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Overall Wyoming Population Grows After Three Years Of Decline

in News/Wyoming
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming saw a slight increase of 0.2% in its population in 2019, a first after three straight years of decline.

The United States Census Bureau, in a release Thursday about July 1, 2019 population estimates, said Wyoming’s population grew by 1,158 people in the year ending July 1 to total 578,759.

As of July 2019, Cheyenne was still the state’s largest city, boasting a population of 64,235. Casper followed with a population of 57,931. Laramie was the third most-populated city in the state, with 32,711.

Casper barely beat out Cheyenne for the largest population change between July 2018 and July 2019, with the former adding 416 new residents and the latter only getting 400. This was the first increase in Casper’s population after years of decline.

Bar Nunn, in Natrona County, saw the fastest annual growth in one year, around 2.7% for a total of 2,812. The other cities that saw population increases included Sheridan, Jackson and Douglas.

Rock Springs, with a population of 22,653, saw the largest decline in population, losing 274 residents over the 12-month period. Thermopolis, Wheatland and Green River also saw population declines.

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Company Gives Wyoming ‘F’ for Social Distancing

in Coronavirus/News/Wyoming
Wyoming sign
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A company that studies the movement of people based on their cell phone signals has given Wyoming a grade of “F” for social distancing.

Unacast, which tracks cell phone signals to determine patterns in human mobility, reported that the average distance traveled by Wyoming residents since coronavirus first surfaced actually increased by 6% as of March 22.

Wyoming was the only state to receive an “F” on Unacast’s “Social Distancing Scoreboard.” Montana, which saw distance traveled decline by 15 percent during the same period, received a “D.” The District of Columbia, where the distance traveled has fallen by 61%, received the best rating on the scorecard.The average grade for the country was a “B,” reflecting a 40% decline in travel distances.

Tomas Walle, Unacast’s CEO and founder, said in a blog that his company based its scorecard on distance traveled because it “captures how people adapt their everyday behavior in a few significant areas.” He added the company is working to add new data to its scorecard, such as changes in the number of encounters among people and changes in the number of locations visited.

Among Wyoming’s counties, only nine received a grade better than an “F.” Teton County, with a travel decline of 61%, had the best rating in the state, followed by Park County with a decline of 45%.

Carbon County, with a travel increase of 62%, was ranked worst in the state, followed by Albany County, with a travel distance increase of 61%. Unacast said it created the scoreboard using its technology to provide a free tool so public health experts, policy makers and others can reinforce the importance of social distancing. The company stressed that its technology does not identify any individual person or their cell phone, instead using tens of millions of anonymous mobile phones and their interactions to develop its data.

Grocery stores announce special hours for vulnerable adults, limit daily hours

in Business/Coronavirus/Food/News/Wyoming
Apple City Festival
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbing every day, grocery stores across the country have recognized a specific need among customers. 

Certain groups, such as the elderly, people who have underlying health conditions and pregnant women, are the most susceptible to the coronavirus. With the addition of people panic buying unnecessary extra supplies, those vulnerable adults are often risking their health to shop in grocery stores with empty aisles. 

But more and more grocery stores across the country and in Wyoming have pledged to create special hours for these high-risk individuals, allowing them to come into stores for a certain amount of time and shop at a time they can avoid large groups of people. 

Walmart announced an hour-long senior shopping event every Tuesday until April 28. Customers 60 and older will have the opportunity to begin shopping one hour before the store opens for the general public. The pharmacy and vision center will be open at this time, as well.

Albertsons and Safeway will reserve two hours every Tuesday and Thursday morning, 7 to 9 a.m., for vulnerable shoppers, including seniors, pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems. 

Dollar General will designate the first hour at all of its stores as open daily to senior shoppers. 

Big Lots will reserve the first hour of each day for seniors and those most at-risk concerning the virus.

Many of these chains, such as Walmart and Albertsons, are also limiting their daily hours to help combat the spread of the virus.

Don Day’s Weather Forecast for Friday, February 21, 2020

in News/weather/Wyoming
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This is a rushed transcript of today’s Don Day weather forecast: Good morning and good Friday to everybody. Thanks for watching the Day Weather podcast.

Well, we’ve enjoyed some pretty quiet weather. Yesterday, was gorgeous across the region. Sunshine, not much wind, a little chilly but a really day that gives you spring fever a little bit.

For today and Saturday, for the most part, we’ve got two more days of quiet weather across Wyoming. It really looks nice for two more days.

We’ve got a little bit of a storm system that is going to bring some rain to southern California today and tomorrow.

Then it is going to come up and produce some snow. I’ll show you the snow forecast from one of our computer models that takes us through Sunday afternoon.

Notice it will be Colorado’s mountains and western slope that sees the best chance of accumulating snow and look how the northern part of this system just barely gets into southern Wyoming.

This area here is a question mark. If the low tracks a little more north, I think this system could bring some snow to places like Laramie and Cheyenne. 

If it goes a little more south, it could all stay south of the border.

There are a lot of question marks right in northeast Colorado. It could very well be dry as the model is showing but this band of snow along Interstate 70 we are pretty confident about.

We may see this band go north or south. I guess what I’m leading up to here is there are a lot of question marks as to where the best snow is going to fall on Sunday especially in eastern Colorado.

The question mark is if it will get into Laramie or Cheyenne because it’s right on the edge.

Notice the rest of Wyoming will have a very nice day on Sunday. 

But things will change next week. We go to a colder pattern. Here is the snow forecast through Wednesday.

And you can see the winds aloft coming from the northwest again. That drags some cold air and this will bring cold out into the plains in most of Wyoming from Monday thru Wednesday next week.

This snow, that you see right here, is coming Monday through Wednesday, along with a pretty good drop of temperatures.

So the nice weather lasts for two more days. Three days for some of you.  Then early next week, expect a change.

And here, we can see the upper level pattern of the jet stream, this is by Tuesday morning. It gets much colder again.

Tjhis high pressure ridge will move east. Monday thru Wednesday will turn quite a bit colder.

But the end of next week and into next weekend, the high pressure will likely move in temporarily.

One thing I want to show you, we’ve shown it before : the eastern Pacific oscillation. It is an indication of how stormy a pattern may be in the Rockies and the high plains. Anytime we see the eastern Pacific oscillation near this zero line or below it, it means an active pattern.

This is where we are right now. Notice how nice the weather is right now?  The eastern Pacific oscillation is in a positive phase.

But as we get into next week and beyond, the oscillation forecast average is right near the zero mark. You see these dips? These ups and downs.

This takes us up to early April. We expect March to be more busy.

Thanks for watching the Day weather podcast. See you on Monday.

Treasure Seeker Rescued from Yellowstone Canyon

in News/Wyoming
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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

An Indiana man who illegally rappelled into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone this month before being pulled out by rescuers says he was searching for hidden treasure.

Dave Christensen, 55, is convinced the canyon holds the famed Fenn treasure — a multi-million dollar cache of gold and jewels that Sante Fe art dealer and author Forrest Fenn reportedly hid some time ago.

Christensen took a scouting trip into Yellowstone just after Christmas, loaded up with supplies back in Indiana, then snowmobiled into the park again on Jan. 6.

Armed with ropes, a harness, helmet and other climbing gear, he tied off on a railing at a popular overlook and proceeded to climb down to the Yellowstone River — more than 850 feet below.

Yellowstone National Park rangers and search and rescue personnel were ultimately called to the scene, and it took them several hours to bring Christensen back to safety. He’s now facing misdemeanor criminal charges for the incident.

However, the Winamac, Indiana, resident says his attempt was to save others who may be injured or perish in attempts to discover the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” He sought to make that case in an email to Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly following the incident, laying out why he believes Fenn’s gold is in the canyon.

“I am not a quack, nor have blind lust for hidden treasures,” Christensen wrote. “I’m sending this so you can analyze the information, hopefully understand its validity, and thus, potentially circumvent a ‘Mad Mad World’ or ‘Rat Race’ of searchers in the near future, or spring when Yellowstone opens to wheeled vehicles.”

Blogger Dal Neitzel estimates that nearly 250,000 people have searched for the treasure. He’s written about the subject for the past five years, prompting many to ask if he knows so much about the search, why doesn’t he find the gold himself?

“Believe me, I’ve tried,” Neitzel wrote last year, saying he’d made more than 70 trips to the Rocky Mountains and planned more.

Fenn said the treasure is about 42 pounds of gold and jewels in an ornate, 10-inch by 10-inch Romanesque box. He was in his 70s when he hid the box, taking him two trips to carry the load to its hidey hole.

“Please be cautious and don’t take risks,” Fenn has said. “The search is supposed to be fun.”

However, at least four people have died looking for the treasure and several have required rescue, including in Park County.

A couple from Virginia, Madilina L. Taylor and boyfriend Frank E. Rose Jr., had to receive assistance from search and rescue crews in 2013, 2015 and 2016 after trying to find Fenn’s fortune in the Wapiti area and Shoshone National Forest. Those misadventures included Taylor breaking her ankle in 2015, which required her to be airlifted to a hospital. After another trip in July 2016 resulted in encounters with grizzly bears, Taylor reportedly told the sheriff’s office that “she was headed back East with no intentions of ever returning.”

Then in early June 2018, Jeff Murphy, a 53 year-old from Batavia, Illinois was searching for the treasure near Yellowstone’s Turkey Pen Peak when he accidentally stepped into a chute and fell to his death. A year earlier, Paris Wallace, a 52 year-old pastor from Grand Junction, Colorado died while searching for the treasure in the Rio Grand Gorge in New Mexico. After the death, the New Mexico State Police asked Fenn to call off the search for the gold and jewels.

“If someone thinks the treasure is hidden in a dangerous location, they should not search for it. There is no percentage in taking risks,” Westword reported Fenn as saying at the time. The octogenarian then added a couple more clues, saying “the treasure chest is not under water, nor is it near the Rio Grande River. It is not necessary to move large rocks or climb up or down a steep precipice.”

Christensen ignored the additional clue.

“This is his [Fenn’s] life savings,” Christensen said. “He’s not going to put it where someone can stumble across it.”

Christensen framed his decision to drop into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone as an effort to ultimately help others.

“I had to do this. The story has to end,” he said. “Too many people are getting hurt and killed.”

The military veteran said he’s been working for months on a “solve” to the poetic riddle that Fenn published in 2010, which launched the search for his treasure.

Christensen made a “reconnaissance” trip by rented snowmobile to the canyon on Dec. 26, checking the logistics of getting to the spot where he suspects the treasure is hidden. Then he returned to Indiana to prepare and purchase needed equipment, including special clothing, climbing tools, 1,000 feet of climbing rope and bear spray. He also was outfitted with a Garmin transceiver in case of an avalanche.

Christensen then returned to Yellowstone, rented another snowmobile near Pahaska Tepee, loaded it with all the supplies he thought he would need and entered the East Gate on a non-commercially guided snowmobile access program permit.

“I knew it would be too hard to carry it out,” he said of the treasure. “I had my cellphone and I was going to take a picture to prove it was there and then move it.”

Christensen’s preparation and experience in the Army — where he received the Bronze Star for his service in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm — gave him the courage to take that first step over the edge of the overlook, he said.

Despite his advance planning, he admits he may have made a couple miscalculations.

Christensen later told search and rescue personnel and park rangers that he dropped his backpack and went off-rope to retrieve it. Then he slid down the canyon wall to the river.

Christensen said a friend, who he didn’t identify, was at the overlook and was supposed to help send down more rope when contacted to do so by two-way radio.

Rangers reported that after two hours of attempting to climb back up with his backpack, Christensen requested assistance.

He disputes the official report, saying that “I could have climbed out, but they wouldn’t authorize more rope.”

Christensen said he turned back from the treasure location after seeing possible bear tracks and hearing a loud moan or growl; he claimed a bear might be skipping hibernation due to plentiful food — fish that die after going over the Lower Falls.

Further, rangers were yelling at him at the time, Christensen said.

“They were yelling at me, asking ‘what are you doing down there’ and I wasn’t going to take the chance of pissing something off so I got out of there,” he said.

Onlookers and park personnel couldn’t believe their eyes.

“He was like a turtle on his back in that heavy snow,” said Gary Fales, owner of Gary Fales Outfitting and Snowmobile Tours in Wapiti, which had rented the sled to Christensen with no knowledge of his plans. “This guy was lucky he didn’t die.”

A team of rangers and 11 search and rescue members responded from throughout the park, eventually lowering an expert climber approximately 800 feet to Christensen.

It took more than four hours to bring Christensen to safety, with the team finishing the operation at about 8:30 p.m. in snow flurries and frigid temperatures. Christensen was taken to Mammoth and received two citations for creating a hazardous condition and off trail travel in a closed area.

He isn’t the first to be cited for going off trail in the canyon, said Klint Powell, incident commander and high angle technical rescues team member in Yellowstone.

Some cross-country skiers went into the canyon undetected, but were nabbed after the scofflaws bragged about their trip on social media.

“The laws and regulations are in place for a reason,” Powell said. “This one — no off trail travel — is definitely for the safety of visitors and our folks here. It puts people at risk for these type of rescues.”

Powell said he’s been involved in many rescue missions while working as a law enforcement ranger. But most of them involved accidents, not intentional acts.

“Seems like common sense to us here, but we get folks from all over the place and they don’t understand it’s a truly wild place,” he said.

The ranger, who has worked in Yellowstone a total of 10 years and trained extensively for rescues in the mountainous park, said Christensen was a “novice” climber.

Terry Dolan, an experienced hunting and over-snow guide for Fales Outfitting and Wapiti-area resident, happened to be leading a commercial trip to the canyon the day that Christensen made his descent.

Dolan took photographs of Christensen while he was “flailing” in the deep snow. Two days later, Christensen turned up at the Fales’ equipment drop-off. That’s when guide Dean Lavoy found out Christensen had been planning to search for Fenn’s gold all along.

The Fales will no longer lease equipment to Christensen now that they know his intentions, co-owner Dede Fales said. Both she and Gary are just happy Christensen wasn’t hurt during his treasure hunt.

“You’ve gotta have your brains with you — you can’t leave them at home,” Gary said.

Christensen will get another chance to enter the park before it officially opens for the summer season, when he heads to U.S. District Court in Mammoth on April 2 to answer to the citations. His search could cost him time in jail and thousands in fines if he’s found guilty. Christensen could also be banned from the park.

“If they ban me for five years, I’ll just have to wait to find the treasure,” he said. “I could have eventually climbed my way out. There wouldn’t have been any need for a rescue if they would have authorized more line. Either way, I know my actions have consequences.”

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