SHERIDAN — Sheridan County offers a plethora of outdoor recreational activities. The Bighorn Mountains provide a nearly endless array of options, and the local parks serve as reminders of the beauty of nature.
So what are the origins of some of those outdoor recreation areas? How did they turn into spots for people and occasionally wildlife to coexist? Here are the background stories of four locations.
Three Poles Recreation Area
Several miles north of Sheridan sit about 60 acres designated for off-highway vehicle fun. Three Poles has a dirt track for all-terrain and utility task vehicle races during the warmer months.
The Sheridan County Commission leased the land from the state beginning in 2008 and designated the Public Land Users Committee with maintaining it. A fence was constructed around the initial 50 acres of property. (Eight acres were added last summer).
Three Poles was also the main reason for the creation of the Sheridan Recreation District in April 2009. The rec district enacted rules for the land, which included the hours of operation and prohibition of firearms and fireworks. The formation of the rec district allowed the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office to enforce the rules as well, which wasn’t allowed when Three Poles was state land.
Sheridan County Commissioner Terry Cram said the county pays an annual lease fee of about $500 and also funds bathroom use and trash removal.
Cram said the land has not experienced as many issues with noise or crime as some people anticipated.
“So far it’s been a success,” he said.
Kleenburn Recreation Area
Located about 10 miles north of Sheridan near Acme, Kleenburn covers roughly 100 acres and opened in 1973 after a land donation from Homer and Mildred Scott. It includes fishing ponds and a perimeter walking trail.
Cram said the Boy Scouts of America leased the land from 1973-88 and utilized it for various outdoor activities. The area remained essentially unchanged until 2009, when a significant reclamation project — it cost about $500,000 — occurred that connected two ponds, added fencing and wooden bridge and created a better hiking trail.
The updated Kleenburn reopened in 2010 and has become a fairly popular fishing spot. Recently, a state-record largemouth bass was caught at Kleenburn in May, weighing 11.51 pounds.
Amsden Creek Wildlife Habitat Management Area
A few miles east of Dayton and encompassing more than 4,000 acres, Amsden Creek was first established in 1944 as a safe area for elk crossing in winter. The area is usually closed to humans from Nov. 16 to May 1 but extended to May 15 this year due to the long winter.
Most people understand the protected area boundaries and stop to watch elk and other animals, but trespassing — either intentionally or unintentionally — sometimes occurs. Invasive and noxious weeds present a constant challenge as well.
Seth Roseberry, habitat and access coordinator at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said another issue that has mainly arisen in the last 10 years is people taking lost antlers. Most animals lose some antlers from March to May, so people interested in displaying or selling the antlers stake out areas where larger numbers of animals congregate.
Roseberry said college students across the country occasionally venture out to Amsden Creek for a geology project as well. He enjoys being outside all the time and working hands-on with wildlife.
“Everything I do pretty much, I can relate to helping wildlife make it through the winter,” he said. “I get to play in those areas and work in them, but then I can also see throughout the year the benefits of my job.”
Kerns Wildlife Habitat Management Area
Fourteen miles northwest of Dayton, Kerns is composed of around 5,000 acres. It first began in 1949 for the same reason as Amsden Creek and is closed to humans from Nov. 16 to June 1.
There is an eight-foot elk fence on part of the property to deter the animals from wandering into residential areas. However, some areas aren’t fenced and the boundaries haven’t expanded much since the 1940s, so it can be difficult to corral the animals.
Roseberry said WGFD always considers purchasing nearby land when it becomes available, but land is fairly expensive. WGFD pays taxes on its properties as well, just like the neighboring ranches.
“It’s a constant process to look and acquire those (available lands), but it doesn’t happen that often,” Roseberry said.
Kerns and Amsden Creek are also critical to animal population management in the area. They allow WGFD the opportunity to increase the wildlife population by prohibiting hunting or decreasing the population by allowing hunting.