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AirBnb Lodgings Up 200% For Cheyenne Frontier Days; Houses Going For $1,800 Per Night

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21507

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

“There aren’t many places left in Cheyenne, so now’s a good time to book,” the top of the AirBnb website reads on Tuesday morning.

With less than a month to go until the 126th annual “Daddy of ’em All,” hotels and AirBnbs are nearly booked solid for the 10-day rodeo and concert event and bookings have increased dramatically from previous levels.

The 24 available listings on AirBnb from July 22 to July 30 will cost Cheyenne visitors thousands of dollars for a weeklong stay. Even one night could cost up to $500, when taxes and various AirBnb fees are added in.

“Prices, supply and demand are all up across the board when compared to the same time in 2021 and 2019,” Chloé Garlaschi of AirDNA told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “It looks like Cheyenne Frontier Days will attract a big crowd in 2022.”

AirDNA tracks short-term rental data analytics for Vrbo and AirBnb.

Most of the available listings on AirBnb in Cheyenne are full homes with anywhere from one to four bedrooms open for visitors. These homes could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for eight days at Cheyenne Frontier Days.

“Peaceful and centrally-located place. The house has 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, full kitchen, 2 family rooms and laundry. Cheyenne Frontier Days park is just a little over a mile away!” a listing for a house that would cost almost $9,000 for eight days of stay reads.

“Half mile from Frontier Park! This fully furnished and equipped home sleeps 8 with three bedrooms, a queen pullout couch and two full bathrooms. Minutes walk to enjoy Cheyenne Frontier Days without the hassle of parking or getting to and from places. Includes a 2 car garage for parking (with additional front parking), outdoor patio w/ bbq and cornhole. Home will be fully functional to cook and entertain in!” a listing for a house that would cost around $9,300 to stay in for eight days reads.

Cheyenne resident Chris Karajanis told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that he would be renting his home, which sleeps 10 people, and a condominium out on AirBnb for the first time this year.

“We were thinking, ‘Make hay while the sun shines’ and we may end up doing this every year,” he said. “I haven’t missed a Cheyenne Frontier Days in my life and I’m 53, but also, I’m 53 and I’ve kind of done it.”

The 4,000 square foot home is being rented on AirBnb for $1,800 per night. So far, he has the two weekends booked up at his home, as well as some dates for his condo.

Next year, he may even consider renting his camper out, but he and his family will be using it during the portion of CFD when they’re in town.

“I’m not worried about the liability, because AirBnb takes care of a lot of things, plus my dad lives across the street and my neighbors are all friends,” Karajanis said. “They can’t party any more than we have. We’ll have 125 people over for Christmas, so a group of anywhere from four to 10 people will be fine.”

Garlaschi said that as of Tuesday, bookings are up 188% for the week of July 18 compared to the same time in 2019 and 40% higher than last year. Cheyenne Frontier Days was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Available AirBnb listings in Cheyenne have been added over the last three years, Garlaschi said, and the supply is up by 155% compared to 2019 and up 47% compared to 2021.

“The average daily rate is also up between 35% and 37% through [the week of July 18] and [the week of July 25] compared to the same time in 2019, with a slightly minor hike when compared to 2021 data, 19% for week 29, 28% for week 30,” she said.

Even staying in a camper through AirBnb could rack up a bill of nearly $4,000, although a $500 discount is available for committing to a week-long stay.

“Come stay on the Prairie! See the Wyoming sunsets! We have our 2020 40 ft 5th wheel all set up for you and your guests to stay in right next to our home,” the listing reads. “Complete with inside privacy. Free parking. Full shower and bath. We welcome pets. The 5th wheel has two full bedrooms and a loft. All cooking and camping supplies provided including outdoor chairs. Large awning. A master bedroom with a king bed. A twin bed bunk room and a queen loft. 3 large TVs. High speed Wi-Fi. Cooler available.”

This year’s Cheyenne Frontier Days will run from July 22 to July 31 and will feature its world-famous rodeo, the carnival, food and retail vendors and concerts featuring some of country’s biggest acts, including Brooks and Dunn, Jason Aldean and Dierks Bentley. Kid Rock and Nelly will also perform at different concerts during the event.

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Pony Express Rides Again Through Wyoming Beginning On Thursday

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20744

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Wendy@CowboyStateDaily.com

It’s the stuff of great western movies — the lone horse and rider, racing at breakneck speed across the plains, carrying the mail from stage stop to stage stop.

And while the Pony Express only operated for a total of 18 months in 1860 and 1861, the adventurous spirit it embodied lives on in the Pony Express Re-Ride that has taken place nearly every year since 1980.

The annual Re-Ride will pass through Wyoming beginning Thursday, June 9, employing more than 150 riders in a horseback relay transporting a “machila” satchel filled with over 1,000 pieces of mail from Missouri to California.

“We stick to the same 10 day schedule that they originally had back in 1860-61,” said Les Bennington, president of the Wyoming division of the National Pony Express Association. “And once it starts it goes nonstop, 24 hours a day.” 

The Pony Express played a significant part in America’s history, as it sped up the time messages could travel between the east and west coasts. Prior to the completion of the first transcontinental telegraph in October of 1861, the Pony Express was the fastest means of cross-country communication. 

And since 1980, modern-day riders have kept the spirit of the Pony Express alive. 

500 Miles Through Wyoming

Bennington told Cowboy State Daily this year’s ride began in St. Joseph, Missouri on Monday, June 6, and will travel through 8 states before the machila reaches its final destination in Sacramento, California on the 16th. If the riders stick to the schedule, the Machila will be handed off to a Wyoming rider around 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 9.

“We have to average 10 miles an hour to make roughly 2000 miles in 10 days,” said Bennington of the multi-state effort. “We’ve got about 56 hours to get across Wyoming, which is a little over 500 miles on horseback.”

Bennington explained that each state names “ride captains,” who organize the relay in their section of the route. He said there are 7 ride captains for the 150 or so riders in Wyoming, broken up into segments of 40-80 miles.

“A rider, once he gets the machila, he’ll take off – or she’ll take off – and they’ll go about two miles and then transfer to another horse and rider,” Bennington said.

Bennington himself has been an integral part of the annual event since the beginning, serving as president of the National Pony Express Association from 2007-2010.

“I was national president when we had the 150th celebration of the original Pony Express,” the Glenrock resident said. “And that trip we took 20 days to get across, because we (had) celebrations along the trail.”

Follows Same Route



Bennington said that the Re-Ride roughly follows the route taken by Pony Express riders 160 years ago, although most of the original switching stations have long since disappeared.

“The original stations were 10 to 15 miles apart,” he said. “And the original riders back in 1860, they would ride from station to station, then switch horses, and keep going. They might end up riding 75-80, maybe even 100 miles with a bunch of different horses.”

The Re-Ride isn’t just for show, Bennington pointed out. Riders are carrying actual mail in the machila, sanctioned by the U.S. Postal Service.

“We swear our riders in each year,” he said. “Once (the mail) gets to Sacramento, the postmaster from there or his or her representative will come and pick the letters up and put them in the regular U.S. mail.” 

Thanks to a GPS device in the machila, Bennington said anyone interested can track the ride in real time on the National Pony Express Association’s website, and follow the riders on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/expressrider/

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Legendary Wyoming Fireworks Show Moving From Sheridan To Devils Tower

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Photo courtesy Devils Tower KOA
20606

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

They can cancel him but they can’t stop him.

For the last 35 years, professional pyrotechnician and former legislator Bruce Burns has hosted Wyoming’s most celebrated fireworks show at the Big Horn Equestrian Center in Sheridan.

But after Burns sold the Equestrian Center, the new owner told him that his fireworks show was kaput. So Burns is taking his kabooms elsewhere. About 2 1/2 hours east. To a setting of cinematic glory.

The traditional 4th of July fireworks display at Devils Tower, home to the ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ movie, is already an impressive show, observers say, but now it will be something to behold, thanks to a collaboration between former colleagues in the Wyoming Legislature.

Colleagues

Ogden Driskill, who represents Senate District 1, has teamed up with Burns, who represented the residents of the northernmost area of the Bighorn Mountains for over 20 years in both the House and the Senate. Fireworks are their common interest.

For more than three decades, both men have organized fireworks shows on the 4th of July in their respective communities – Driskill at Devils Tower, and Burns in Sheridan.

But because of the cancellation, Burns, who is certified to handle professional-level or class B “display” fireworks, was without a show this year. But not for too long.

Driskill told Cowboy State Daily that he called Burns after hearing that his show was cancelled. When Burns said he didn’t have any plans for the fourth, Driskill hit him up.

“He was both gracious and excited about coming,” Driskill said. “So hopefully, weather permitting, we’ve got a Bruce Burns show at Devils Tower this year.”

Home-Grown Show

Driskill said his mother was the driving force behind the first fireworks displays at Devils Tower 35 years ago. 

“For the first number of years, we just set them off ourselves,” he said. “It was myself and a bunch of our friends that set them off, but starting around 10 years ago we started having the Hulett Fire Department do the actual ignition of the fireworks.”

Shared Love

Driskill and Burns had discovered their shared love for pyrotechnics while serving in the state Senate, and Driskill said that he had even accompanied Burns to the Pyrotechnics Guild conference in Gillette in 2019.

Both Burns and Driskill purchase their pyrotechnics from the same supplier, although Driskill’s show has always been a bit smaller than Burns’ massive display in Big Horn.

“My show is shot digitally,” Burns said, who has a license from the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms government agency, which is required to handle professional-level fireworks, “where Ogden has traditionally been the ‘drop, light and run’ variety. I’ll shoot his show electronically, and so I’ll put an e-match on all the effects and shoot using a control panel. That way I can create more of a choreographed effect.”

Burns said the Devils Tower show will be a bit smaller than size of the shows he usually puts together, as Driskill had already purchased the fireworks that will be used on July 4. 

“I’ll just organize those as well as I can in terms of a rough choreography,” Burns said, adding that unlike the shows he would put on in Big Horn, this display won’t be set to music. 

“It’s shooting electronically, not digitally,” he said. “Also, I don’t have a means of having a radio station run the music.” 

Well-Supported

The fireworks display at Devils Tower is usually well-supported by local residents, according to Driskill. He said last year, the event raised over $25,000 for the local volunteer firefighters and EMTs, thanks to corporate donations and the individual residents who come out by the thousands to watch the show.

“The cars line both sides of the road all the way to the Tower, and then they wrap back around and go clear back towards the highway to Hulett and up on top of the hill, plus fill in the parking lots at the KOA and the Trading Post,” Driskill said. “I’d guess several thousand people or more.”

Burns said he’s pleased to be able to put on a fireworks display this year.

“I enjoy shooting fireworks shows, and I’m glad he’s given me the opportunity to shoot one,” he said. “I hope to improve the quality of the show for his people over, for his community.”

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So Far Record-High Gas Prices Not Affecting Wyoming Tourism

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20161

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The average gas price of gas in Teton County reached $5.18 per gallon this week, but those rising prices don’t seem to be discouraging visitors from driving their RVs and campers to various Wyoming communities.

Around the state, members of the tourism industry told Cowboy State Daily that they are expecting tourism numbers to rival last year’s records despite skyrocketing gasoline prices.

Campgrounds and hotels in Cody have reported reservations outpacing even last year’s record numbers. 

Robin Blessing, whose family owns the Ponderosa Campground in Cody, said despite a slower start than expected, reservations for the summer are filling up fast.

“We’ve had two cancellations, and that’s from people in California because of gas prices,” said Blessing. “But then after Memorial Day weekend, it’s just – with all the 150th birthday (of Yellowstone National Park), there’s a lot of reservations.”

Gas prices in California this week are averaging $6.06 per gallon – significantly higher than Wyoming, where the average price was $4.30 per gallon as of Wednesday. 

Prices for diesel, which many RVs and pickups use, are higher yet – $6.57 in California, and $5.47 in Wyoming, according to the AAA website.

All’s Good

But Shawn Parker, director of the Sheridan County Travel and Tourism Office, told Cowboy State Daily that the visitor center there has seen an increase in traffic, even over last year.

“All the metrics that we record and track, we’re up over last year even when fuel prices were significantly lower,” said Parker. “So we’re cautiously optimistic we won’t be affected negatively by fuel prices.” 

On Monday, Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins told a crowd of business people in Cody that “there is no correlation between visitation and gas prices.”

“Grand Teton and Yellowstone actually have social scientists now,” Jenkins said. “And talking with them, it’s interesting to learn that there is no correlation between visitation and gas prices. So we are not expecting that visitation will be affected by gas prices. What we are expecting is that people, their spending may change.”

That’s information that Blessing heeded when it came time to stock up on souvenirs for the Ponderosa’s gift shop.

“They’re cutting back,” said Blessing. “Not eating out at as many restaurants, or not eating at more expensive restaurants and not buying as many souvenirs.”

Some Concern

Parker pointed out that if fuel costs continue to rise, that may affect the tourism industry down the road.

“Of course it’s going to have some effect over the long term if they don’t start to come down,” he said, “but it’s all part of the bigger travel puzzle.”

And that puzzle includes air travel. 

In Jackson, the community’s spring tourism has been affected dramatically by the closure of the Jackson Hole Airport for runway reconstruction. The latest lodging report compiled by the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce showed hotel occupancy at 33.1% in April, compared to 48.3% the previous year. 

Parker noted that because of high jet fuel prices, airline travel could take a hit for visitors flying to Wyoming.

“It’s probably never been this expensive to fly domestically with the cost of fuel for the airlines,” he said. 

But, he countered, that won’t stop people who are determined to vacation in the state.

“Folks still want to get out,” he said. “They still want to vacation. If they can’t fly somewhere, the next best alternative of course is going to be to drive.”

Group Tours

The industry that is likely to take the biggest hit, Parker said, would be tour companies, which utilize diesel-fueled buses. Scores of buses come through northern Wyoming daily, traveling between the Black Hills and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks – and Parker said that’s an industry that his office is keeping an eye on.

“The places that are being affected are the ones who have group tours,” he said, “so the price of fuel for a big bus is going to be significantly higher than someone who’s just on an independent trip.”

And the international travel market is on the rise, despite rising fuel costs.

“We’re not seeing a dip in folks coming over from Europe,” Parker said. “Quite the opposite, in fact. We’re seeing huge demand across the board.” 

“Likely, people are going to continue to come,” Jenkins said, “but what they spend their money on may be different. So we will see how that plays out here over the next couple of months.”

“We’ll probably end up being busier than last year,” Parker predicted.

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Sen. Ogden Driskill Recalls Filming of “Close Encounters” On His Family’s Ranch At Devils Tower

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Now that the U.S. government is finally releasing decades-long secrets regarding military encounters with unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, there has been a resurgence of interest in alien encounters around the country.

Here in Wyoming, one very “monumental” incident more than 45 years ago put one of the state’s most recognizable landmarks on the map.

But this incident didn’t involve true alien contact. Instead, it involved the filming of one of the classic films that kicked off a global renewal of fascination with science fiction movies.

In 1976, film crews descended on Devils Tower in northeast Wyoming to begin production of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Steven Spielberg’s hugely successful tale of ordinary people confronting intelligent life from other planets.

And Wyoming Sen. Ogden Driskill was there.

National Park Service Said No

“Steven Spielberg came out personally, a year ahead of the movie,” Driskill told Cowboy State Daily. “And the (National) Park Service would not let him do the main part of the filming inside (Devils Tower National) Monument. And so Steven Spielberg met with my mother and father, and I got to go along, and he paid them $20,000 to provide the film site for ‘Close Encounters.’”

Driskill – who was a junior in high school at the time – said his parents owned land adjacent to the unique formation that can only be glimpsed from Interstate 90. He recalled vividly the summer that his family’s land became a film set. 

“They came with two or three people, I kind of want to say in June, but I’m not positive, and they were done by August,” Driskill said.

Devils Tower featured prominently in the plot of the 1977 movie as the location that characters who had “close encounters” with UFOs are drawn to. It is also where the movie’s final scenes are set.

“The film site of ‘Close Encounters’ was an irrigated hay meadow that they graveled and turned into the helicopter pad and all the prep for ‘Close Encounters,’” Driskill recalled, adding that he and a friend worked with the crew during filming.

“I worked for the movie company, Columbia Pictures, the whole time up in what is now Devils Tower Gulch, they had set up a catering den, and fed several hundred people a day,” he said. “The kid that I ran around was Scott Robinson, his dad was superintendent in the park. We did grunt stuff, but Scott actually made it into the movie.”

Perks To Being There

There were perks, however, to hanging around the film crew every day.

“If you watch the movie, there’s a lot of helicopters,” Driskill said. “They had a whole fleet of old military helicopters there, and they had pilots on contract so that they were ready when they did the scenes. Well, they had to fly so many hours a day per the contract.”

Driskill said he had made friends with the pilots, who would fly him around the ranch or into Hulett to rope. And when Driskill had to leave the filming for a week to attend the Boys State conference in Douglas in June, the pilots were more than happy to give him a lift.

“When it came time to go to Boys State, they checked the schedule, and they didn’t have anything going, and so the entire fleet of 19 helicopters took me down,” Driskill said, smiling. “One of them lit on the ground at the state fairgrounds in Douglas, I got off, the rest of them hovered around, and then they turned around and headed back to Devil’s Tower.”

The special treatment didn’t do him any favors at Boys State, however.

“I ran for governor and did not get elected,” Driskill said.

Devils Tower KOA

Once the filming was over, Driskill said, his parents decided to put the $20,000 they were paid by Spielberg to good use.

“My mother talked my dad into using that money to build what is now the Devils Tower KOA,” said Driskill. “And when it finished, rather than reclaiming all the gravel and turning it into a hay field again, my mother built a building there, added on to it – there was an old A-frame restaurant there that a cousin had built – and opened a campground the year that the movie premiered.”

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was a huge hit when it was released in late 1977, eventually grossing over $300 million worldwide. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning just one for cinematography.

And although not all of the film was shot in Wyoming — California and Alabama were other primary filming locations — Driskill said the movie has had a lasting effect on the state.

“Well, obviously, 40 years later now, it still has an economic impact on the state of Wyoming, because people still come here,” he said. 

But Driskill, the Legislature’s Senate majority floor leader, hasn’t let his family’s work on “Close Encounters” result in unqualified support for proposed legislation that would create an incentive program for film companies working in the state.

“Does the economic impact outweigh the cost?” he asked. “It’s obviously very important that we continue to find ways to promote our tourism, because every dollar of tax that’s paid by an out of state person is a dollar that doesn’t need to be paid by an in-state person.

“I’m generally supportive,” Driskill continued, “but only if it works economically. You know, we’re to the point in Wyoming where we’re trying to be very careful about where we spend our dollars.”

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Wyoming Tourism Season Is Here, But There’s A Serious Shortage of Workers

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19689

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Tour buses are back; foreign worker visas are being approved; COVID restrictions have been rescinded. The tourism industry seems poised to enjoy a successful post-pandemic summer season in Wyoming.

But a lack of much-needed labor is casting a dark cloud on that sunny outlook.

“After 2020, we experienced the great resignation,” said Tina Hoebelheinrich, Executive Director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. “You know, when (the country) still has – what is it, like, 3 million job openings? If every employable person actually went back to work, we would still be short 3,000 workers.”

With the ability of employers to hire foreign workers again this year after the lifting of coronavirus restrictions, it would seem that some of those shortages might be addressed. 

But Hoebelheinrich reported that issues including affordable housing and childcare will hamper the ability of employers to attract workers – foreign or domestic – during Wyoming’s busiest season.

“People who have worked in service-type jobs here in Cody, they’re typically making, what, $15 to $20 (per hour)? And that’s probably on the high end,” she said. “If they’re a double-income family and have kids, we are having an extreme shortage of childcare here.”

Hoebelheinrich said there have been some conversations among community leaders about addressing the shortage of childcare options, but no solutions have been forthcoming. 

Nor have solutions surfaced to address the problem of affordable housing for seasonal employees – particularly foreign workers brought to America using special visas.

“Where previously, (workers) may have been able to rent a house for the summer, so much of our real estate has been converted to vacation rental properties that affordable housing and summer-only housing is just at a premium,” Hoebelheinrich said. “And so all of that factors into whether or not it makes sense for employers to try and get (foreign workers), or to try and recruit locally. It’s a pretty big problem.”

Other tourism-oriented communities, such as Jackson, are experiencing the same issues, especially when it comes to determining if the community can support the foreign workers needed to staff businesses during the busy summer season.

“Any foreign worker really needs a lot of support, including housing,” said Anna Olson, president and CEO of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. “And if the housing isn’t there, what a lot of employers are forced to decide, even though they want (foreign workers), that they need to, if they have employee housing or they have year-round access to rentals or ownership, they are using those for critical year-round workers.”

Olson relayed the situation of one large employer who used to bring in between 30 and 40 foreign workers, but who this summer won’t host any.

“They had to decide, because they used to provide rental housing for the seasonals, but they’ve had to give that rental housing now to the year-round employees,” she said.

Hoebelheinrich and Olson both reported that some larger employers in their respective communities have their own on-site employee housing. But that isn’t the case for most small businesses that hire a handful of foreign workers to round out staff numbers in the summer.

Which is why Hoebelheinrich said Cody is looking to boost the workforce from within the community – focusing on young people just getting started in the job market.

“We implemented our first ‘Work-Ready Bootcamp’ (this spring),” she said. “We will finish 10 kids, ages 14 to 16, who will be certified workforce-ready. That means that they have studied customer service, critical thinking, workplace etiquette, just those soft skills that a lot of first-time-into-the-workforce young people don’t have. And oftentimes, in an economy like ours, where we absolutely hit the ground running, it’s hard for employers, and especially sole proprietors, to have the time to invest in those soft skills.”

Hoebelheinrich expressed some concern about other challenges facing businesses this tourist season, such as high gas prices that might deter some would-be travelers from making the trek to Wyoming.

“Campground bookings have slowed down a little bit,” she said. “You know, this time last year we had several campgrounds that were full for the year. But we’re not seeing that, and you can attribute that, I’m sure, to high gas prices. 

You know, it doesn’t matter how good your vehicle is when you’re towing a big camper or you’re driving a big RV and you’re looking at 15 miles to the gallon, probably,” she continued. “And when diesel is over $5 a gallon, that really changes what is practical for people to do.”

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Wyoming Tourism: Foreign Workers Are Back, But Hurdles Still Exist

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19439

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

After two difficult years for the hospitality industry, the summer of 2022 is expected to be somewhat “normal” for Wyoming’s tourism industry.

But the industry continues to be hampered by a lack of workers, making foreign workers more important to the industry than ever.

Fortunately, more doors are opening for employers who hire staff from foreign countries.

“With the visa process opening back up, allowing more workers to be able to work, we’re able to see less job openings, because they’re being filled,” said Morryah McCurdy, Vice President of Business Development for Advance Casper, the city’s economic development arm. “We definitely utilize them in whatever capacity they’re able to legally.” 

There are primarily two types of work visas used by foreign workers and their potential employers in Wyoming’s tourism industry – the “J1” visas, which are applied for, and paid for, by students and workers looking for an experience abroad; and the “H2B” visas, which employers pay for and arrange for from their end.

“In 2020, we didn’t have visa workers because of the pandemic,” said Tina Hoebelheinrich, the executive director for the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. “So that was just not a possibility. And the challenge last year, in 2021, was that many of our U.S. embassies were still on restricted hours or not open to the public. And one of the requirements of the visa work program is that they have an in-country interview at an American consulate.”

This year, Hoebelheinrich told Cowboy State Daily, the hurdles are fewer – but the federal government is fielding an an unprecedented number of applications for foreign worker visas.

“The good news is, that earlier than ever before, the Biden administration has released an additional quota of H2B and J1 visas,” she said. “But you know, the truth of the matter is, it’s still not going to be enough.” 

In communities such as Cody, which is located near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park, foreign workers are essential to businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry.

“(Without foreign workers) we’d have to shut down a bunch of rooms,” said Bill Garlow, owner of the two Best Western hotels in Cody. “Our gross would nosedive, it would really go down. We have maybe 8 or 10 that are local, that live in Cody and they work all during the winter when the H2Bs aren’t here, and so we can keep some of the hotel open. But (without them) we would probably close for the entire summer. We could not operate without them.” 

Garlow has owned and operated hotels in Cody for decades – his great-grandfather was the town’s founder, Buffalo Bill Cody. Garlow told Cowboy State Daily that he has relied for many years on workers from Jamaica utilizing the H2B visa process, and when COVID began to impact overseas travel, it forced a shift in the hotel’s workforce.

“When we’re short like that, like in 2020, we had a lot of overtime,” Garlow said. “This year, we have an application for 40 workers, and I think we’ve got about 11. But we’re pretty sure that another application is going to get approved, which would bring another 17.”

Garlow explained that most of the workers from Jamaica who come to Cody are returning employees.

“About 90% have been here before,” he said. “They’re great people and they work hard, and we really appreciate them.”

Garlow’s two hotels offer a total of 190 rooms – for smaller operators, like Brenda O’Shea and her husband, Mark, who own A Western Rose Motel, they just need two or three extra hands to keep their 24-room motel running. But even that has been a challenge.

“In the past, we’ve generally worked with Chinese because they can stay later, they can stay until the end of September,” Brenda told Cowboy State Daily. “So once China was off the board, we opened it up, but there are only certain countries you can choose from.”

O’Shea said she had been hoping to hire four girls from Kazakhstan this summer, but she just found out that two of them had been denied their visas, and she is still waiting to hear about the other girls.

“Two of them have their visa appointments on the 12th of May, and they are due to be here June 1,” O’Shea said, expressing her frustration at the situation. 

She said she does have a few locals to help, but without the additional hands, O’Shea and her husband will be working many extra hours themselves this summer.

“My husband is ready to drive to the border and pick people up,” she said. “I even contacted Senator Barrasso’s office and said, ‘Listen, I’ll take Ukrainians, I provide jobs and housing, it’s a beautiful city, it’s very safe.’ And their office said, ‘We are not accepting refugees at this point.’”

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Harley Rally In June Expected to Generate Millions in Revenue for Cody

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Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
19325

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The impending arrival of up to 1,000 bikers converging on Cody in late June might spark trepidation in some.

But downtown business owners in the northwest Wyoming community plan to welcome the riders with open arms.

“We are totally pumped,” said Gail Nace, who owns the Silver Dollar Bar. 

Nace and others whose livelihoods depend on tourism dollars in the summer say they are excited about the Harley Owners Group (HOG) Rally to be held in Cody June 23-26.

“It’s nothing but good for this town,” Nace told Cowboy State Daily. “It generates revenue, it generates excitement. People are excited to come down and look at all the motorcycles. I see absolutely no naysayers in the entire community that I visited with.”

Part of the excitement might have to do with the estimated revenue the event is expected to generate.

“We are expecting about a $2 million-plus economic impact from this,” said Ryan Hauck, executive director for the Park County Travel Council. “Obviously, lodging tax will look great. Cody is going to definitely benefit from this, but then our downtown restaurants and attractions, they’re going to do amazing. 

“These are people with disposable incomes that are here to spend money and have fun and really get themselves involved with the destination,” he added.

Hells Angels Rally

Many residents of Cody remember the Hells Angels World Rally that was held in Cody in 2006, when local law enforcement agencies strengthened their presence in town to counter any trouble that might come with a group that has a reputation for lawlessness. 

That trouble never materialized – and biker-friendly shop owners are quick to point out that the Harley Owners Group doesn’t have the same reputation.

“You can’t have those expensive bikes and be a deadbeat,” said Monie Harrison, who owns a retail clothing store in Cody.

Big Moneymaker

Harrison also owns a retail clothing store in Red Lodge, Montana, where a HOG motorcycle rally was held a few years ago. She said the event was a great experience for the community. 

“It was our biggest moneymaker in Red Lodge,” said Harrison. “And all of them were kind. I never had one problem with a biker.”

“I have never had a problem with any of the motorcycle people coming through (Cody),” said Nace. “I never had a problem with the Hells Angels coming through. They were delightful humans to work with. 

“And I don’t expect anything other than that from this wonderful group coming through, and they’re from all over the country,” she continued. “And the riding out here is just spectacular.”

Open Container

Hauck told Cowboy State Daily that the HOG Rally is such a significant event that the Cody City Council has authorized the closure of a portion of Sheridan Avenue, Cody’s main thoroughfare, for a few hours and has decided to let pedestrians carry open containers of alcohol downtown during the event. Such actions are usually reserved for the Fourth of July celebration and other major community events.

“(June) 23rd is the welcome night, and the 24th and the 25th there will actually be mass guided rides throughout the big scenic loops that we have,” Hauck said. “So they’ll be leaving at seven or eight in the morning, and then come back in the early afternoon, and then back in town spending more money with everybody every night.”

Hauck said that the rally’s coordinators are keeping him updated daily about the number of people expected to attend the event, which was held last year in Durango, Colorado.

“Durango had right around 800, 900 rally members,” he said.

Response for the Cody event has been strong, Hauck said.

“The event started off pretty hot – I mean, they got up to 350 almost immediately once they released registration,” he said. “I think they’re right around 400 or so, but they said it is pretty typical to where the last 60 days, they’ll see (registrations) double, maybe even triple at that point in time. So I think we’ll be right around 700 to 900 people.”

“We always love sharing our town with all of the newcomers,” said Nace, “but the numbers of people and the street closure and the open container (permits) and just the general excitement, we are like, over the top ready for this.”

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No Airport, No Problem. Jackson Business Owners Not Worried About Airport Closure

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

One might think the closure of an area’s only airport would be of some concern to a major U.S. tourist destination.

Not so in Jackson.

Jackson Hole Airport closed down for repairs on April 11 and won’t be reopening until June 27. While the temporary halt to air traffic is a big deal, business owners are taking it in stride.

Anna Olson, the director of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce, said April is the slowest month of the year for Jackson tourism, so the closure was scheduled at the right time.

And although visitor interest usually picks up in May, it is still consider shoulder season.

June is another story, Olson said. But most tourists who visit the Jackson area in the summer come by car, not plane.

“We are, by far, a drive market in the summer,” Olson said. “Ninety percent of visitors arrive in a vehicle as opposed to a plane in the summer.”

She added there appeared to be a lag in hotel bookings for the month of June, but it is not concerning because of the way hotels in Jackson control their inventory of available rooms.

If the lag continues — which Olson does not expect — hotels can drop their rates, she said, which will likely lead to increased occupancy.

“It’s a pretty sophisticated system,” she said. “We know that the visitor demand is there and while the early booking pattern is slower than last year, there is a general consensus that people will be here.”

Shoulder season is covering less time in Jackson than it used to, Olson said. While April, May, October, and November used to be considered the shoulder seasons, there has been an uptick in visits recently in the second half of May and the first half of October.

Now the shoulder season covers six weeks in the spring and six weeks in the fall, she said.

“The Great American Drive”

Jason Williams, a Jackson businessman who owned a guide service for 15 years and owns an art gallery now, said COVID was responsible for a shift in travelers’ thinking. It’s more of a driving culture now, he said

“People’s mentality shifted to the great American road trip,” Williams said. “And there’s still a lot of forward momentum there with people taking these extended trips by car or R.V.”

He, like Olson, believes the airport’s closure was scheduled for the right time and he credited the director of the Jackson Hole Airport Authority for the good timing.

“The leadership of the airport, under Jim Elwood, is the reason for this,” Williams said. “He was extremely involved with our community and really looked closely on how to mitigate the impacts.”

“The timing of the project was carefully chosen to have the least amount of impact,” he said.

Williams said his art gallery, Gallery Wild, is having a strong April so far. It is more difficult, he said, to predict the future with the art gallery business than with his former guide service.

“I had a better indication of future bookings with the safari business,” he said. “But all indications seem like we’re on track to have a good season.”

Drive vs Fly

Olson did caution that making any predictions for the season based solely on hotel bookings comes with a degree of peril. That’s because air travelers make their reservations much further in advance than drivers.

“Drivers may make their reservations a week or two out, where those traveling by air generally lock in 60 to 90 days out,” she said.

Olson said hotel bookings for the month of May are down about 11%.

Those wishing to travel by air do have other airport options, although it takes some time to drive from the closest alternative airports.

Beginning on May 5, Cody’s airport will be open and, with good traffic, can be a 2.5-hour drive.

Idaho Falls Regional airport is about a two hour drive from Jackson.

The largest airport near Jackson is Salt Lake City International, which is a 4.5-hour drive.

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Wyoming On Verge Of Joining National Bike Touring Path

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Bike Route 76, which currently runs from the western border of Kansas to the east coast in Virginia, is just a dotted line across a map of Wyoming right now. 

But that could soon change, making Wyoming part of a national bicycle route that runs from Oregon to Vermont.

Kerry Irons, the U.S. Bike Route Volunteer Coordinator for the Adventure Cycling Association, said plans are in place to make 76 a designated bicycling route through Wyoming.

“The route in Wyoming is based on an Adventure Cycling route,” Irons told Cowboy State Daily. “We have created maps around the country for major rides. We found what we felt were good bike routes for long distance travel. And that is the target audience here – this is not 8-to-80, or mom and dad and the kids on Sunday. This is people who are out on the road for weeks on end, doing long distance.”

The Adventure Cycling Association (which was established in 1976 as a resource for serious bicyclists) is responsible for mapping the first bicycle touring route to cross the U.S., known as the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail. The route runs from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia, mostly along rural, two-lane highways.

The association also serves as a technical support agency to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). AASHTO has published a national corridor plan for bicycle routes. So far, 18,000 miles of highways have been designated as bicycle touring routes.

Irons said the designation of a bicycle route through Wyoming could provide an economic benefit to small towns.

“U.S. bike routes are not a construction project,” Irons said. “They’re a mapping project. The TransAmerica trail has been in business for 45 years. It’s a well-known route and lots of people ride it. With this designation as a U.S. bike route, we’ll put it on the map, so if somebody wants to come to Wyoming from someplace else in the U.S. or the world, they’ll be able to find this route easily. It’s not creating new infrastructure; it’s not starting from scratch on bicycle tourism in Wyoming. But it’s one more layer of visibility for this route – one more way to get more people in Wyoming, doing long-distance bicycle trips.”

The Town of Jackson recently submitted a letter to WYDOT expressing support for U.S. Bike Route 76 and its proposed path through town. 

Brian Schilling, Pathways and Trails Coordinator for Teton County, said the town has made significant investments in a safe pathway system, and the proposed bike route would take advantage of that infrastructure.

“In Jackson, and in Teton County, we have this very robust network of separated bicycle and pedestrian pathways that offer a great opportunity for cyclists of all abilities to not have to ride on the roadway, on the highway shoulder, and so provides for a much more comfortable, enjoyable and safe experience for cyclists of all ages and abilities,” Schilling said.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) is part of the U.S. Bike Route planning process, according to Director Luke Reiner. Reiner told Cowboy State Daily that the goal is to establish safe routes for bicyclists.

“Our responsibility is, to the extent possible, to ensure that the route is as bicycle-friendly as it can be,” Reiner said. “So for example, if it goes over Teton pass, we make sure we sweep that pass on the shoulders to make sure there’s no gravel. I mean, if there’s sand or gravel on the road, it can make for a bad deal, especially if you’re rolling fast down the hill.”

Part of WYDOT’s role in designating the U.S. Bike Route is choosing the safest path – which means keeping bicyclists off major interstates.

“We’d look at the proposed route, and just make sure we’re not intermingling bikes with a large amount of trucks or vehicles,” said Keith Fulton, WYDOT’s Assistant Chief Engineer for Engineering and Planning. “They  may not always go on the state highways – they may be using bike paths or city streets.”

Reiner explained that the proposed path comes from Idaho over Teton pass, goes into Jackson and then over Togwotee pass into Dubois; then down to Lander and across to Muddy Gap. From Muddy Gap it heads northeast toward Casper, and then south into Shirley Basin until it intersects Highway 30 and heads to Wolcott Junction – from there the route goes south into Colorado.

“Now, you might think, oh, that’s sort of a circuitous route,” Reiner noted. “And you would be correct. The original proposal, when you hit Muddy Gap, came south to Rawlins, and then took the interstate over to Wolcott Junction and went south. And really, our focus on safety said, ‘Hey, listen, we think it’s a bad idea to put that many bikes on the interstate.’”

Both Irons and Reiner explained that once the state receives approval from neighboring states, where the route connects, it will be up to AASHTO to approve this section of U.S. Bike Route 76 as a designated corridor.

“We have essentially all the local agencies that need to sign off,” said Irons. “And Brian (in Jackson) has kind of been the last key to that puzzle. And so now we’re waiting for Colorado and Idaho to tell Wyoming DOT that they support the connection. And then in early April, Wyoming DOT can submit an application to the Feds, and that gets reviewed at a meeting in late May – and that’s where the route could then be approved at the National Special Committee on route numbering. And then it’s designated.”

Schilling noted that the town of Jackson doesn’t expect a huge influx of tourism from this designation.

“At this point we’re so inundated, the addition of 20 cyclists a week, which would be, I think, a high-end estimate, no one will even notice that,” Schilling said. “But having said that, Jackson and Teton County and Grand Teton National Park have in the past five to 10 years really started to develop a reputation as a great destination for cycling, and it’s primarily because of our pathway system. So we are seeing a lot of use of our pathways by tourists.”

From a statewide standpoint, Director Reiner said having this designated bike route would be a boon to Wyoming’s tourism industry.

“It’s a chance to see a beautiful part of the state, see some wildlife,” Reiner said. “know, part of our task is supporting our state’s economy. And certainly, this fits into the aspect of supporting bicycle tourism.”

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Record Visitation Puts Strain On Yellowstone Resources

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Record visitor numbers in Yellowstone National Park in July have strained the park’s staff and services in ways not seen in the Park’s 149-year history, according to officials. 

Last month, the park reported a record 1,080,000 visitors.

Mike Keller, general manager for Xanterra Parks and Resorts in Yellowstone, said his staff was largely prepared for high visitation numbers throughout the summer.

“This isn’t just a July situation,” he said. “You know, really, ever since travel started opening up again in the country, this spring, Yellowstone’s been a very popular destination. Because, you know, Americans can’t travel internationally, domestic travel is really kind of driving what’s happening here. And we’ve just seen high, high levels of visitation here in the park — higher than we’ve historically had in the past.” 

For Xanterra, which operates all the lodging and restaurants in the park, that means that not only are the crowds larger, tempers can be shorter.

“We’ve all been on those long family vacations where it may not be the most pleasant time in the car for eight days, from place to place, but it’s still hard when we have a guest throw food in an employee’s face, or poked him in the chest, or started swearing at him,” he said. 

“So, I’ve witnessed some very unpleasant interactions between customers and our employees; but I’ve also witnessed some customers go out of their way to really thank our staff, and be appreciative that they’re even there to try to assist them and help them,” he added. “But some people have come in here and could have exercised better behavior.”

Keller noted other parks besides Yellowstone are experiencing the issues associated with overcrowding.

“This is kind of a nationwide trend,” he said. “All national parks are reporting strong visitation, strong interest in coming to see these national treasures.”

Keller added that the high volume of people in parks, coupled with pandemic-related supply chain issues, means further complications in an already stressful summer.

“It’s been very challenging,” he said. “As part of the supply chain challenges, there’s not enough truck drivers, so there’s merchandise and product, but nobody can drive from point A to point B. And then from there, get it to us so that we can actually sell it within our operations, within the park.” 

“We’ve had to change menus almost on a day by day basis at some operations, just because we’re unable to get a steady supply of the products we need to provide certain meals for our guests,” he said.

And just like at businesses across the rest of the country, staffing is a problem in the national parks as well.

“We’ve increased wages,” he said. “We’ve offered free housing this year, we’ve tried to do things to help make the awesome experiences a little more enticing for somebody to want to come work for us here in the park. But staffing has been a challenge.” 

And that means that for visitors, some services are limited.



“We have about 80% of our services open this year,” he said. “Some things we just didn’t open – so that’s kind of helped with our staffing, because we don’t need that extra 200 or 300 employees to fill those gaps. But having said that, we are still seeing challenges, especially in food and food (preparation). And as a result, we haven’t opened some restaurants; sit-down dining is very limited here in the park. Some restaurants are open, but they’re buffet only, they’re not a full menu. 

“But you know, there’s times where the lines can back up – when you’re the only restaurant open, you’re trying to feed 1,000 people at a location at seven o’clock at night, it can get backed up pretty fast,” he continued. “So we’re doing the best we can to try to keep recruiting employees and trying to streamline our menu process so visitors aren’t having to wait too long.”

Keller said the record-setting pace for visitors does not appear to be ending soon.

“You know, our record-ever visitation was about 4.2 million visitors; we’re on pace for about 4.7, 4.8 million visitors this year,” he said. “So we’re talking a 10% to 15% increase over the last year from our biggest year, which was 2017.”

But on the bright side, Keller said, Wyoming is a big place.

“Yellowstone is big, Wyoming is big,” he said. “There’s a lot of great places to go to, and kind of spread out, but at the same time, that’s a lot of people in a small area where there’s very limited infrastructure, I think, to support all the demand that’s happening in this region.”

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Record Tourism Year, Lack Of Help Strains Wyoming Businesses

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s been a busy summer for Wyoming’s tourism industry. 

Yellowstone National Park is setting visitation records — in June of this year, over 938,000 people visited the park.

That broke the previous all-time high number for June visitation set in 2016 by almost 100,000.

For park gateway communities, that means business has been good. But it has also put a strain on businesses already suffering from a shortage of workers.

Ryan Hauck, the Park County Travel Council’s executive director, said he was enthusiastic about the number of people traveling to — and through — Cody.

“We are seeing record numbers all throughout Park County,” he said. “I know our guest and dude ranches are doing amazing, our attractions are doing amazing, our restaurants are full.”

Hauck said attractions and retailers in the towns just east of Yellowstone are reporting not just their best June ever, but their overall best month ever. However, Hauck admitted the high number of visitors is causing an unintended negative effect because of a limited workforce.

“You kind of get worried about, you know, that traveler experience,” he said. “Is our destination holding up to the demand?”

Restaurant owners in Cody said the demand has been taxing — especially in light of the labor shortage that has impacted small businesses throughout the country. Susan Cory has owned Peter’s Cafe in Cody for nine years, but has worked at the small sandwich and ice cream shop for over 30.

“We can’t keep up,” she said. “I’m having to double staff breakfast, because it’s that busy, so it’s making me short-staffed for our closing shift.”

According to Donna Lester at the Workforce Service office in Cody, across the region, the number of people actively looking for work has dwindled to almost nothing. 

“In June I was in five different states. I traveled to Idaho, through Oregon, California, Utah, Nevada, and it is everywhere,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing – the workforce has just kind of disappeared.”

The lack of workers, coupled with the increase in tourism, means that visitor experience that Hauck referenced has definitely been impacted.

“A lot of our local businesses aren’t opening until (4 p.m.), or they’re closing parts of the day or certain days of the week,” Lester said. “You know, just today I went to meet somebody for lunch, and they had gone to three different places to try to have lunch, and either they couldn’t get in because it was packed, or because the other places weren’t open.”

So business owners like Cory are working around the clock, and closing one or two days a week to best use the staff they have.

“I normally run with 14 people, we’ve been running with nine and 10,” she said. “And they’re getting burned out, because I had two applicants, and they were both 14 year olds, so I hired both of them. I have never not had a stack of applications to go through.”

Cory’s predicament is just one example of a scenario that is playing out all across the region. Business owners who are already overwhelmed with the number of tourists who are in town are having to work extra hours — and there’s no relief in sight.

“I don’t have an extra person to cover when people call off,” Cory said. “And it’s just going to get worse in the next three weeks when we lose all our high school kids.”

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Federal Unemployment Benefits End, But Wyoming Tourism Worker Shortage Persists

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By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

As Wyoming gears up for another summer of increased visitation, tourism-reliant businesses are still struggling to find enough workers to operate fully.

Many business owners attribute the predicament to unemployment benefits people are receiving, Wyoming Public Media reported.

Domenic Bravo, CEO of Visit Cheyenne, echoed that thought.

“I think there were some unintended consequences when some of the benefits that were there during COVID got extended,” he told The Center Square.

Gov. Mark Gordon decided to stop accepting the federal unemployment supplement in the state starting June 19. But Bravo said the timing may have been too late.

“The timing of when some of those benefits were either ended at the federal level or states ended them early: if it’s mid-season by then, those that were actually seeking jobs may have found them in other sectors,” he said.

David Bullard, a senior economist at the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, Research and Planning, said that those benefits definitely make a difference in labor supply, WPM reported. But he believes the governor’s decision to end them should make a difference.

“I expect that will cause some kind of shift in the labor supply curve and more people will be willing to work at that point,” Bullard told WPM.

Since COVID-19, however, the landscape has altered, Bravo said.

“After COVID, things have changed just in terms of how to recruit,” he said. “I think beforehand in the hospitality/tourism area we were really hard-pressed to find folks who really understood the great benefits of working in that industry: a lot of good training, upward momentum and just a fun work environment. In Cheyenne here, we call it the ‘Cool Jobs Website.’”

Now it’s even harder.

Bravo said the industry is going to have to work really hard to make these kinds of jobs desirable and back in the mainstream.

Before the benefits started, Bravo said many unemployed tourism workers were forced to find jobs elsewhere outside the industry. He said it will be a struggle tracking that demographic down and enticing them back to work in their previous field.

Wyoming business owners told WPM that their attempts to offer bonuses for employees who stick out the summer aren’t working; however, Bravo expressed optimism that efforts by employers like hiring bonuses, increased pay, and added benefits will make a difference in building up Wyoming tourism’s workforce.

Until that happens, he asks visitors to the state to be patient with businesses — whether they order at a restaurant and the food takes longer or it isn’t open certain days.

“I think employers and employees are doing the best they can, and as long as we understand and try to help each other, my hope is, in the end, it will be successful,” he said.

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

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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 Could Have Record Year Despite Loss of 1 Million International Tourists

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

As restrictions imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus begin to relax, changes are being seen across the country.

People can travel. Choirs can sing. Tour buses can take full loads of visitors to places like Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.

But experts in the state’s hospitality industry are noticing a difference in who is traveling this year — they are all Americans.

Hospitality ventures in Wyoming such as hotels and restaurants have always expected a portion of their summer business to come from international tourists.

But not this year.

“You know, two years ago, before the whole COVID thing started happening, we were seeing right at 1 million internationals — Asian communities specifically — coming to Yellowstone and the Grand Teton area,” says Justin Walters at the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce.

Tourists from Asian countries make up a large portion of the international presence in the communities surrounding Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. A report compiled by the National Park Service in 2016 showed that international visitors that year were from 25 countries and comprised 17% of total visitation to the park, estimated at 4.25 million.

European visitors accounted for 49% of the international traffic, 34% came from China and 10% came from Canada.

So the absence of those international visitors is felt, especially by small businesses who have come to rely on tour buses filled with foreign travelers.

China Town Buffet in Cody is one of the businesses that are magnets for the Asian tour buses, with the majority of those buses carrying Chinese citizens. In a post-COVID world, those buses are not in the picture this year, according to Shu Fang, a spokeswoman for the restaurant.

“Every day, I would have buses, sometimes I have three buses, sometimes four buses a day,” she said. Usually, Shu said, buses start arriving in May and go through September.

But not this year.

That doesn’t mean that China Town is deserted, by any means, she added.

“I mean like, we still operate the business,” she said. “We have tourists from our country, traveling, but we just don’t have Chinese buses. And so we’re really making less money.”

However, according to Rick Hoeninghausen with Xanterra Parks and Resorts, which operates the lodging and restaurant properties in Yellowstone, Americans this summer are more than making up for the lack of international visitors.

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

And Walters pointed out the lack of international tourists is in some ways a blessing, given the labor shortage affecting Jackson and other tourism communities.

“We just went through a big email chain of how stressed the community already is worker-wise,” he said. “I mean, no one’s willing to work, we do not have housing for the workers, and restaurants, hotels, all these businesses are very, very much overrun with tourism already. I’m not saying we don’t want it, but the thing is, there’s got to be that balance.” 

Walters 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.

“Even our outlier communities are getting pressure – campgrounds within 80 miles of us are full that really never had filled before,” he explains. 

In a community expecting close to 5 million visitors — without Asian and other international tourists — Walters said this tourist season could put a strain on the hospitality industry.

“I would be scared to death to see what would happen if you add another million on top of what’s already coming,” he said. 

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Wyoming State Parks Visitation Numbers Heading Into Summer Are ‘Encouraging’

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By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s state parks system is preparing for a busy summer.

Last year was a record-breaker for the state in terms of visitation, with parking lots overflowing and campsites booking out 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 that busy, but they are expecting plenty of visitors.

“Our numbers reservation-wise are a little bit lower than last year, but not much, which is encouraging since there’s quite a bit more competition for the consumer dollar right now because things are starting to open up a little bit,” he told The Center Square. “So if [Memorial Day Weekend] is any judge, it looks like we should have a fairly decent summer visitor-wise which is encouraging.”

Learning from last year, Schoene said the department converted a few more campsites into first-come-first-serve sites rather than reservation only after feedback from visitors.

“Some people they don’t know until the day before or whatever that they are going to be able to camp so hopefully the first-come-first-served sites help those people in that regard,” he said.

More visitors generate more revenue for the parks which they can then use to make improvements, Schoene pointed out. 

The state parks funding this year was workable, but he said they can always use more money. 

“We can always use more money in terms of maintenance and operations, that type thing,” Schoene said. “There was a bill this last year, House Bill 58, which did allow us to do that with the money we generate with reservations and other user fees so that helps some, but you always feel like you could use some more.”

Schoene said the department is planning to hold as many events as they safely can this year. All facilities will be open this year as the state returns to operations as usual, he said.

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Beartooth Highway: One of the Most Scenic Roads in the World Opens Friday

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

There are many tell-tale signs of summer. One is the reopening of roads which have been snowed-in or snowed-under for months.

Like the Beartooth Highway which connects Red Lodge, Montana to Cooke City, Montana.

The plan is to reopen the highway on Friday, May 28 at 8am.

The view? Unbelievable.

Travel organizations have called it one of the most scenic roads in the world.

“A scenic summer route (the snow falls heavy and voluminous in this country), the Beartooth is arguably the most stunning road into Yellowstone. It’s worth seeing in and of itself,” writes Yellowstone Insider.

The highway, which first opened in 1937, provides a direct route to Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast Entrance.

Just because it’s open doesn’t mean it will stay open. Officials warn of rapidly changing weather. In other words, it can be winter-like in the summer.

“Conditions can change quickly, especially during spring and fall, and roads can temporarily close due to poor driving conditions. Plan to have alternate routes for travel should the highway close,” a Yellowstone National Park spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Although the clear majority of the reviews for the drive on the travel site TripAdvisor rate the experience as positive (781 out of 834 reviews rank it 5 stars or excellent), some people still weren’t pleased.

A two-star reviewer complained about the pokey-ness of the drivers.

“The majority of the time I was riding 10 to 15 miles per hour below the speed limit. Do yourself, and everyone else on the road a favor, have someone else drive or take the highway and go around. If you are a nervous driver/rider STAY OFF this road,” wrote a reviewer from Chester Springs, Pennsylvania.

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Thursday Tourism: Cowboy Carnival Back On In Hyattville

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A full day of old-fashioned family fun, complete with live music, foot races, a pie contest, a barbecue and a sharpshooter contest is on tap in Hyattville on Sunday as the town’s community center sponsors its annual Cowboy Carnival.

Canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, this weekend’s event is the 17th annual holding of the carnival.

“After suspending our 2020 Hyatteville Cowboy Carnival as an abundance of caution due to COVID-19, now Cowboy Carnival is back,” the Hyattville Community Center said on its website. “We look forward to resuming this annual tradition.”

In an interview with Cowboy State Daily in 2019, Linda Hamilton, the community center’s treasurer, said many members of the community southeast of Basin help out with the event.

“We have a good community that steps forward to do this,” Hamilton said. “It’s quite an event and it’s amazing that we can pull a community together and have them do this much.”

Proceeds from the event, including money raised by the beef, lamb and pork barbecue, will be used to support the community center, a former elementary school that is now used as a hub for a variety of events such as weddings and funerals. The center also has a small library and exercise room.

Sunday’s events kick off with a “sharpshooter contest” at 10 a.m. at the old airstrip south of Hyattville, along with a 5K run/walk, book sale, quilt show and photo contest.

A kids’ race through Hyattville will be held at 11 a.m. and live music by “songteller” Dave Munsick will begin at noon.

Lunch will be served at 12:30 p.m., followed by a sheep dog competition at 1 p.m.

The day will end with a live auction featuring items donated from throughout the region.

For more information, visit the community center’s website at: https://www.hyattville.org/

Other events scheduled for the long Memorial Day weekend include:

The grand opening of the Military Memorial Museum at Nelson’s Museum of the West in Cheyenne on Monday;
Casper’s annual “Cruizin’ with the Oldies” car show at the Yellowstone Garage Bar, Grill and Venue on Saturday;
The Buffalo Lions Club Fishing Derby at Lake DeSmet Saturday through Monday;
The Wyoming State Cup and Championship and United Cup soccer tournament, Friday through Sunday at the North Casper Soccer Complex;
The “Pit Digger” mud rally in Saratoga on Saturday, and
The “Canyon to Curve” Fun Run/Walk on Monday at the Casper Boat Club.

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Park County Will Continue Upkeep For Road to Ghost Town of Kirwin

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

Park County road and bridge crews will continue to maintain a Shoshone National Forest road leading to the ghost town of Kirwin.

On Tuesday, county commissioners renewed a five-year agreement with the Forest Service to maintain that route west of Meeteetse, plus two county roads in the Sunlight area that also lie within the Shoshone. In exchange for that work, the Forest Service will pay the county up to $15,000 a year.

Commissioner Lloyd Thiel cast the lone vote against the cooperative agreement, saying he wanted the maintenance of the Kirwin road to be turned over to a private contractor.

“I realize a lot of this is working with you guys and everything,” Thiel told Shoshone representatives, “but I’m also representing all the taxpayers out here in the county that might be employed privately by doing this.”

He also said the county was losing money on the arrangement; in 2019, county officials said the Forest Service’s payment covered about 37.5% of the roughly $47,500 cost to maintain 25.3 miles of the Hunter Creek, Sunlight and Kirwin roads.

However, the Hunter Creek and Sunlight roads are owned by the county and would be maintained by county crews regardless of whether the Shoshone was helping pay for the work. And as for the road to Kirwin, Park County Engineer Brian Edwards has previously suggested that the route — which is used by local recreationists — could potentially be closed if the county didn’t maintain it. He noted that the county also plows the Beartooth Highway to the Pilot Creek snowmobiling parking area in the Shoshone each winter.

“We have a relationship [with the Shoshone] to where it’s in the public good to try to work together to take care of some of these things that would be kind of costly to contract out,” Edwards said.

The Shoshone’s district engineer, Beau Batista, said it’s better for taxpayers if the forest can maintain the roads at a lower cost. He also said that, out of the three private contractors that currently maintain other Shoshone roads, only one has ties to Park County.

Hoping to find cost savings last year, Shoshone officials had asked the county to consider taking on 28 additional miles of forest roads that are now maintained by contractors.

However, commissioners balked at taking work away from the private sector — and Shoshone officials were ultimately unsure they would save any money; forest officials said they pay an average of $1,100 to $2,000 per mile, while Edwards estimated the county would want to charge $1,800 to $2,000.

While commissioners gave no indication Tuesday that they were interested in taking on any other roads in the Shoshone, the board voted 3-1 to continue maintaining the Kirwin route and renew the entire agreement.

In supporting the arrangement, Commissioner Scott Mangold wondered whether the Forest Service could make other federal funding contingent on the county maintaining the Kirwin Road for free.

“… I think for [$15,000], we’re getting a pretty good deal,” he said.

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Wyoming Office of Tourism Launches WY Responsibly 2021 Summer Campaign

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The Wyoming Department of Tourism announced it will launch its second summer of the WY Responsibly campaign on June 1, encouraging all to be mindful travelers throughout the state. 

The WY Responsibly campaign is a value-based mission to educate and facilitate responsible travel by being stewards of Wyoming’s natural spaces, wildlife, communities and culture.

As the least populated state with the most room for adventure, in 2020 Wyoming experienced high visitation throughout all its national parks, monuments and forests, as well as state parks and other popular destinations where travelers could enjoy wide-open spaces. 

While interest for Wyoming continues to grow, the state still offers room to roam among its hidden gems and under-the-radar destinations throughout its nearly 100,000 square miles.

“Outdoor recreation has become even more popular over the past year with people looking for naturally social-distanced activities. With our wide-open spaces, Wyoming is an ideal destination for travelers and this summer we anticipate even more visitors will explore the state,” said Diane Shober, Executive Director of Wyoming Office of Tourism. 

“As the last bastion of the west and with nearly 50 percent of the state designated public land, it is important for visitors and residents to be mindful travelers and work together to keep Wyoming wild and free.”

The WY Responsibly campaign was initially launched as a response to COVID-19, providing safe travel tips and resources that resonated with travelers and residents alike, and led to WOT expanding the campaign into 2021 by fostering three main initiatives. 

These initiatives were created with input from 10 national-and state-level outdoor agencies and developed to address concerning behaviors each experienced last summer.

Enjoy Natural Spaces Responsibly

Resources on how to respect the outdoors, including camping and trail etiquette, outdoor safety, precautions and best practices.

Co-Exist Responsibly

Resources on how to respect wildlife, reporting wildlife interactions, fishing guidelines and gear suggestions to prepare for any encounters.

Be Part of a Responsibly Community

Resources on how to respect fellow travelers and locals, including current health guidelines, tips on supporting local businesses and how to avoid overcrowding with recommendations for destinations throughout the state and along any road trip.

The WY Responsibly campaign is a component of WOT’s award-winning tourism campaign, “That’s WY.”  Elements of the WY Responsibly campaign include local and national paid media investment, social media components and an ambassador program where WOT will select six outdoor, wildlife and community leaders and stewards to represent each initiative. State parks, national forests and other community visitor centers will have stickers or patches for visitors.

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Montana Ski Resort Wants To Use Sewage For Snowmaking

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Although the idea of skiing on sewage may not sound like an ideal winter vacation, a ski resort in Montana thinks it could work.

The resort is not planning on piping raw sewage down a mountain as a strategy to replace snow.

Rather, the Yellowstone Club, which is located north of Yellowstone National Park, wants to take the treated wastewater from sewage and make artificial snow with it and has asked the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for the OK.

Apparently the procedure, officials say, has worked out well in Europe and Australia so this wouldn’t be anything new.

The advantage of using sewage, according to resort officials, is that it would help ensure that the ski resort could open on time and would be a benefit to the local watershed.

“It’s an outside-the-box idea and it checks a lot of boxes,” the environmental manager of the club told the Associated Press.

The good news, according to state officials, is that if a skier got a mouth-full of snow after an unsuccessful turn, the snow would be safe enough to digest. That is, as long as the contamination levels stay within safe standards.

Rachelle Morris, a longtime Wyoming skier who frequents Jackson Hole Ski Resort and Grand Targhee, told Cowboy State Daily that she thinks the idea is “horrible.”

“I can’t think of a worse idea in my life,” Morris said. “The idea of using sewer water to make snow is just revolting. I don’t care how they clean it up. It’s still sewer water.”

Morris said she had a good idea for renaming the slopes at the Yellowstone Club, however.

“I love to the ski the Rendezvous Bowl and the Casper Bowl in Jackson,” she said. “They could just call theirs the ‘Toilet Bowl.'”

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Wyoming Tourism: Wildlife On Display At Taxidermy Artists Event This Weekend in Pinedale

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Some of the best wildlife art in the state can be seen in Pinedale this weekend as Wyoming’s top taxidermy artists put their work on display as part of their annual meeting.

Taxidermy displays from around Wyoming will be open for the public’s viewing at the Sublette County Ice Arena as part of the annual meeting of the Wyoming Association of Taxidermy Artists.

While some may not think of taxidermy as art, there is a considerable amount of artistic thinking that goes into each piece, said Susan Orcutt, secretary of the WATA.

“You’ve got to know how to paint, how to blend colors,” said Orcutt, who runs High Country Taxidermy in Pinedale. “When you do a habitat scene, you’ve got to have a little bit of artistic ability, you can’t just slap it together.”

Orcutt said about 60 taxidermy artists from around the state, along with some from Utah and other states, are expected to attend the annual meeting, which begins Thursday with the set up of the display of entries for the WATA contest.

The display will then be closed to allow for judging and will be reopened Friday night after WATA’s banquet.

During Friday, members will take part in their annual business meeting, attend seminars and share taxidermy tips.

“I’ve been doing taxidermy for 20 years and I learn something new every year,” Orcutt said. “Normally taxidermists don’t give you a lot of information, but when you go to the shows, they do.”

The display will open for public viewing at 8 a.m. Saturday, with a $5 admission fee for adults. Proceeds will be used to help pay for next year’s meeting.

Entry is free for children age 12 and under.

The public will see a special kind of taxidermy when they visit the display, Ocrutt said.

“These are all spiffed up,” she said. “When you go into competition, there are certain things you have that you don’t normally worry about so much in a normal everyday consumer piece. These competition pieces, people spend days and days, weeks and weeks on them.”

The show will be particularly educational for anyone interested in having taxidermy work done in the future, she added.

“When you start looking at things, you start realizing there is a difference between a good mount and a bad mount,” she said. 

Other events scheduled for the weekend around the state include include:

The Cody Country Horse Sale, an annual sale that takes place in front of Cody’s Irma Hotel. Begins at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Mother’s Day Tea at the Historic Governor’s Mansion in Cheyenne on Saturday.
The Rough Stock Rodeo School at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds in Casper. Friday through Sunday.
The Spring Bazaar at Gillette’s Cam-Plex on Saturday.
The Up in Arms Gun Show at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds in Casper, Friday through Sunday.
Forever West XTreme Bull Riding, Johnson County Fairgrounds in Buffalo on Saturday.
A “Taco Fest” at David Street Station in Casper on Saturday.

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

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wyoming’s Hospitality Industry Can’t Find Workers; Especially Dire in Northwest Wyoming

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

While Wyoming’s hospitality industry is gearing up for what promises to be a busy summer tourism season, restaurants and hotels are finding themselves very short of workers to care for visitors to the state.

The problem is especially dire in northwestern Wyoming, where a lack of housing is leaving employers unable to recruit workers.

“What continues to be a huge, huge issue in Teton County is housing,” said Colleen Dubbe, manager of the state Workforce Centers in Jackson and Afton. “Whether it’s foreign workers or college students or young adults or even older workers, it’s across the board. Not only is it incredibly expensive, there’s none available and there’s none available in the region.”

The housing shortage in northwest Wyoming, along with federal unemployment policies, immigration rules and travel restrictions, have created a “perfect storm” for a challenging hiring environment for hospitality businesses, said Chris Brown, executive director of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association.

“The hospitality industry is labor intensive to begin with,” said Brown. “This year has by far been the toughest year for staffing I’ve ever seen.”

Part of the problem stems from federal regulations and COVID-related travel bans that are sometimes slowing the arrival of foreign workers to staff hospitality businesses such as hotels and restaurants, said Brown, whose association represents more than 500 members of Wyoming’s hospitality industry.

Many employers apply for a special visa to bring employees from other countries to the United States, but the process can be very involved, he said.

“The process for businesses to apply for and get those employees is insanely arduous,” he said. “But the need for additional legal foreign workers is significant. There are not enough people here to step in and fill all those roles.”

Complicating the issue is the fact that the extension of federal unemployment benefits through September has allowed some people to collect an income without working, Brown said.

“Certainly the extension was warranted when businesses were closed last year and people were out of work,” he said. “But the extension of unemployment benefits through September is incentivizing some workers to simply stay home and not worry about going back to work.”

In Jackson, those problems are exacerbated by the lack of housing, Dubbe said.

Dubbe said many of Jackson’s workers actually live in surrounding communities in the Star Valley and Idaho, but housing is short throughout the region.

She added apartments in Jackson can often cost more than $2,000 per month.

“I know businesses are worried,” she said. “They are very concerned about what is going to happen this summer. Consistently the one thing they mention is housing.”

Some businesses have gone so far as to buy old hotels to use as employee housing. In past years, the town of Jackson has allowed people to sleep in their cars overnight to deal with the issue.

Northwest Wyoming is expecting a busy season as people get out following the coronavirus lockdowns of 2020, Dubbe said.

“The good news is the bookings for the summer are up, and we anticipate a good year as it relates to the tourist industry,” she said. “But with the housing market being so tight, it has limited their ability to recruit employees.”

The tourism industry is Wyoming’s second largest, behind energy production. Between hotels, food service, arts, entertainment and recreation, the industry accounted for 44,835 jobs in 2019, slightly more than 11% of the state’s total jobs.

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Wyoming’s Open Spaces And Schools Are Attracting Travelers, Job Seekers

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By Bob Pepalis, The Center Square

Unlike many other states during the pandemic, Wyoming attracted visitors seeking the great outdoors with its national parks, and was also successful in attracting job seekers and business interests.

“Overall, the U.S. travel economy declined nearly 45%, whereas Wyoming’s travel economy only declined 25%. In the year ahead, we anticipate a rise in popularity for destinations such as Wyoming that offer wide-open spaces and an abundance of outdoor adventure opportunities,” Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, told The Center Square.

Travel spending in Wyoming declined from $3.96 billion in 2019 to $2.96 billion in 2020, “The Economic Impact of Travel” report prepared for the Wyoming Office of Tourism said. Total direct job loss was estimated at 6,030 jobs, with accommodation and food services accounting for 3,600 of those.

Remote workers were the focus of a two-month targeted national marketing campaign last fall by the Business Council, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and Wyoming Office of Tourism, Ron Gullberg, Strategic Partnerships director for the Wyoming Business Council, told The Center Square.

“From the Business Council’s perspective, we are seeing heightened interest from remote workers looking to relocate, job seekers and business recruitment and expansion inquiries. Wyoming’s open spaces, opportunity for an adventurous lifestyle, business-friendly environment, open schools and less restrictive health orders are among the driving factors we’re hearing,” Gullberg said.

“The intake form housed on the tourism website generated 3,200 inquiries and not just remote workers. They included job seekers and business recruitment and expansion inquiries. Even after the two-month campaign ended, we’ve received more than 200 additional inquiries,” Gullberg said.

The three agencies are dividing the inquiries and addressing them, Gallberg said.

Wyoming state parks saw the revival of the “Great American road trip,” the Wyoming Office of Tourism reported, and strong indicators show an intent to travel this year.

“Wyoming’s State Parks saw a record-breaking year with 4,878,765 visitors, more than a million more than last year’s record season of 3,876,039, an increase of 34%,” Shober said.

Curt Gowdy State Park was one park with visitor increases more than 200% above the five-year average. For 2020, it was 231% above that average, but the increase was more dramatic in March, which had a 581% increase in visitors and April with a 474% increase in visitation.

The state is made up of almost 50% public land, including the 12 state parks with more than 100,000 square acres, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks.

The state does not have reservation or booking data available that would help in projecting travel spending in 2021.

“However, Visit Wyoming’s Official Travel Guide orders are up 46%, while travelwyoming.com traffic is also up 36% – all strong indicators of intent to travel,” Shober said.

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Sleeping Giant Ski Area Thrives Under Private Owner

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Sleeping Giant Ski Area west of Cody has a long history – and a financially troubled one for the last few years. 

The family-friendly resort was in danger of closing down for lack of funding in 2019.

Then Nick Piazza stepped in.

Sleeping Giant, near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park, is the oldest of the 12 ski resorts in Wyoming, established in 1936.  The nonprofit that had been operating the ski area since 2007 announced in 2019 that it had been running at a deficit of $200,000 each year, due to low numbers of skiers and snowboarders.

Piazza, an investment banker who grew up in Cody, made the decision that his beloved winter wonderland couldn’t just shut down. So he bought it. Now he and his ski buddy Mike Gimmeson and other dedicated snow fiends have made this winter playground thrive this season.

“We almost doubled our season pass holders from last year,” he said. “And I think weekends have been pretty strong going into March.”

“We tried to do a lot,” Gimmeson noted. “We got the night skiing going, we got a yurt up, and we did some projects.”

As a small family ski area, Sleeping Giant has certainly seen its share of struggles – but Gimmeson said this is the best year he has seen.

“We’ve had the biggest season that I know of, that I’ve ever been involved with,” he said.

And he says he’s got a unique perspective.

“I learned how to ski here when I was 1 year old,” he said, laughing. “My parents both ski patrolled here, and I came up every weekend of my childhood life.”

From the activity on the hill on this sunny Sunday in late February, you’d never know that Sleeping Giant has had difficulties staying open. Financial woes forced the closure of the hill in 2004, when the Dahlem family – owners at the time – couldn’t afford to upgrade the T-bar lift. A community effort brought the resort back to life in 2007, but the non-profit could only do so much. 

Piazza said he took on the financial risk only after making a deal with the community.

“The idea was, we’ll keep it simple – you come skiing, we’ll keep the lifts turning,” he smiles. “And so far, it looks like that partnership is working.”

Both Nick and Mike pointed out they’re not planning to end the season quietly. 

Gimmeson said they were originally planning to stay open until the end of March, but have decided to extend their season, so that they can host events such as a Triathlon on April 3 and the First Responders Winter Olympics on April 10.

“We’ll have, almost every weekend in March, some kind of event,” Piazza explained. “Plus, we’re matching the spring break calendar for Park County schools. So, the first week of April is spring break, and we’re gonna have a bunch of stuff there.”

And Mike pointed out that inviting skiers like Jack Feick, a Bozeman-area ski instructor and social media influencer, helped to raise the ski resort’s visibility.

“We’re just trying to bring other people from the ski culture to bring them here, to really show them what we have,” he said.

Feick is enthusiastic in his praise of the resort, where he skied for the first time in late February.

“Very good food, great lodging, and the skiing here is phenomenal,” he said, grinning. “A five-minute boot pack, up to the top of the mountain, and you’re into all those pillows over there, it’s insane. It’s the greatest skiing I’ve ever seen inbounds, honestly.”

The owners are not done improving the area, they said.

“We’d like to get more lifts up higher, and just more services for guests,” Mike explained. “And we’re working with local lodges so that there’s local lodging and, just, stay tuned, because we’re just getting started.”

“We have plans to keep the restaurant open all summer,” said Nick. “We’ll have the zip line going as usual, and we hope to add maybe a couple of other attractions, including hiking from the top of the ski lifts and maybe a climbing wall. But we’re working with the Forest Service on that.”

Gimmeson pointed out that the odds were against a private owner taking on a small ski area – but the combined strengths of the two friends have made the venture a success.

“Him, being a businessman, very successful – he really helped drive that into this place,” he said of Piazza. “Cause, I’m just a ski bum, you know. So us together, the ski bum, the businessman – we combined forces, and we pulled it off.”

Video footage courtesy Dean Madley (Sleeping Giant) and Jack Feick

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Wyoming Tourism Declined By 25% In 2020

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s tourism declined by 25% last year, but the decline was minor compared to the national decline of 45%.

“Overall the U.S. travel economy declined nearly 45%, whereas, Wyoming’s travel economy only declined 25%,” Travel Wyoming spokeswoman Piper Singer told Cowboy State Daily.

The numbers are preliminary and could change before late April, which is when all of the data is gathered and published in the department’s annual report, Singer added.

Wyoming, along with the rest of the nation, took a major hit in numerous industries, including tourism, last year due to the coronavirus. However, not all the news was bad once the first wave of the virus passed around mid-May.

Despite the pandemic shutting down the park for for nearly two months, Yellowstone National Park only saw a 5% dip in visits in 2020. The park, in its most recent visitation report, said it hosted 3.8 million recreation visits in 2020, down from the 4 million hosted in 2019.

The park saw record visitation numbers for the months of September and October, with visitor numbers in October topping 2019 figures by 110%.

Grand Teton National Park also saw record-breaking numbers throughout the fall, as did Devils Tower.

Through November, Devils Tower recorded 420,330 recreation visits for 2020, down just 7% from the same period in 2019 despite the fact the country’s first national monument was closed from March 25 through May 21 due to health and safety concerns related to the pandemic.

According to Dean Runyan Associates’ numbers provided by Singer, the state saw $2.96 billion in travel spending last year, down 25.3% compared to 2019.

Wyoming saw $286 million in state and local tax revenue from tourism, a 16.1% decline, 7.3 million overnight visitors (down by 21.5%) and 27,000 travel-related jobs in 2020.

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Wyoming Named Top Travel Destination by Travel + Leisure and AFAR

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Vast open spaces, breathtaking landscapes and western charm are just a few reasons Wyoming has been recognized as one of “The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2021” by Travel + Leisure and a top North American destination in AFAR’s “Where We’ll Go in 2021 – When We Can.”

With Wyoming’s innate social distancing, iconic road trips and destinations drawing traveler consideration, the Cowboy State topped this year’s must-visit lists. 

The January issue of AFAR featured Grand Teton National Park, while the annual list from Travel + Leisure highlighted Wyoming’s western and outdoor attractions including the 125th anniversary of Cheyenne Frontier Days, Casper’s College National Finals Rodeo and the endless adventures in state parks.

“It’s extremely humbling to see Wyoming recognized as one of the top destinations to visit this year and beyond,” said Diane Shober, executive director for the Wyoming Office of Tourism. 

“Now more than ever people have a strong desire to get out and explore the great outdoors, including more rural, less-populated destinations like Wyoming. We encourage travelers to embrace a spirit of adventure, while continuing to ensure collective wellness by pledging to adventure responsibly.”

With National Plan for Vacation Day on January 26, the Wyoming Office of Tourism offers countless inspiration and resources to plan a safe, enjoyable vacation this summer. From all-inclusive guest ranches to epic road trip routes, Wyoming will guarantee an unforgettable vacation.

To learn more about traveling safely and responsibly throughout Wyoming, visit travelwyoming.com/wy-responsibly. Travelers can share their experiences and pledge “WY Responsibly” on social media by using #WYResponsibly.

The annual National Plan for Vacation Day takes place each January to encourage Americans to plan their vacation at the start of the year and in an effort to avoid leaving vacation days unused. 

National Plan for Vacation Day coincides with the Let’s Go There initiative to encourage Americans to still plan – or even book – future vacations, or to simply keep their travel flame alive and think about their next trip.

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Gordon Announces Steps to Boost Wyoming Energy, Tourism, Ag

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A series of steps aimed at improving Wyoming’s primary economic drivers has been proposed or endorsed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Thursday announced the actions he will take or support to improve conditions in the state’s agriculture, tourism and energy sectors.

In the area of energy production, an industry shaken by recent executive orders halting the leasing of federal land for oil and gas production, Gordon said he will pursue an “all the above” energy industry that encourages the development of new industries such carbon capture technology and rare earth production in addition to oil, gas and coal.

Along those lines, Gordon is backing proposed legislation that would grant several tax reductions to the energy sector.

“Our traditional industries will adapt and continue to provide the reliable, affordable and dispatchable power they always have, only better,” he said in a statement. “Our economic recovery will hinge on the health of these industries and their ability to adapt to changing market demands. Wyoming can continue to grow even as our mix of energy supplies evolve.”

At the same time, Gordon welcomed steps to increase the ability of the new Wyoming Energy Authority to encourage the development of non-traditional resources.

“Carbon capture and the development of carbon byproducts will be part of Wyoming’s energy future,” he said. “So too should be efforts to research extracting the rare earth elements and critical minerals associated with coal that will be needed for the batteries powering the anticipated worldwide build-out of wind and solar power.”

Gordon is also backing measures that help the state’s tourism industry, its largest employer.

He singled out House Bill 85, which would let Wyoming State Parks use money raised through entrance fees to finance a large portion of their operations and outdoor recreation rather than construction projects. The measure is expected to allow for a $1.1 million reduction in money given to the parks from the state’s general fund, its main bank account, without affecting the visitor experience.

A number of bills aimed at bolstering the state’s agriculture committee are also part of Gordon’s initiative, including one that would give the state attorney general the authority to look into antitrust matters.

The measure is a response to consolidation of 80% of the meat packing industry within four major companies. Beef producers in Wyoming have long complained the four companies have kept prices for producers artificially low.

The state now lacks the authority to investigate such charges.

Gordon is also backing HB 52, which would increase Wyoming meat products used by school districts to feed students.

The governor said he is also working with legislators to expand the state’s meat processing capacity.

“This is only a part of an ambitious initiative focused on adding value to products across the entire spectrum of agricultural enterprise,” he said. “This effort is essential to grow this key part of our economy.”

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Why A Cody Investment Banker Bought Sleeping Giant Ski Area

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

There are 12 ski resorts in Wyoming — Sleeping Giant, near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park, is the oldest, established in 1936. 

It has had its ups — and downs —  but this past year it was in danger of closing its doors once again, due to low numbers of skiers and snowboarders. In fact, the nonprofit that had been operating the ski area announced in January that it had been running at a deficit of $200,000 each year.

Enter Nick Piazza — a Cody native and successful investment banker who is now running his consulting business in the Ukraine from his home in Cody. He said he couldn’t watch his beloved ski hill fold… so he bought it.

“You know, we’re ready to take a lot of the risk and responsibility in terms of kind of keeping the mountain open,” he said. “But it’s going to be a partnership with Park County, I think. For us to be successful we’re going to need people to come ski.”

Like Piazza, new ski area General Manager Mike Gimmeson also learned to ski as a child at Sleeping Giant. He said the area plans to keep prices the most affordable in the entire United States, offer free skiing to school groups and provide ski lift privileges to those holding season passes from other ski areas in the regions.

“We’ve partnered with some local ski areas, like Antelope Butte (in the Bighorn Mountains), Red Lodge (Montana), and vice versa, so they can come here,” he said. “And what’s really cool is you can go to Hogadon in Casper, and get three free days.”

Gimmeson added that with the new ownership comes new ideas that the team is excited to unveil.

“We’re planning on having kiosks at our ticket desk, and I think one in the yurt, so that people when they purchase their tickets they can just walk up and get it, like when you go to the airport. And night skiing! We’re going to have night skiing.”

Included in the new plans is the opening of a yurt to provide extra customer seating. The yurt’s purchase was made possible because of a Daniels Grant that was procured through the Yellowstone Recreations Foundation, the non-profit that has operated Sleeping Giant since 2007. Gimmeson said the extra building will help with social distancing and add to the appeal of the ski area.

“Along with the yurt we’re going to have other outdoor seating areas, we’re thinking about just strategic areas where people can hang out,” he said “We’ll have fire pits, and just kind of get people outside.”

Piazza said his goal is not to make money off of the purchase — rather, he sees this as an opportunity to boost the local winter economy.

“Long term, if we’re going to be successful, we have to bring more winter activity back to the East Gate (of Yellowstone),” he said.

Gimmeson added snowmaking operations will begin next week, with a goal of opening Sleeping Giant to the public on Dec. 4.

“People love that mountain,” Piazza says. “And I hope that we’re providing a platform for people to help support it.”

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Wyoming State Park Traffic Explodes in 2020; Up By 1.8 Million

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If you thought the coronavirus would force everything to grind to a halt, think again.

While the pandemic has had some devastating affects on the economy — one survey estimated that one out of every 5 small businesses have closed or will close — some sectors, like tourism, actually saw a boost.

Yes, people adjusted their routines to try to flatten the curve but that didn’t mean they didn’t go out. 

Take visitation to Wyoming state parks, for example.

So far this year, Wyoming’s State Parks have recorded 4.9 million visitors, an increase of 1.8 million over last year’s record — 34%.

Leading the way were visits to Boysen State Park in Fremont county.  Visitation numbers were 241% over the five-year-average.

Curt Gowdy State Park saw an increase of 231% over the five-year average with highs of 581% in March and 474% in April.

Seminoe State Park in Carbon county recorded a jump of 132% over the five-year average and Sinks Canyon Park in Fremont County recorded a 115% boost over the same time period.

Some visitors to this site will surely grumble and say Wyoming doesn’t need an influx of “greenies” to the State of Wyoming, but the tide is unlikely to stem.

In fact, state officials are predicting much, much, much more.

“Currently outdoor recreation accounts for 4.4% and $1.65 billion to the state’s (gross domestic product). We see no reason we can’t double these numbers in the coming years,” Darin Westby, Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resource Director, said.

Chris Floyd, from the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office, echoed those thoughts but said Wyoming “needs to do it right and we can do it through proper planning.”

“The key is to get them here, spread them throughout Wyoming, help them spend their dollars, insure they’re being good stewards of the land, and then let them go home,” he said.

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Northwest Wyoming Tourism Season A Mixed Bag

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Cody is one of four gateway communities leading into Yellowstone National Park. 

As such, tourism is one of the top industries in Park County – and this summer was a mixed bag for the businesses that depend on visitors.

Claudia Wade, the executive director of the Park County Travel Council, pointed out that public health regulations imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus heavily impacted many businesses that rely on tourism.

“I think a lot of the restrictions that we had in Wyoming from the governor impacted our restaurants,” Wade reported. “And it impacted how our attractions operate, in the number of people they let through.” 

Dan Miller has headlined a cowboy music show in Cody for the last 16 years – and he said this year was devastating.

“I’d say we lost in the neighborhood of 90 tour buses that we didn’t get to have this year,” Miller noted. “And I don’t care who you are, you can’t take that kind of a hit and not say it doesn’t affect your bottom line.” 

Wade said outdoor recreation opportunities were hugely popular.

That popularity translated to record late-season visitation numbers for Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, which both saw records set for September visitation. Campgrounds in the region also saw high visitation numbers once the facilities opened.

But restaurants and hotels got off to a very slow start this summer.

Fran and Ken Swope own and operate the Carter Mountain Motel, which Fran and her mother built in the late 1960s. Fran said this summer was unlike anything she’s ever experienced.

“We had a lot of cancellations for May, June and part of July,” she recalled. “For August, we were just a little above last year. For September, we’re gonna be just about the same because September got busy.”

Many restaurants, on the other hand, went from zero to 60 from the time they were told they could reopen in mid-May. 

Nathan Kardos, owner of the Trailhead Restaurant, said he and his fellow restaurateurs were remarkably busy, despite the regulations that forced them to space out their tables, or move them outdoors.  

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Grand Teton National Park Smashes All-Time Visitation Record For September

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Grand Teton National Park hosted an estimated 603,789 recreation visits in September 2020, a 17% increase compared to September 2019. 

Park statistics show that September 2020 saw the highest number of recreation visits on record for the month of September.

The list below shows the September trend for recreation visits over the last several years:
2020—603,789
2019—517,265
2018—558,788
2017—482,661
2016—492,451

In general, hiking use in the park increased approximately 54%, camping in concession-operated campgrounds increased 24% and backcountry camping increased 79% in September 2020 compared to September 2019. 

Visitors to Grand Teton National Park are reminded to plan ahead and recreate responsibly. The park highly encourages visitors to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local and state authorities, by maintaining social distancing guidelines and wearing a face covering when in buildings and high-visitation areas outside. 

Visitor services at Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway are limited this time of year, as most facilities close each winter. Closing dates for seasonally operated facilities can be found at www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/hours.htm. The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center will remain open through October 31. Signal Mountain Campground is currently the only seasonally operated campground still open in the park. The last night available to camp there will be Saturday, October 17.

Please visit www.nps.gov/grte and the park’s Facebook and Twitter accounts for more information. Download the official NPS Grand Teton app for detailed park maps, audio tours, in-depth facility information and more.

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Hiking in Carbon County Wyoming

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Some of the best places in Carbon County can be accessed by hiking on one of the hundreds of miles of hiking trails in the county.

The Medicine Bow National Forest is a prime location for hiking.

There are also 5 wilderness areas in the Carbon County region. Wild mountain flowers dot trails along the Great Continental Divide and the Snowy Range.

Grab your gear and head out on one of our hiking trails for some exciting western adventure.

Hiking is one of the best ways to spot wildlife. [CLICK HERE TO SEE A GREAT LIST OF TRAILS]

Visit mountain lakes, crystal clear streams and secret fishing holes.

Wyoming’s terrain can be rough and the weather can change fast so make sure that while you enjoy our sweeping natural landscape you come prepared with plenty of water, warm clothes, a compass and a topographic map.

Hiking & trails in the Medicine Bow Forest: Visit Website
Area wilderness areas: Visit Website
Links to more trail information: 
Visit Website
Links to Seminoe State Park Hiking Information: 
Visit Website

Explore Carbon County’s Scenic Byways, Back Country Roads, and Hidden Treasures

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Drive through the mountains and prairies of Carbon County, Wyoming to observe our bountiful wildlife and breath taking scenery.

Wyoming is home to some of the best kept secrets in the natural world.

Whether you’re exploring the great Continental Divide, high mountain deserts or vast prairie lands, Wyoming’s scenery will not disappoint.

Keep your eyes open and you may  catch a glimpse of Wyoming’s native wildlife species including foxes, coyotes, deer, antelope, moose, elk, bald eagles, badger and more.

Please be aware that in the winter many of our scenic roads close due to high snowfall.

It is estimated that the rugged peaks of the Snowy Range rose 50 to 70 million years ago.

It is also said that the mountain peaks may have once been much higher.

Geologists suggest that approximately 15,000 feet of rock has eroded away since the mountain range’s creation.

Click here to see a list of great scenic drives in Carbon County Wyoming.

Explore Carbon County: Where to Stay

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Carbon County has resorts, guest ranches, B & B’s, hotels, cabins, cottages, vacation rentals, lodges, RV camping and more! 

Whatever your style we can help you find your perfect lodging type.

Click here to find your lodging match.

Explore Carbon County: Snowmobiling

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Explore over 500 miles of groomed and ungroomed trails with terrain to please users with skill levels ranging from novice to the expert.

See below to find tips on the best places to experience snowmobiling in Carbon County, Wyoming.

Carbon County Wyoming has some of the best snowmobiling offerings anywhere.

Explore over 500 miles of groomed and ungroomed trails with terrain to please users with skill levels ranging from the novice to the expert. 

Snowmobiling occurs in primarily three recreational areas, each offering excellent trails and conditions.

Click here to see information on snowmobiling areas, snowmobile guides, rentals, and trails.

Explore Carbon County: Fishing

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If you’re looking for picturesque mountain views and incredible fishing Carbon County Wyoming is your destination.

Places to fish in Carbon County include the North Platte River, Encampment River, The Little Snake River, alpine lakes, Seminoe Reservoir, Saratoga Lake and more.

Rainbow, Brown and Cutthroat trout are numerous in our pristine rivers.

Walleye can be found in Seminoe Lake and lower elevation lakes and make great for great eating.

Carbon County has numerous fishing guides with the experience to ensure a successful fishing expedition.

If you are planning on fishing via power boat Hog Park Reservoir (25 miles south of Encampment in the Sierra Madre Range), Seminoe Reservoir (a short drive north of Rawlins, Hanna and Medicine Bow), Saratoga Lake (5 miles north of Saratoga) or the High Savery Reservoir located just off County Road 401 between Rawlins (Hwy 71 south from Rawlins turns into County Road 401) and Savery are all great fishing destinations with plenty of room to explore.

Click here for a list of great fishing locations in Carbon County!

Explore Carbon County: Resources For Your Trip

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Carbon County Maps

The Carbon County Visitors Council is pleased to present area visitors with a series of interactive maps to help you get the most out of your visit.

Explore popular hiking and biking trails, campsites, fishing spots, boating areas and more.

We have 2 summer recreation maps. One for the northern portion of Carbon County and one for the southern portion. Choose an area to view our interactive maps.

There is a wealth of recreation opportunities in Carbon County, Wyoming. These maps will help you find a new adventure as well as provide navigation to the areas that interest you!

Click here to see a list of great maps in Carbon County.

Wyoming, South Dakota Partner To Promote Ultimate Road Trip

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

To take advantage of people getting back on the road to travel again, the Wyoming and South Dakota departments of tourism have partnered to promote a majestic road trip through the two states.

For the rest of the month, the two states are promoting a Black to Yellow campaign, which leads travelers from South Dakota’s breathtaking Black Hills to Yellowstone National Park.

“South Dakota is open for those ready to travel,” said South Dakota’s Gov. Kristi Noem in a news release. “Folks from every corner of the country are road tripping to South Dakota’s great places and open spaces. Our partnership with the Wyoming Office of Tourism will help expand our message and attract adventurers looking to explore the beauty of America’s most treasured landmarks.”

The two states have put together itineraries that will take road trippers to well-known attractions and to the hidden gems in both Wyoming and South Dakota, such as the latter’s Wall Drug or the former’s Devils Tower.

“Wyoming’s unparalleled wide-open spaces give travelers an abundance of opportunities to explore and to do so safely,” said Gov. Mark Gordon in the release. “Wyoming and South Dakota’s new road trip campaign will truly showcase the pioneering spirit, a rich history, and western hospitality both states have to offer.”

The digital campaign will include custom itinerary content by AFAR media and Tripadvisor to be promoted through targeted high-impact ads; audio ads on Pandora and Spotify, and targeted social media ads.

In addition, the states will partner with a social media influencer to embark on a road trip through the two states, capturing and sharing their favorite attractions and experiences along the way.

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Timberline Hospitalities Hires Krista Lobera as Area Operations Manager

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Timberline Hospitalities, a Wyoming owned and operated hotel company, is pleased to announce that Krista Lobera has been promoted to Area Operations Manager.

She will continue her role of General Manager at our Torch Bearer award-winning Holiday Inn Express & Suites Lander and over-see operations of our Holiday Inn Express Rawlins, WY.

In February 2019, Krista joined the Timberline team as General Manager. She had been with the hotel for over nine years prior to Timberline purchasing the property.

Krista also served as the Director of Sales and Marketing for three years before accepting the General Manager role. She has led her Lander team to achieving the IHG Torch Bear Award for the past three years.

This is a prestigious position with a significant level of greatness in all aspects of operations from quality to excellence in customer service. We anticipate watching her lead our Holiday Inn Express Rawlins team and hotel to be award-winning.   

Krista and her family moved to Lander twenty years ago when her husband Fabian accepted the position of Chief Financial Officer with Brunton.

Krista had several years of hotel experience prior to moving to Wyoming and she definitely has a heart of hospitality. Krista and her husband are empty nesters and enjoy hiking with their dogs and riding their tandem bicycle.

Timberline Hospitalities is a Wyoming owned and operated hotel company.

Our current locations include the Hampton Inn & Suites in Buffalo, Holiday Inn & Suites and Candlewood Suites in Gillette, Hampton Inn Rock Springs, Holiday Inn Express & Suites Lander, Holiday Inn Laramie, Holiday Inn Express Rawlins, Super 8 Casper by the River and Comfort Inn Casper. 

Riverton, Wyoming Balloon Rally Celebrates 40 Years

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The Riverton Rendezvous celebrates 40 years this July and it all starts July 11.  For the main events watch 30 hot air balloons take off from the CWC soccer fields around 6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday July 18 and 19.   

The action happens quickly so get there early.  Spectators aren’t allowed to walk around the field this year, but you will still see plenty of colorful action.

With names like Sapphire Sunrise, Diamond Eyes, Confetti Pebbles, and Wild Thing you can imagine the dizzying display of colors. 

And the pilots come from all over  – Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Illinois and Wyoming.  Keep your eyes out for Beagle Maximus, the Beagle balloon.

Action Packed

Start the fun July 11th with Happy Days.  Music, fun and food will all be Downtown Riverton ending with a community street dance.  Start the Balloon Rally weekend with the Friday Night Rocky Mountain Car & Bike Night Cruise. The parade begins at 6 pm in the Sutherlands parking lot and ends in downtown Riverton for an epic street party.

Saturday after the balloon rally head to CWC South Lawn for the Annual Rocky Mountain Rebels Car & Bike Show from 8-4 pm.

Riverton Rendezvous Friday Night Cruise. Photo: Jennie Hutchinson

Riverton Rendezvous Friday Night Cruise. Photo: Jennie Hutchinson

Finish the evening with the Balloon Glow at the CWC soccer launch field at 8:30 pm and fireworks at Airport Hill at 10 pm.

Riverton Rendezvous is an action-packed weekend. Load up your family and take in the fun. Bring your lawn chair, camera and sunscreen.

Schedule

Saturday July 11

4-8 pm Riverton Happy Days- Sidwalk sales, kids activites, scavenger hunt, food trucks, chalk the walk, music jam and more.

8-11 pm Community Street Dance, Bar 10, Live Band Shuffle

Friday July 17

6 am Balloon Rally Media Day, CWC Launch Field

6 pm Friday Night Cruise Parade starts at Sutherlands and ends Downtown

Saturday, July 18

6 am Balloon Launch, CWC Launch Field

8-4 pm Car and Bike Show,  CWC South Lawn

8-4 pm Rocky Mountain Rebels AUTOCROSS, CWC South Lawn

8:30 pm Balloon Glow, CWC Launch Field

10 pm Fireworks, Airport Hill

Sunday, July 19

6 am Balloon Launch, CWC Launch Field

Please be mindful of others and some COVID-19 restrictions will apply.

For more information contact the Riverton Chamber of Commerce, 307-856-4801 or info@rivertonchamber.org

 Riverton Rendezvous Hot Air Balloon, Jennie Hutchinson

How it All Started

Riverton Rendezvous began in 1981 when the community was looking for a special event to commemorate its 75th anniversary. Bob Peck, publisher of the Riverton Ranger at that time, asked his son, George for ideas and he suggested a balloon rally. The Riverton Rendezvous was born.

Other events were scheduled and soon there was Day in the Park, Rail to Trails Music on the River Walk, Rocky Mountain Rebels Car & Bike show and the Red Neck BBQ.

Some famous people have graced the rally with their presence including Maxie Anderson who was the first balloonist to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the first to attempt an around the world flight.

Malcom Forbes brought his ‘Chateau de Balleroy”, a replica of the French Museum in France. This rally continues to be a favorite of hot air balloon pilots because of our stellar weather and the people of Riverton who welcome the pilots each year.

Despite Coronavirus Surge, More Yellowstone Lodges To Open

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park is a hugely popular tourist destination, with annual visitation averaging more than 4 million people per year. 

But because of this year’s pandemic, 2020 has seen a steep decline in the number of people entering the gates. 

Part of that is due to limited lodging options, because Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the park’s main concessionaire, made the decision to keep their hotels and lodges closed for health reasons. 

But Rick Hoeninghausen with Xanterra reported that just this week, officials made the decision to open up more lodging for visitors. 

“On July 3, the Sandpiper Lodge near Yellowstone Lake Lodge opened,” he said, adding that in the coming week some rooms will be available at Canyon Lodge and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

“And then on the 17th of July, at the Mammoth Hotel, we’ll be able to open some hotel rooms,” he said.

Hoeninghausen said the mandatory use of masks by both staff and guests is one of the reasons park officials feel confident in opening more properties.

“We’re very front line,” he points out. “We’re talking to a lot of visitors from all over the place, and so it seemed like a good step to make.”

Hoeninghausen said the demand for lodging is increasing as visitation continues to rise. 

Morgan Warthin, public affairs specialist for Yellowstone National Park, said that park officials have seen a marked increase in visitor numbers since the park first opened in the middle of May.

“When we opened the Wyoming gates on May 18, we were at about 19% of 2019 visitation,” she said. “And what we know from visitation for mid-June is that we’re at about 89%.”

Both Hoeninghausen and Warthin said that upwards of 600 park employees – both National Park Service and Xanterra staff – have undergone rigorous testing for coronavirus, and so far, every test has come back negative.

Warthin says the Park Service has one overall request of its visitors.

“We are asking visitors to recreate responsibly,” she said. “We highly recommend wearing masks, and to social distance.”

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Get Off The Grid in Sweetwater County

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EXPLORE SOUTHWEST WYOMING

Looking for a truly unplugged, raw trip full of gorgeous scenery, untouched trails and some good-old-fashioned peace and quiet? Look no farther than Sweetwater County, Wyoming—where you can really get off the grid* and relax in paradise.

PLAN A SWEET ESCAPE

Although Sweetwater County’s two main towns, Rock Springs and Green River, are pretty large and perfect for family vacations, the lesser-known town of Eden Valley is the perfect escape for those looking to get off the beaten path.

Eden Valley offers a historical snapshot of life in the 1800s. Visit Eden Valley if you are looking for historical trailslake fishing at Big Sandy Reservoir or camping.

So where should you stay? A stay in a hotel, motel or inn in Rock Springs, Green River or Farson can offer cell phone and internet access in between your off-the-grid day trips. Or pitch a tent in the wilderness to truly keep you off the grid. Find the lodging option that works best for you.

GO OFF-ROADING

Whether you prefer high-flying sandy fun on the Killpecker Sand Dunes, traditional off-road rides on some high-country trails or gorgeous scenic views on a traditional scenic byway or drive, Sweetwater County has it.

The only rules? Bring your own four-wheel-vehicle, snacks and water. And make sure you tell someone where you’re going. Out here, there is no cell service and you are truly off the beaten path.

CAST YOUR LINE

Whether you prefer lake fishing in a remote reservoir or beautiful streams and rivers, catch the big one here. With diverse waterways including Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Jim Bridger Pond, Fontanelle Reservoir, Hams Fork, LaBarge Creek and Big Sandy Reservoir, Sweetwater County is a fisherman’s paradise. 

Depending on which waterway you choose, catch catfish, mountian whitefish, smallmouth bass, kokanee salmon, or brown, mackinaw or rainbow trout. Finish off your day cleaning your fish by the shore and cooking them over your campfire.

EXPLORE OUR SIDE OF LAKE FLAMING GORGE

With 90 miles of shoreline in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Wyoming, there is plenty of area to explore. And what’s even better? Our side of the reservoir is much less developed than Utah’s, leading to one of the most quiet, serene escapes possible with this expansive reservoir.

With activities like hiking, fishing, mountain biking, off-roading and more, Flaming Gorge Country is an ideal escape. Bring your own ATV, boat or bike to explore the area. Visiting in the winter? Bring your own skis, ice fishing gear and more to enjoy winter activities while staying off the grid. 

CAMP UNDER STARRY SKIES

A camping retreat is the perfect trip to give you a break from technology and day-to-day life. But you can do that almost anywhere across the country. So why choose Sweetwater County?

With more than 10 formal campgrounds with ammenities ranging from RV electrical hookups and maintained bathrooms to a patch of dirt and a fire pit, you’ll find the perfect one to suit your needs. Pitch a tent on your drive to one of the area’s National Parks to take in some of the area’s unique wildlife, rock formations, scenic vistas and more.

*Disclaimer: Sweetwater County offers true “off-the-grid experiences.” Cell service is limited or not available at all. Make sure you have extra water, food and a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle with a spare tire to traverse dirt roads in the area. Let someone know where you are headed and when you plan to return.

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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Wyoming State Park Camping Reservations Sold Out For 4th Weekend

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Due to the continued high demand for outdoor recreation, persons looking to camp at a Wyoming State Park during the Fourth of July weekend should be aware campsite reservations throughout the state park system are sold out; however, we welcome the public to come out for the day, enjoy a picnic and recreate.

These state parks – Boysen, Buffalo Bill, Curt Gowdy, Glendo, Guernsey, Keyhole, Medicine Lodge, Seminoe and Sinks Canyon – currently have no campsites available for this holiday weekend. Hawk Springs remains first-come, first-serve and is at capacity also.

“With the 4th landing on a Saturday, we expected our camping system to be full,” Deputy Director Nick Neylon said. “The team has been working hard to get facilities ready for our visitors.”

Currently, Glendo and Guernsey both have campfire restrictions. Propane grills and stoves and charcoal grills can still be used to prepare popular camping dishes and provide adequate warmth.

These grills must have covers/lids and be within an arm’s length when lit. A variety of other imaginative ideas can help preserve the camping experience such as solar lights in the firepit.

Recreationists are reminded that possession of fireworks is prohibited at all Wyoming State Parks.

“Having full state parks is a great problem to have, however, it can come with challenges, especially during this pandemic,” said Director Darin Westby, “We implore that you help us keep the parks open by recreating responsibly as requested in our rules and the guidelines and protocols issued by the State Health Officer and the CDC”

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Visit Sweetwater County: How to Experience Flaming Gorge Country

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#THATSWY #HERESHOW

Just south of Rock Springs and Green River exists a stunning natural landscape.

Drawing adventurers, families, locals and those just seeking a beautiful view, the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area offers things to do and see year-round.

Here are a few ways to experience one of Sweetwater County’s hidden gems. 

FLAMING GORGE SCENIC BYWAY

If you’re short on time and want a quick glimpse of the area’s towering canyons, expansive lake and even some wildlife, drive the Flaming Gorge Scenic Byway.

Begin the route from Rock Springs and travel south on US-191 along the east side of Lake Flaming Gorge.

Loop around onto HWY-44 and travel north along the west side of the lake until you reach Green River.

There are various stopping points along this scenic drive to take photographs, eat a picnic lunch or enjoy the water.

Pull over by a scenic overlook such as the Firehole Canyon Overlook or Clay Basin Overlook.

The drive is approximately 150 miles and takes 90 minutes to drive one side. 

FLAMING GORGE SCENIC BYWAY GUIDE

CAMPGROUNDS

Extend your visit in Flaming Gorge Country by camping overnight at one the various campgrounds and RV Parks in the area.

There are campgrounds at each of the marinas – providing easy access to supplies, food and recreation. However, there are plenty of other sites to choose from including boat-in campsites such as the Hideout Boat-in Campground and Jarvies Boat-in Campground.

Or stay right on the shores of Lake Flaming Gorge at the Antelope Flat Campground.

The lakeside campground features 45 gravel sites and five tent sites for tent and RV camping along with an onsite boat ramp for easy water access.

Stay closer to Rock Springs and Green River by camping at the Firehole Canyon Campground which features 40 paved, non-electric sites for tent and RV camping.

This high-desert campground features a boat ramp and easy access to fishing, hiking and water recreation.

SEE MORE CAMPGROUNDS

FULL-SERVICE MARINAS

There are three full-service marinas in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area to pick up supplies and food; rent boats, kayaks and paddleboards; or dock your boat.

The Buckboard Marina on the west side is the closest to Green River and Rock Springs, providing easy access for boating and fishing.

The Cedar Springs Marina and Lucerne Valley Marina are both on the Utah side and feature seasonal restaurants along with the full spectrum of services.

For a unique experience on Lake Flaming Gorge, head to the Lucerne Valley Marina where you can rent houseboats for overnight camping on the lake! This is also a great way to see the stars.

OUTDOOR RECREATION

When it comes to water recreation, there are endless opportunities to swim, boat, fish and more on the 91-mile-long Lake Flaming Gorge. Bring your own watercrafts or rent fishing boats, pontoons, houseboats, kayaks and paddleboards from a marina.

It’s impossible not to enjoy the area’s majestic waters when visiting Flaming Gorge Country no matter what age you are.

But did you know there are many other ways to experience the rugged landscapes?

Across 42,000 acres, visitors can explore trails for hikingmountain biking and ATVing. And after a day full of adventure, you can toast marshmallows and relax along the shores of Lake Flaming Gorge.

Need trip inspiration for your next visit to this hidden oasis in the American West? Follow our three-day itinerary to get started.

Visit Sweetwater County: How To Experience Rock Springs And Green River

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TUBING IN GREEN RIVER

Looking to cool off? Rent a tube or a kayak at White Mountain Lumber Tube and Kayak in Green River, and head toward Expedition Island to launch down the area’s lazy river. Or take it up a notch and experience the Green River Whitewater Park and Tubing Channel.

MOUNTAIN BIKING IN GREEN RIVER

Both a local favorite and one of the best trail systems in Wyoming, the Wilkins Peak Trail System allows mountain bikers of all levels to experience Sweetwater County’s unique landscape. Just outside of Green River, 20 miles of biking trails are accessible for a day of adventure. Rent your bike at Bike and Trike in Rock Springs before heading out to the trails. Start with the basics and get warmed up by biking the Channel Surfing trail, rated as beginner, and then see if you can tackle some of the more difficult trails including TNT and Pick Your Poison.

SEE WILKINS PEAK TRAILS [PDF]

HIKING IN ROCK SPRINGS

Located north of Rock Springs, White Mountain is the perfect place to start hiking in Sweetwater County. Those looking for an easier hike or interested in historic sites should follow the short path to the White Mountain Petroglyphs. Discover sandstone etchings from American Indians who inhabited the area hundreds of years ago on this all-level trail. 

For another challenge, visitors can hike to the summit of Pilot Butte, situated atop White Mountain. This extraordinary landmark is the second highest point in the immediate region at 7,949 feet above sea level. Visitors are able to hike to the summit with opportunities to see wild horses and panoramic views of Sweetwater County’s western landscape.

SEE ALL TRAIL AREAS >

WATER RECREATION IN FLAMING GORGE COUNTRY

Just south of Rock Springs and Green River is an oasis of natural beauty. The Lake Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area offers visitors opportunities to camp, boat, fish and more with 360 miles of shoreline and more than 700 campsites. Bring your own equipment or rent water skis, jet skis or boats from one of the marinas around the lake as you reconnect with the great outdoors. Take a scenic drive along the Flaming Gorge Scenic Byway to reach this breathtaking destination. 

These are just a few ideas that will inspire you to get outside and explore Sweetwater County. Browse our Rock Springs and Green River trip ideas for more incredible paths to adventure. 

National Travel Site Selects Centennial as Wyoming’s “Must-Visit” Community

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If you read the food, entertainment, and travel site “Thrillist”, you know they love to put together lists.

We paid close attention to their latest list entitled “The Must-Visit Small Town In Every State” and were pleased to find it included one of Wyoming’s own.

There’s a lot of must-visit small towns in Wyoming.  In fact, compared to many states, every town in Wyoming could be classified as a small town.

Regardless, the magazine chose the non-incorporated community of Centennial as their favorite pick. 

What kind of methodology did the writers use in selecting their favorite community?  None, really. All personal opinion.

We stand by their methodology — although there are many communities in Wyoming that would be the ranked No. 1, depending on who you asked.

What did they like about Centennial?

“This tiny outpost features all the best things about Wyoming — friendly bars, wide-open spaces, great music, and access to some of the most starkly beautiful outdoor recreation you’ll find anywhere,” they wrote.

They also like the party aspect:

“On a given weekend the town is liable to turn into a party, especially when the right bands are passing through, and it’s the home of the most truly great winter party you’ll ever find: The annual Poker Run (see the video above), where a few hundred well-lubricated skiers tumble down the mountain and crash-land in Centennial’s welcoming arms.”

If you plan to visit this must-visit community, get reservations. The writer obviously knows that it can only handle so many people.

“Sitting 8,000 feet up, 30 miles outside of Laramie at the foot of the Medicine Bow mountain range, Centennial consists mainly of a couple hotels and bars/music venues that play host to hikers, campers, skiers, and snowmobilers on their way into or out of the mountains.”

To read the full-list of every must-visit community in the country, check out their article.

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Visit Sweetwater County: Guide to Camping

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UNDER WYOMING’S WIDE OPEN SKIES

From OHVing and hiking to boating and fishing, stay close to the action in Sweetwater County.

Camping is one of the best ways to escape into nature and experience the area’s stunning landscapes.

Our guide to camping in and around Rock Springs and Green River will help you find the perfect campsite for your next outdoor adventure.

FIREHOLE CANYON CAMPGROUND

On the northeast shore of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the Fire Hole Canyon Campground is located 30 miles south of Rock Springs. There are 40 paved, non-electric sites for tent and RV camping, each featuring a shaded cabana, picnic table and fire ring. Campground amenities include showers and restrooms, and drinking water. The lake offers opportunities for boating, water skiing, swimming and more. Campsites can be reserved up to six months in advance while some are available on a first come, first serve basis. The campground is open May through September.

In a Nutshell: You’ll wake up to beautiful views at this lakeside campground. The site is great for tent camping or RV camping if you don’t require electric hookups. Experience Lake Flaming Gorge with fewer crowds and don’t forget to bring your boat! Nightly rates range from $20-40.

BUCKBOARD CROSSING CAMPGROUND

The Buckboard Crossing Campground is located along the northwest shore of Flaming Gorge Reservoir next to the Buckboard Marina. The campground has 66 sites for tent and RV camping, several with electric hookups, shaded cabanas, grills and/or fire rings. Other basic amenities include showers, restrooms and drinking water. This site offers great opportunities for fishing, boating, water skiing, swimming, and more. Groceries, rentals, fuel and fishing licenses are conveniently available at the adjacent marina. Campsites can be reserved up to six months in advance while some are available on a first come, first serve basis. The campground is open May through September.

In a Nutshell: This is another campground great for watersports and closer to Rock Springs and Green River than the Lucerne Valley Campground. The adjacent marina is convenient if you need to rent a boat or purchase extra supplies. Nightly rates range from $20-28.

LUCERNE VALLEY CAMPGROUND

The farthest trek out of town is the Lucerne Valley Campground in Manila, Utah. The campground sits along the shores of Flaming Gorge Reservoir with more than 140 campsites for tent and RV camping. Cabin camping and group camping is also available here. Various loops offer differing amenities including electric hookups, showers and restrooms, shaded cabanas, picnic tables, fire rings and drinking water. Nearby recreational activities include fishing, boating, water skiing, swimming and more. The adjacent Lucerne Marina offers groceries, rentals, fuel and fishing licenses. Campsites can be reserved up to six months in advance while some are available on a first come, first serve basis. The campground is open May through September.

In a Nutshell: Stay in the heart of Lake Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. This larger campground is more central to trails, attractions and the visitor center. If you’re looking to rent a boat, the nearby marina is the place to go. Nightly rates range from $20-140. Full season rates are also available.

ROCK SPRINGS KOA

The Rock Springs KOA is just 15 minutes outside of downtown Rock Springs. This Kampsite of America location offers RV sites, tent sites and camping cabins year-round along with numerous amenities for a comfortable camping experience. Campground amenities include a general store, electric hookups, showers and restrooms, laundry facilities, WiFi and cable. Long-term camping is also available at weekly and monthly rates. With a swimming pool, playground and dog park, visitors of all ages can enjoy a variety of activities while camping here.  

In a Nutshell: If you’re willing to spend a little extra, this private campground has added amenities and services ideal for extended stays. It’s location is central to outdoor activities while still being conveniently close to the vibrant town of Rock Springs.

THE TRAVEL CAMP

Located off of I-80 and two miles from the town of Green River, The Travel Camp is a convenient campground with 71 full hookup sites for RV and tent camping. The Travel Camp has a full set of amenities including a general store, electric hookups, showers and restrooms, laundry facilities, WiFi, cable and fire pits. Long-term camping is also available at weekly and monthly rates. Nearby, anglers can walk just five minutes for fishing the Green River.

In a Nutshell: The Travel Camp is another private campground offering additional amenities that keep camping comfortable. It’s a great choice if you’re interested in fishing or extended stays with close proximity to business and attractions in the town of Green River. Nightly rates range from $20-38.

KILLPECKER SAND DUNES OPEN PLAY AREA CAMPGROUND

Just under an hour north of Rock Springs is the Killpecker Sand Dunes Open Play Area. The area has a developed campground featuring basic amenities including a vault toilet and fire rings. From the campground there is easy access to recreational activities such as hiking, horseback riding and ATVing. The Killpecker Sand Dunes is a valuable habitat for wildlife and requires special management to protect its resources. To protect this habitat, the area is closed to motorized vehicles from May through June. No fees or reservations are required to camp here.

In a Nutshell: This campground offers a more primitive escape into nature at no cost. Camping in this unique environment offers a one-of-a-kind experience and beautiful views of the high desert landscape. If you like adventure, activities are abound at these natural sand dunes.

Visit Sweetwater County: SEEDSKADEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

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EXPLORE NATURE THIS SUMMER

Stretching along 36 miles of the Green River in southwest Wyoming, you’ll discover Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge.

Not only is this 27,230-acre refuge home for migrating birds and a variety of animals, it is also a historical crossing for pioneers and nomadic Native American tribes. 

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting this scenic sanctuary, it is a dream landscape for outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs and photographers. 

THINGS TO DO AT SEEDSKADEE

Guests to the refuge will be pleasantly surprised by the numerous winter activities available on-site.

Seedskadee is famous for its birding and Gold Medal fishing, but did you know you can also ride horses and ATVs, hunt, camp and so much more?

You can also view exhibits, take a class, or use viewing scopes at the Visitor’s and Environmental Education Center.

WINTER WILDLIFE AT SEEDSKADEE

Each season brings new temperatures, influencing changes to the wildlife and plants and making each visit unique. 

During winter, this panoramic area is particularly breathtaking and becomes the perfect home for arctic rough-legged hawks, as well as migratory birds like rosy-finches, waterfowl and trumpeter swans. 

Many visit throughout winter just to see the big game mammals, such as elk, moose, pronghorn antelope and white-tailed deer.

If you’re vigilant, you may even see well-hidden creatures like great horned owls or river otters. Learn more about the wildlife seasons in Seedskadee

Seedskadee is open daily except for scheduled protective closings and holidays, so it’s easy to see why thousands of nature-lovers and sportsmen alike venture to the region year-round.

Planning your visit is simple and well worth the short drive from your base camp in Green River or Rock Springs

Take a virutal tour of Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge! 

Cody Stampede Organizers Prepare For Rodeo As Originally Planned

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Just three weeks ago, representatives from the six major rodeos in Wyoming — including the Cody Stampede — stood together and announced plans to cancel their events due to coronavirus concerns. 

But the Cody Stampede Board, acting with the approval of the state Department of Health, is planning to hold the 101st annual rodeo as originally scheduled July 1-4.

Mike Darby is co-president of the Cody Stampede Board. He said the board decided to go ahead with the event despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19.

“We’re allowed 600 people in the stands total right now, plus the contestants,” he explains. “We are applying for a variance — we’re writing that as we speak. We capped our entries off for our timed events at 150.”

In fact, Darby said the rodeo has even added an event this year.

“We’re looking at having all our normal events, plus we’re adding breakaway roping for the women,” he said. “We’re going to have all the top talent that’s available, all the top contestants.”

Additionally, the Cody Stampede Parade Committee announced that the parades on July 2, 3 and 4, along ith entertainment in Cody City Park on July 3 and 4, will take place as originally planned, thanks to the continued easing of health restrictions by the Health Department.

Darby pointed out that because of Cody’s decision, other rodeos around the state may be following suit.

“There are some rodeos that have asked how we did this for our Cody Nite Rodeo,” he said. “I have forwarded the exception that we wrote and that was accepted by the state so that we can have people in our stands, and I haven’t heard whether (other rodeos have) been given the OK to go ahead or not.”

Darby said moving forward with the annual celebration is something the community needed after the struggles that 2020 has presented so far.

“It’s gonna be a landmark year, given everything that’s going on in COVID 2020, so to speak, and we’re doing our best to bring the best show that we can to the public,” he said.

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Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Will Happen (With Some Changes)

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The show must go on. And in Sturgis, South Dakota, that means the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will not succumb to the coronavirus and will be held on its regularly scheduled dates.

That’s not only good economic news for South Dakota but for Wyoming as well as towns in the northeast corner of the Cowboy State have their own celebrations tied to the annual rally.

Like many events that have not been canceled due to the pandemic, things will be a bit different this year in Sturgis — at least in the city limits.

The City of Sturgis, while agreeing to be part of the annual celebration, announced some changes to this year’s event.

“The City sponsored celebratory events including opening ceremonies, parades, B1 Flyover, and entertainment and live music at Harley-Davidson Rally Point have been canceled,” the city said in a news release. “Photo towers will not be installed.  These changes are designed to reduce the large crowd gatherings in the downtown core.  We look forward to offering events again in 2021.”

Randy Peterson, the owner of the original website dedicated to promoting the Sturgis Rally, said he was pleased with Monday’s city council’s vote to be a part of the rally. He said with or without the city’s OK, it would have happened anyway.

“You can’t cancel what you don’t own,” he said last week. ”You can choose to participate or choose not to participate, but the Sturgis Rally will still go on regardless of what the City of Sturgis chooses.”

“A sampling of more than 50 local businesses and campgrounds had already stated they would be open for business, but with the City’s involvement, necessary municipal services will be provided within city limits,” he said.

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Visit Sweetwater County: Wyoming’s Coolest Hidden Gems

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FROM VOLCANOES TO OUTLAWS

The beauty and wonder of Wyoming is undeniable. With the mountains, lakes, forests and prairies, it’s got a lot going for it.

But tucked among the gorgeous landscape, you can find some truly special hidden gems that are worth the trip to the Cowboy State alone.

Follow in the footsteps of Butch Cassidy and other famed outlaws, feel the wind in your hair as you off-road through a massive shifting dune field, see the sights that guided pioneers and more on an adventure to discover the hidden gems of Wyoming’s Sweetwater County.

FLAMING GORGE NATIONAL RECREATION AREA

Straddling the state line between Wyoming and Utah is the utterly enchanting Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Snuggled in between rugged cliffs and mountains lays the massive Flaming Gorge Reservoir, a winding body of water with 65.7 square miles of water for boating and fishing, and 360 miles of shoreline for hiking and swimming. Trails crisscross the cliffs and forests around the lake, and campsites line the water’s edge. You can rent a boat, check out the visitor center near the dam or go for a scenic drive… just make sure to do some exploring so you can really get a sense for the many diverse views the area offers.

COWBOY DONUTS

As you make your way into Wyoming, you’ll probably have a hankerin’ for a snack for the road. Pull over at Cowboy Donuts for a fritter, a kolache (a kind of delicious meat and cheese stuffed roll) or a plain ol’ glazed donut. It’s the town’s only fresh donut shop, and it attracts a crowd of friendly locals each morning who love to linger over a pastry and a cup of coffee. The shop, which was featured on Food Network’s competition show “Donut Showdown,” makes over 55 varieties of fresh donuts each day. The sweet scent of donuts will be stuck in your memory for the rest of the trip!

BITTER CREEK BREWING

Another local gem in Rock Springs is Bitter Creek Brewing. They craft beers inspired by the local culture, and they’re pretty much all worth trying, especially the light Sweetwater Wheat, the wild Mustang Pale Ale, the roasty and dark Coal Porter and the complex but warm Red Desert Ale. They also serve up some tasty elevated pub grub like sesame-fried calamari, gorgonzola steak salads and a whole bunch of burgers topped with mouthwatering gourmet goodies.

THE SNAG BAR & GRILL

While you’re exploring Flaming Gorge, you can take a moment to sit back and relax at The Snag Bar & Grill on the Utah side of the reservoir. Located at the Cedar Springs Marina, the little hangout spot is right on the water. In fact, it’s the area’s only floating restaurant. The kitschy, fun atmosphere, killer views and full bar make The Snag a great place to spend a lazy afternoon in the sun. You can reach the bar via boat or car, but if you happen to be getting here from the water, the marina is a great place to gas up and get supplies as well.

KILLPECKER SAND DUNES

Wyoming is probably the last place you’d expect to stumble upon a stretch of sand dunes, but Sweetwater County is home to the Killpecker Sand Dunes, the world’s second-largest moving dune field. If you’ve got a four-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicle, you will definitely want to take it for a spin on the sand. If you’re not into off-roading, a Wilderness Study Area that is home to rare creatures like desert elk surrounds the dunes. There’s also a wildlife viewing area right by the dunes, so you can just enjoy the fascinating scenery here as well.

BOAR’S TUSK

It’s not hard to spot Boar’s Tusk, as it’s the only rock formation rising from the Killpecker Creek Plains. It can be seen for miles in each direction! It’s actually the rocky remains of a volcano that existed more than 2.5 million years ago. You can hike around the lone butte and admire it from every angle. Keep your eyes peeled for desert elk, wild horses, antelope and sage grouse as you ramble down the dirt path that leads to the rock formation. Keep in mind that it’s best visited in a high-clearance vehicle with four-wheel drive.

FARSON MERCANTILE

The best way to end an adventure? With an ice cream cone, of course. Farson Mercantile in Farson is a little cafe with pizza, coffee, sandwiches and the famous Big Cone. It’s roughly the size of four normal scoops, so if you’re worried about getting a brain freeze or a sugar rush you might want to split one. Then again, once you get a taste for their yummy flavors (including an outstanding seasonal huckleberry offering) you might not want to!

As you explore the canyons, mountains and plains across Wyoming, head off the beaten path to discover the local gems and hidden treasures that are tucked away in this little corner of the state. Where else in the country can you sip a beer on a stunning lake surrounded by red rocks, see the remains of an ancient volcano and experience the biggest and most delicious brain freeze of your life, all on one trip?

Click here to take a virutal tour of the Farson Mercantile!