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SHERIDAN — While homebound travelers on the east coast are bracing for a Thanksgiving storm that’s predicted to impede public transit, visitors on their way to Sheridan from the midwest and western regions of the country face more favorable odds. Much of that is because the method of choice in Sheridan County, the surrounding area, and Wyoming in general is the open road. Wyoming Department of Transportation Spokesperson Ronda Holwell said Thanksgiving is a more low-key holiday when it comes to traffic control.
“Thanksgiving is a holiday people generally spend with their families, and not out at a lake or somewhere there is a lot of alcohol involved,” Holwell said.
While local and state law enforcement agencies generally increase patrols for “party” holidays like New Year’s Eve and Labor Day, the cultural dictates of Thanksgiving and Christmas make for more laid-back public travel.
“There’s probably more traffic traveling, but that traffic is traveling to a destination, not to a party,” Holwell said. The Wyoming Highway Patrol sent out a press release at the beginning of this week advising motorists to map out potential routes in advance. The advisory was issued after a Sheridan patrol officer helped locate a young motorist who became disoriented traveling over the Bighorn Mountains and was found walking more than 10 miles off of Highway 14 after having spent the night in the vehicle. In addition to having clear directions and not relying on electronic GPS devices, the WHP advises keeping non-perishable food and a small cache of survival items in vehicles at all times.
While Sheridan boasts more age diversity than many other Wyoming municipalities, the average age according to the 2010 Census is nearly 40 years old. Because younger extensions of a family are more likely to be the ones doing the traveling, that means Sheridan is more likely to be a destination, rather than a launching point, for Thanksgiving travel.
Gasbuddy.com shows nationwide gasoline prices, currently $3.26, are about 25 cents lower than last year at this time. Prices at Sheridan stations range from $3.17 to $3.28.
According to a press release from AAA, 43.4 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more for the Thanksgiving holiday, with today being the busiest travel day. That projection is down approximately 1.5 percent from last year.
Reportedly 14.1 percent of people who live within the Rocky Mountain region are expected to travel for this week’s holiday, which is above the national average of 13.6 percent.
While the Sheridan County Airport has three regularly scheduled flights each day, the overall number of passengers to fly in or out remains relatively stable between 1,100 and 1,200 passengers per month. Airport Manager John Stopka said consumer confidence in rural air travel struggles because of perceptions of high fare prices and unreliable flight scheduling.
The majority of the traffic in and out of Sheridan’s airport on the unsubsidized Great Lakes Airlines is business-related, which slows down during the holidays. A slight increase in non-business travel makes for a flat passenger count.