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BURGESS JUNCTION — Remember the time your family loaded up the station wagon and drove into the Bighorn Mountains, only to realize after arriving at your favorite campground that just one sleeping bag had been loaded?
Mom and sister slept under blankets in the car while dad and brother shared that one bag beneath a starry Wyoming sky — and it was the best camping trip ever.
Or how about that time you conquered Cloud Peak and looked out over Wyoming from 13,167 feet?
Or that one time you drove all the way to Bear Lodge Resort for a slice of Big Mike’s pie?
The Bighorn Mountains are an integral part of life for many residents in the four counties that neighbor their green hills, high elevation boulder fields and bubbling creeks. Since President Grover Cleveland created the Big Horn Forest Reserve in 1897, which later became the Bighorn National Forest under President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, the land has been used by miners, loggers, ranchers and recreationists alike.
The Bighorn Mountains are rich with stories that connect the surrounding communities to the mountain, to each other and to the rest of the world. It is those stories — and the old photographs, letters and diary entries that help tell them — that will be used to enhance the three Scenic Byways that criss-cross the Bighorns.
Saturday, U.S. Forest Service staff and members of the communities of Greybull, Lovell and Sheridan gathered at Bear Lodge Resort near Burgess Junction for a Scenic Byway planning kickoff event. Attendees discussed how to build a resource library of photographs, documents and oral and written stories about the Bighorn Mountains to be used in writing scenic byway plans for U.S. Highways 14, 14A and 16.
The new plans will be funded with a $112,000 Scenic Byway Planning Grant from the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
The stories and photos may also be used for future roadside signs or a mobile app that will give users a comprehensive, anecdotal history of the Bighorns and the surrounding communities.
“The Forest Service can natter on endlessly about grass, trees, dirt and rocks, but most people are more interested in people than grass and trees and rocks, so a big part of this is the ‘people’ story that connects to the natural resource,” Forest Service Landscape Architect Ruth Beckwith said.
“That’s what we hope the communities will help us with,” Beckwith said. “We can tell the story of the Forest Service perspective on that resource, but there’s another aspect to that and that’s the community, the people who grew up in logging camps, people who were involved in early mining, people who have brought cattle onto the forest for grazing for multiple generations, people who were involved in the early development of the resorts or have seen the resorts evolve.”
Grant guidelines stipulate that the scenic byway plans must be written by the end of 2015. The Forest Service will hold a series of public meetings in towns on both sides of the mountain on all three byways over the next year. Staff will then write the plans and review and revise over the next year. They may also apply for new grants to share the stories that were gathered in new signs along the roadways or in a mobile app that tourists could use as they cross the mountains and visit surrounding towns.
“One of the reasons we live in Wyoming is to take advantage of the outdoors, and so we have a large contingency that uses the mountain to recreate — four wheelers and hunting, and fishing and camping and all the things that you access the mountain for,” Greybull Mayor Bob Graham said. “I think it’s great that the Forest Service is going to start this grant project. I think it’s going to enhance the mountain and enhance all the communities that surround the mountain and use the mountain for tourism and recreation.”
For more information or to contribute to the Scenic Byway planning project, call Beckwith at 674-2639 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.