SHERIDAN — John Kirlin, the new executive director of the Antelope Butte Foundation, made a strong connection with the outdoors at a young age. Growing up in Casper, he constantly explored, biked and skied to get a better sense of his surroundings.
Kirlin previously taught health and physical education in Natrona County and worked at the Casper YMCA as a youth program director. He moved to Sheridan in April 2016 to work at Black Tooth Brewing as the warehouse and packaging manager. Kirlin sat down with the Sheridan Press Monday to discuss the importance of outdoor activity, why he moved to Sheridan and his future plans for the foundation. Josh Law, Flood Marketing director of strategy and ABF chief operating officer, was part of the interview, as well. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Sheridan Press: Why did you apply for this job?
Kirlin: It’s right up my avenue, my passions. When I wasn’t at work, I was spending all my time outside riding bikes or skiing, or putting on events that got people outside … I want to tell people, ‘This is the greatest thing on the planet,’ because I think it is. I want other people to be as excited about it as I am.
Press: What brought you to Sheridan?
Kirlin: My wife and I were recently married and we were living in Casper. I was working at the YMCA down there. I’ve been playing music professionally for a long time and I’ve been coming up and playing at Black Tooth Brewing for five years now. I was joking with (Black Tooth co-owner) Tim (Barnes), ‘Oh, you guys hiring?’
It turns out they actually were, so we had some back and forth conversation there. It felt right. It was an opportunity for my wife and I to move out from our hometown and start our new married life and establish our new roots.
Press: What have you been doing so far? Going out and meeting people, going up to the mountain?
Kirlin: All of the above. It’s been either going out and meeting people, establishing those relationships. There’s a lot of new, young executive directors in the community right now. Some of our current donors and supporters, just getting out there and meeting with them. Then also going up and doing stuff on the mountain … We’ve got a special use permit right now to be able to do some winter events, the first one being the Bighorn Rush dog sled race Dec. 30 and 31.
Press: How is the progress going on opening the recreation area?
Law: The goal is $4 million, but $3.6 million will get it open and we’re at $1.632 million right now. We recently acquired an additional $260,000 in the last month or so (from private foundations).
Press: Do you guys have an idea when you’d like to see it opened?
Law: As soon as possible. As soon as funding is all locked in. Some things that make it tricky for a project like ours is the seasonal aspect of the snow and melt and so forth, and also the limited amount of companies that can repair (ski) lifts. We will get that lined up hopefully in February, but in terms of getting the people lined up, that’s contingent on how far we are on fundraising.
We wouldn’t put a date on it at this point. … We’ve raised just about $800,000 in the last eight months, which basically doubled where we were at over the last two and a half years. So we’ve made significant progress and we’ve seen the doors opening. We think that this campaign could close out pretty quickly.
Press: John, what have been your main priorities so far?
Kirlin: Helping with Josh on the fundraising and doing some prospecting there, as well as developing our plan for once funds have happened, what will we do once we’re open. But right now it’s a lot of the fundraising and then just being someone full-time that can go meet with our contractors and be up on the mountain when something needs to be done.
Press: Have there been any surprises?
Kirlin: I guess the biggest surprises have been the support that is already there … We have a very, very active board and they are adamant and passionate about it. That was something that was a good surprise to me, because a lot of times when I come into a situation, it’s hard to find someone with a passion to match where I’m at. But right now, everyone else’s passion is right there, too.
Press: All these different outdoor activities that Antelope Butte helps with — why are they important?
Kirlin: Growing up, all the things that I did, I was intrinsically motivated to do, like going out and riding my bike. I didn’t have a lot of close friends and groups growing up because my parents couldn’t afford to put me on these sports teams. So, “Here’s a stick, here’s a bike, come home when it gets dark or when you hear the whistle.’
I grew up very passionate about those things, which helped develop who I am today. Also, seeing the great benefits that are associated with outdoor activity and engaging the mind and just being in a state of movement, you’re getting oxygen into your blood. It’s flowing; it’s going to your brain and you’re getting some positive traction, positive thought, and you’re being healthy in much more than just the physical sense.
Health is about mental health, social health, emotional health, environmental health … If you grow up in a mountain town like this but all you see is the train and never get up on the mountain, you are missing out on what Wyoming truly offers: that great landscape to allow people to explore and become active. So as an educator, I wholeheartedly believe in what our mission is and supporting youth and beginners because it’s going to put them on a path that they might not have ever known existed.