SHERIDAN — Legend has it that a small Native American boy had a vision in which he saw himself crafting a painting that was as warm and kind as the colors of the hazy sky at sunset.
The boy grew up to become the painter of the tribe and would dedicate himself to capturing the essence of great hunts, great deeds and sunsets on white buckskin canvases with paints made of the brightest flowers and reddest berries but he could never find the vibrant colors he needed to paint a vibrant sunset.
One night, he heard a voice telling him that he would soon be able to paint the night sky. He went to his regular painting spot, where he found brushes filled with paints that were stemmed to the ground. He began painting the most extravagant sunset he had ever seen. As the tribe woke up, people began rejoicing to see that the paintbrushes had taken root and turned into yellow, red orange and purple flowers. The paintbrushes would arrive back to its native land each spring, even to be named Wyoming’s State flower.
The Bighorn Native Plant Society is dedicated to appreciating Wyoming’s native plants and species, like the Indian Paintbrush. The local group formed around 20 years ago by Dick Birkholz, the previous biology instructor at Sheridan College, with the help of students and faculty who loved native plants and the Bighorns. The group once had 120 members who would gather for hikes over the summer and even started a monthly newsletter more people to participate and learn about the native plants and the Bighorn area.
The group’s main focus is native plants, but the passion that fuels the members of the Bighorn Native Plant Society is the love for wildlife in Wyoming.
“Globally we’ve lost 60% of our insects. When we look at the situation with endangered native bees, it’s scary. Native plants affects almost everything in the ecosystem, it always goes back to the native plant and if we want to preserve the pristine ecology we have access to we need to make our community aware,” Jennifer Williams, vice president and secretary of the Bighorn Native Plant Society.
The group’s primary functions are hikes during the summer. The hikes vary in intensity levels from casual drives up the mountain to easy trail walks to intense hikes. The board is always looking for volunteers to lead hikes.
As they analyze different native plants, they teach both the plant names and the scientific names to expose community members to science and biology in a informal way.
“We want to share our love for native plants because it’s the core to wildlife,” Erikson said. “If we can get more people excited about the native life and the diversity in the Bighorns, we’ll be able to appreciate the outdoors and hopefully protect wildlife within our area.”
To become an official member, they require $5 annual dues that include the monthly newsletter sharing scheduled hikes that have been scheduled, updates on Wyoming wildlife, and information about a different plant families each month. If interested about joining the group on the next hike, contact Jennifer Williams at 307-763-3327.