From June 19-26, Sheridan Travel & Tourism, with a huge assist from our incredible community partners, hosted a delegation of 45 media from the Society of American Travel Writers. This group represented more than 100 outlets, including National Geographic Traveler, Outside Magazine, AAA, Afar Magazine, American Cowboy, West Ways and more.
Our goal during this convention was to showcase the best that Sheridan, the Bighorn Mountains and Wyoming offer to visitors, in an effort to generate travel features, stories and vignettes for publication in magazines, newspapers, social media networks, journals, blogs and more. Our schedule of activities placed a heavy emphasis on our three core marketing priorities — historical attractions, experiential travel and the great outdoors. In short, we worked hard to thrill, surprise and engage our visiting media.
Some came to Sheridan expecting cowboys driving horses through the streets of downtown; pronghorn butting heads on windswept bluffs; clouds encircling the towering granite pinnacles of the indomitable Bighorn Mountains; and endless expanses of wild, open country. These are some of the fibers that have been stitched together over time to create the patchwork quilt of Sheridan’s identity, each part and parcel to the Wyoming experience. But what some of our visitors were not expecting when they came way out West was a thriving, historic downtown district, with western allure, hospitality and good graces to spare; a vibrant art scene; a robust festival and events calendar; and living history on every corner. Before the core conference began, Eatons’ Ranch hosted 13 of our SATW visitors for a once-in-a-lifetime guest ranch experience, while Max Brown (our film and digital production coordinator) and I took two other members backpacking in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. Our newly-minted ranchers marveled at their opportunity to play cowboy for a day, while our hardy hikers felt like they had an entire mountain range to themselves as we had dinner overlooking beautiful Lake Geneva late one afternoon.
The Holiday Inn helped us host the first few days of the conference, while the Best Western helped with the tail-end. Along the way, we showcased our historic properties along with our other motels, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds and more. Avis got us up and running with rental vehicles, while the Chamber of Commerce kept us moving in the trolleys.
The Brinton Museum hosted the opening gala, which drew rave reviews from our visitors — most had no idea that Sheridan’s historical legacy was so robust, or that we have served as a home base for dozens of famed artists since the late 19th century. Our friends from Black Tooth Brewing Co., Weston Wineries and The Brinton Bistro went all-out in hosting an unforgettable night in Big Horn. The weekend brought with it a wide array of programming: a Bighorn Mountain painting expedition; tour of local battle sites; public art and King’s Saddlery and Mint Bar tours; a Soldier Ridge Trail ride; an education hike at Sibley Lake and Steamboat Point; a tour for history buffs; and a Friday night dine-around. In addition, some free-swingers hit the links; we made stops at local breweries, distilleries and Weston Wineries; and enjoyed local food trucks. Once we were finished with the core festivities, I worked hard to get our regional partners in on the game at the Battle of Little Big Horn, the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Devils Tower, coal mines in Gillette and more. Sheridan College’s Spear-O Mountain Campus hosted a retreat; another group traveled west, and visited Medicine Wheel and Porcupine Falls, spent some time scouring the earth for fossils in Big Horn County, dined at the historic Greybull Hotel, and toured Jurassic Cowboy and Crazy Woman Trading Post.
The consensus from the crowd? Few expected tiny little Sheridan, Wyoming, to offer so much for visitors to see, do and experience. Marketing and PR guru Cheryl Andrews said “even though I’m a city-and-tropical island girl, I found Sheridan quirky and fun enough to entice me back a second time,” thanks in part to our unique shops, friendly locals and tremendous cultural attractions. Only two days into the festivities, I sat in on the SATW media marketplace to answer questions our journalists had about Sheridan, and was stunned to discover there were already seven confirmed feature stories floating around the room, and editors were commissioning stories about Sheridan on the spot. I’m proud of what we were able to pull off as a community, and I truly believe that we showed these writers a side of Wyoming they never expected to see. I’m excited now to see what the writers say about us, and how they share our stories with the world. After all, Sheridan is a story worth celebrating.
Shawn Parker is the executive director of Sheridan Travel & Tourism.