quarter of 2021 issued by the Wyoming Departmetn of Administration and Information shows tourism numbers have skyrocketed in the state this year compared to 2020.

Both parks saw more than a 20% increase in visitations through March of 2021, with Yellowstone seeing 107,846 visitors in the first quarter (up 20.7% compared to last year) and Grand Teton seeing 194,447 visitors (up 22.8% compared to last year).

“Visitation figures for both national parks were the highest recorded for the first quarter in history,” the report said, noting that this was attributed to people wanting to spend time outdoors during the pandemic, while coronavirus cases also trended downward.

Lodging sales in Teton County were up 27.9% compared to last year and up 16.4% for the state as a whole.

According to a National Park Service report, more than 3.8 million people visited Yellowstone National Park last year and spent more than $444 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 6,110 jobs in the area near Yellowstone, which had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $560 million.

Overall, about 7.1 million people visited all the national parks in Wyoming in 2020, spending an estimated $859 million in “gateway” regions, communities within 60 miles of a national park.

This spending supported a total of 11,300 jobs, generating $333 million in labor income $604 million in “value added” — the difference between the production cost of an item and its sale price — and $1 billion in economic output in the Wyoming economy.

The majority of these jobs were divided among restaurants, lodging and “secondary effect” businesses.

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Colorado Parks Staff Catch Man Dumping Human Waste, Make Him Clean It Up

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

We shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t dump (pun intended) human or any other type of waste in streams, lakes or other public bodies of water. It’s gross.

But a man in Colorado was busted doing exactly this on Monday by Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff.

“This man was caught dumping bags of human waste from his camp latrine in a high mountain stream,” said a tweet from Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northeast office. “Charges were filed for littering public lands after wildlife officer Joe Nicholson supervised him cleaning up the waste.”

The post included two photos, one showing the man in question (although from behind) while he was cleaning up trash in a stream, which is a part of Clear Creek not far outside of Denver.

A follow-up post from the department said that Nicholson wanted to remind people who were camping or recreating in the Clear Creek area and other wildlife spots, to not use natural landscapes or water as a toilet or personal dump.

The man cited received a court summons and a judge will decide the fine for dumping waste in the stream.

According to the National Park Service, people recreating outdoors should use park toilet facilities when possible. Otherwise, they should deposit solid human waste in holes dug six to eight inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. The holes should be covered and disguised when finished.

People should pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.

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Gordon Dedicating $6M For Wyoming Parks, Historic Sites

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Up to $6.5 million of Wyoming’s remaining CARES Act funds will be used to fund expansions at Wyoming’s state parks and historic sites, Gov. Mark Gordon has announced.

This money will be used to add camping facilities to allow more visitors to spend more time outside, boosting the state’s tourism industry and addressing park overcrowding caused by the pandemic, Gordon said.

“Expanding outdoor recreation opportunities will benefit the state, and will provide an immediate return on investment,” Gordon said. “The public appreciated the fact that our parks remained open last year, providing a healthy option to relieve the stress of the pandemic. Strengthening our state park system is important to Wyoming’s long-term economic health as well.”

The funds will be used to increase overnight camping capacity at the state’s parks by 18% to meet the significant increase in demand Wyoming state parks have seen since 2020. A portion of the funds will also be used to expand day-use areas and add picnic shelters and parking space.

Wyoming state parks saw a 36% increase in visitation in 2020, which translated to more than 1.4 million additional visitors. Visitors exceeded capacity limits at most sites. 

“As Wyoming continues to be a top outdoor destination for tourists, we are seeing campsites, lodging and other amenities nearly booked for the summer, especially throughout state parks,” said Diane Shober, executive director for the Wyoming Office of Tourism. “This is a great opportunity to meet summer travel demand while continuing to offer visitors and residents alike a memorable outdoor adventure.”

Wyoming state parks produce an annual economic impact of approximately $1.5 billion, according to the preliminary draft of an economic impact study from the University of Wyoming. 

The increase in visitation seen last year is expected to continue in 2021 based on this season’s campsite reservations.

State Parks Director Darin Westby emphasized that the additional campsites and added day-use facilities will be added quickly to the parks to provide additional opportunities to visitors this summer. These facilities may initially be temporary, but will continue to be improved upon as additional funds become available. 

“We have an amazing team and they are excited and working very hard to offer these additional campsites, developed to get people outdoors and recreating to help achieve the agency’s mission of impacting communities and enhancing lives” Westby said.   

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Yellowstone, Grand Teton Tourism Supports 11K Jobs, Creates $800M In Spending

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

More than 3.8 million people visited Yellowstone National Park last year and spent more than $444 million in communities near the park, according to a new National Park Service report.

That spending supported 6,110 jobs in the area near Yellowstone, which had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $560 million, according to the report.

The spending analysis was conducted by economists with the NPS and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Overall, about 7.1 million people visited national parks in Wyoming and spent an estimated $859 million in “gateway” regions, communities within 60 miles of a national park.

While this is the lowest amount of spending Wyoming has seen since 2014, national parks were closed for nearly two months in 2020, from mid-March to mid-May, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This spending supported a total of 11,300 jobs, generating $333 million in labor income $604 million in “value added” — the difference between the production cost of an item and its sale price — and $1 billion in economic output in the Wyoming economy. The majority of these jobs were divided among restaurants, lodging and “secondary effect” businesses.

The lodging sector had the highest amount of spending, with $310 million. Restaurants followed, making $151 million last year.

The lowest amount of tourism spending went to camping, just under $33 million.

Nationally, the report showed that $14.5 billion was spent by more than 237 million park visitors across the U.S. This spending supported 234,000 jobs nationally, and 194,400 of those jobs were found in gateway communities. The nation’s cumulative economic benefit was $28.6 billion.

In 2019, Wyoming saw $924 million in visitor spending. However, last year’s economic output was comparable to years prior, down by just $1 million compared to 2017 through 2019.

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Yellowstone Visits Up By 50% On Memorial Day From 2019

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Continuing towards what officials are predicting will be a record year for visitor numbers, Yellowstone National Park saw a 50% increase in visitors over Memorial Day weekend this year compared to 2019.

From May 28 to May 31, the park saw 43,416 vehicles come through. Visitation on all four days individually increased over the same time period in 2019, but the best day was May 28, with an 80% increase compared to two years before.

The most vehicles went through the north, south and west gates.

In 2019, the park saw 28,890 vehicles over Memorial Day weekend.

Figures from 2019 are the most recent available, as not all of the park’s gates were open during Memorial Day weekend of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Visits to Yellowstone since it reopened to the public last summer have regularly been exceeding averages, with the park reporting multiple times last year that it had some of its best months on record.

According to Rick Hoeninghausen with Xanterra Parks and Resorts, which operates the lodging and restaurant properties in Yellowstone, Americans are going to be flocking to the park this summer.

“Domestic demand has increased because of circumstances and from where I sit, demand for trips to Yellowstone is as high as ever,” he previously told Cowboy State Daily. “I think it’s safe to say, (American travelers have) offset any international demand that’s not there now.”

Justin Walters of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce said lodging properties in the area are already booked for the entire summer. And he added that a shortage of rental cars has visitors driving all the way to Salt Lake City to meet their transportation needs.

Last year was a record-breaker for the entire state in terms of visitation, with parking lots overflowing and campsites booked solid as people sought respite from strict lockdowns in other states.

Gary Schoene, public information office manager for Wyoming State Parks, said park officials don’t know if this year will be quite as busy, but officials are expecting plenty of visitors.

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