Jun 19, 2015

Lightning strike kills antelope southeast of Buffalo

A bolt of lightning struck three antelope dead in southeastern Johnson County last month.

A citizen found the dead animals in a neighbor's pasture on May 16, the day after an electrical storm had passed through the area.

A May 15 lightning strike took the lives of these antelope in Johnson County. Photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish Department
“With the pronghorn close to the road, the landowner suspected someone had shot the pronghorn and left them where they dropped,” says a Wyoming Game and Fish Department newsletter released Friday. The landowner contacted contacted Buffalo Game Warden Jim Seeman.

Seeman, however, noted that the antelope were very close together; if they'd been shot at by a poacher, they likely would have ran and wound up further apart, he figured.

The game warden was quickly able to determine the cause of the death, finding a large burn mark on the neck of one of the animals.

For people, the deaths can serve a reminder of the importance to take electrical storms seriously. The National Weather Service's Riverton office has compiled some lightning facts and safety tips on its website.

Jun 18, 2015

Chip sealing set for next week on Wapiti highway project; project east of Wapiti to begin

Crews are expected to put a finishing chip seal on several miles of newly widened highway between Wapiti and the Shoshone National Forest next week, while also starting work on another section of the highway to the east, between Wapiti and the post office.

Chip sealing is scheduled to start Tuesday, June 23, on the $8.77 million section of improvements being made to U.S. Highway 14-16-20 west of Wapiti. Weather permitting, prime contractor Riverside Contracting, Inc., will start after 10 a.m. on Tuesday and finish by Thursday, June 25, said Wyoming Department of Transportation resident engineer Todd Frost in Cody.

Crews were paving the highway earlier this month, but now they're moving on to chip sealing. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
"Motorists should expect 15-minute delays with traffic control by pilot vehicles," Frost said in a news release. "There will be night flagging and the pilot car to keep speeds reduced."

The project covers 4.26 miles of the highway, running from the Wapiti bridge (milepost 31.98) over the North Fork of the Shoshone River to just east of the Shoshone National Forest boundary (milepost 27.72).

"This piece of highway has been widened from the old 12-foot lanes and six-foot shoulders to 12-foot lanes and eight-foot shoulders, and shoulders were flattened to improve safety," Frost explained. "Existing pipes and box culverts were in poor condition and have been replaced, and drainage has been improved."

Meanwhile, as that work wraps up, Riverside Contracting is beginning another $3.45 million in highway improvements directly east of Wapiti (the Wapiti East project).

The new project starts at the North Fork of the Shoshone River bridge at Wapiti and goes to just east of the Trout Creek bridge (near the Wapiti post office) on U.S. 14-16-20. Frost said the contractor is tentatively scheduled to begin dirt and pipe work on Monday, June 22.

Other than several pipe crossings across the highway, the highway surface will remain as asphalt through the duration of the project.

As they did with the western phase of the project, crews will use pilot cars and flaggers to control traffic. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
"Paving is tentatively scheduled to start the end of July. All work except the chip seal is tentatively scheduled to be completed about Aug. 31," Frost said. "If the chip seal is not done this year, it will be done next June."

Frost said the project also includes deck repair and an epoxy deck overlay to the North Fork bridge, and the Trout Creek bridge will have approach slab replacement and a silica fume deck overlay. Bridge rehabilitation depends upon favorable temperatures, so it is important it is completed during the summer, Frost said.

WYDOT's contract with Riverside calls for maximum traffic delays of 15 minutes and work will stop July 1-5.

Flaggers and a pilot car will be used to control most of the traffic, with traffic signals controlling vehicles as they cross the bridges, which will be reduced to one lane during the project.

The Wapiti East project consists of a one-inch asphalt pavement leveling, a two-inch pavement overlay and a chip seal, with some minor slope flattening and some pipe replacement and bridge rehabilitation. It covers 4.45 miles of U.S. 14-16-20, from milepost 31.98 to milepost 36.43, between Yellowstone National Park and Cody. The contract calls for the work to be completed by Sept. 30, 2016.

Treasure hunters rescued on North Fork for second time

The lure of a Sante Fe man’s hidden gold got a pair of out-of-state residents stranded in some North Fork backcountry on Sunday — making it two out of three summers that they’ve had to be rescued from the area.

Madilina L. Taylor, 41, and boyfriend Frank E. Rose Jr., 40 — both of Lynchburg, Virginia — had been hiking a couple miles inside the Shoshone National Forest and north of Road 6BU (at the western edge of the Wapiti Valley) when Taylor fell and broke her ankle, according to information from the Park County Sheriff's Office.

Rose and Taylor had been miles northeast of this area, toward the western end of the Wapiti Valley. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
Taylor had to be located by members of the Park County Search and Rescue team and then taken by helicopter to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Montana, the sheriff’s office said in a Tuesday news release.

The couple later told authorities they’d been out seeking the treasure of Forrest Fenn, a Sante Fe art and antiques dealer who says he’s hidden a box filled with jewels and gold worth over $1 million somewhere in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado or New Mexico. (Many treasurer seekers suspect its located in or near Yellowstone National Park.)

Taylor fell around 6 a.m. while northeast of the East Fork drainage of Big Creek, the sheriff’s office said. Rose then hiked a couple miles south, summoning help from people at the Grizzly Ranch off of Road 6BU.

“He (Rose) was calling across the creek to residents of the ranch that his girlfriend was injured, they were in need of assistance and he couldn’t cross the creek due to it being so high,” sheriff’s office spokesman Lance Mathess said in the release. Rose, whose feet had become badly blistered from footwear not intended for hiking, said he’d fallen into the water and lost his wallet and cell phone trying to get across.

Authorities were called at 11:20 a.m. Sunday.

“Deputies strongly recommended that Rose and Taylor not return to this area without proper training in environmental survival skills,” sheriff's office spokesman Lance Mathess said in a news release.

Responding Search and Rescue members helped Rose across the creek. He explained that he’d left Taylor in an open meadow, wrapped up in a silver reflective safety blanket.

“Rose attempted to explain where she was by using a few fixed landmarks, and with the assistance of some local residents and the (Search and Rescue) team, Taylor was finally located,” Mathess said.

Rose and Taylor put themselves in a similar predicament back in June 2013. In that instance, they reportedly set out on a day hike from the Jim Mountain Trailhead but became lost and reportedly spent four days wandering the backcountry. The couple ultimately made their way to the bank of Big Creek near the Star Hill Ranch (just north of the Grizzly Ranch at the end of Road 6BU) and summoned help. Rose and Taylor were uninjured in that instance, but because of their exhaustion, they had to be helped across the creek's swift waters by Search and Rescue personnel.

After Sunday’s incident, “deputies strongly recommended that Rose and Taylor not return to this area without proper training in environmental survival skills and he was warned that they would be arrested for trespassing if caught on private property in the future,” Mathess said. “Rose advised that he and Taylor would not return.”

They’re not the first to run into trouble while searching for Fenn’s treasure.

In March 2013, a 34-year-old hiker got lost in the New Mexican wilderness, ran out of water and spent a night outdoors while she looked for the treasure. The following month, a man ran afoul of authorities for digging up a memorial in search of the loot.

~By CJ Baker

Repairs to Wind River Canyon road continue; initial cost at $200,000

Motorists need to schedule extra time for trips through Wind River Canyon as crews clean up the leftover debris from last month’s massive mudslide.

The road through the canyon, U.S. Highway 20/Wyoming 789, closed May 24 because of the sliding mud and reopened May 26.

Restoring the railroad to usable condition took heavy equipment and days of work. Cody News Co. photo by Dave Bonner
A temporary cleanup is still underway and permanent repairs are planned for next year. 

Rain was the cause for the trouble.

“Some people say as much as 4 inches in the Canyon,” said Cody Beers, a regional Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman, adding, “We had mud running across the road in 10 places.”

The slide area ran about six or seven miles in the canyon. Approximately 100 feet of guardrail must be replaced, Beers said.

The contractor conducting the temporary cleanup, Pab Good Trucking LLC of Greybull, is removing dirt and big rocks. Pilot cars are leading motorists through the area under repair, Beers said.

“Traffic will be controlled with flaggers, and travelers should expect delays of up to 15 minutes,” said Pete Hallsten, Department District 5 maintenance engineer in Basin. “Please slow down and allow this important safety project to happen in a safe manner.”

WYDOT has found motorists to be understanding.

“The people have been pretty patient with the process,” Beers said.

He said earlier this week that the cleanup would likely take another 10 days.

The temporary emergency clean up will cost about $200,000. Beers doesn’t know how much it will cost to permanently repair the highway next year, but said “it’s going to be extremely expensive by the time it’s done.”

The department is asking its geologist to examine the terrain. Slopes will need rebuilding, and they may need to design the road to allow mud and moisture to run from the newly lacerated slopes under the road to the river, Beers said.

Muddy train tracks

Four miles of Burlington Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF) track were impacted by the slide and the railroad had to reroute its traffic through Gillette for nearly a week.

“The line through the Wind River Canyon was out of service from May 24 to May 29,” said Matthew Jones, a regional spokesman for BNSF Railway. “There were multiple areas where debris from rock and mud slides impacted the rail grade between milepost 323 and MP 327 (near Dornick). We are still doing work in the area to clean up from the slides.”

Jones said he did not have a cost estimate Monday.

The fish are alright

The mudslide had little or no impact on fish in the Wind River.

Mike Mazur, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries biologist, said that for fish, the slides would have likely been similar to spring high water.

“It should still be a really good fishery,” Mazur said.

Actually, he said some of the large stones that tumbled into the river should create places where fish can rest.

“I think, over time, it will probably be beneficial,” Mazur said.

Native Americans have jurisdiction in the canyon because it's within the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Fish and Wildlife Service assists the tribes in managing the reservation’s fish and animals, Mazur said.

Area reservoirs brimming full, but no serious flooding expected

Buffalo Bill Reservoir is nearing its fill line, and Boysen and Yellowtail reservoirs are full.

Very minor flooding has been reported in low-lying areas near Greybull, Basin and north of Lovell, but officials weren't predicting major problems.
Buffalo Bill was more than 97 percent full Tuesday, according to Bureau of Reclamation data.

Between May 17 and June 16, Buffalo Bill was discharging more than 1,400 cubic feet per second (cfs) in mid May. On Tuesday, it was discharging 7,216 cfs.

When this photo was taken in May, the Buffalo Bill Reservoir wasn't as full as it is now. Cody New Co. file photo by Matt Naber
Roughly 500 cfs is diverted at the the Buffalo Bill Dam to the Heart Mountain Canal, said Mahonri Williams, chief of the bureau’s water and lands division.

The 30-year June average is around 3,000 cfs, so the above figure is high, but Williams said he hasn’t heard any concerns about flooding structures downstream.

“I don’t think those flows are going to seriously hurt anything,” he said. “There’s a lot of water flowing into the Big Horn Reservoir, both from the Shoshone River and the Big Horn River.”

Yellowtail was 100 percent full Tuesday. Yellowtail was releasing more than 2,000 cfs in mid-May. It was releasing 14,242 cfs Tuesday.

Yellowtail’s release is high, but not unprecedented.

When June 2011 snowpack was high, outflow was 15,500 cfs. In 1967, June outflow from Yellowtail was 25,000 cfs, said Tim H. Felchle, the bureau’s supervisory civil engineer in Billings.

“There is no flooding downstream of Yellowtail. Everybody should be dry,” Felchle said. “But a few people are encroached on in the flood-plain area.”

All the rivers in the Big Horn Basin are higher than they normally are at this time of year, Felchle said, adding, “I’ve never seen so much water in the Big Horn Basin.”

Where the Big Horn River flows, the lowlands around Greybull and Basin are seeing minor flooding, said Williams.

“I’ve never seen so much water in the Big Horn Basin,” said the Bureau of Reclamation's Tim H. Felchle.

The girders supporting the causeway that crosses the Big Horn Reservoir north of Lovell were submerged by water in 2011, “but I don’t think we’re that close yet,” Felchle said.

North of the causeway, the water is high at the Kane boat ramp, making boat launching difficult. Mosquitoes are ferocious there too, said Christy Fleming, chief interpretive ranger at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

“The lake is still going up,” Fleming said. “Black Canyon (Campground) is under water.”

Ok-A-beh and Horseshoe Bend docks are functional, but Horseshoe’s beach is under water. Everything near the Mason-Lovell Ranch is also closed due to high water, and Fleming said she is not sure when the area will reopen.

She warned to watch out for floating driftwood and other debris in the lake.

Boysen was 100 percent full Tuesday. It had been releasing more than 700 cfs in mid-May according to a bureau data. On Tuesday it was spewing 7,521 cfs.

The region's snow appears to have almost completely melted away.

Spring runoff is declining. At sites measuring precipitation, all snow has melted or very little remains, Williams said.

April through July are the big water months, when it's hoped melting mountain snow will fill up reservoirs. April and May inflows to Buffalo Bill exceeded the 30-year average, and June may exceed the 30-year average too.

As inflows slow down later this month, the outflows will be reduced, Williams said.

Jun 17, 2015

Searchers find body of reservoir drowning victim

After a more than a week of searching, members of the Park County Search and Rescue Unit have recovered the body of a Billings man presumed to have drowned in the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.

Merle H. Daly, 80 years old and a former Cody resident, had been trying to swim to his drifting boat on the afternoon of June 8 when he reportedly called out and disappeared below the water.

The search effort included help from the Sublette County boat, “Closure,” shown in the background. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff's Office
Daly and a friend had been resting on an island almost due south of the boat ramp and near the reservoir’s southern shore when their boat drifted away, the friend later told the Park County Sheriff’s Office.

The friend was stranded on the island area for a couple hours before being able to flag down a passing boat for help. Park County’s search and rescue team immediately responded to the call and began a search.

They spent the following eight days combing the half-mile east and west of where Daly was last seen, enlisting the aid of canines and a sonar-equipped boat from Sublette County. Daly’s body ultimately came to the surface and was found around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the general area where he’d disappeared, the sheriff’s office said in a Wednesday news release.

Park County Coroner Tim Power, who received the body from the searchers, praised the team’s “tremendous job of staying with it” in the recovery mission.

Mudslides hit Northfork Highway on Tuesday, causing some delays

Heavy rain sent rock and mud sliding onto U.S. Highway 14-16-20 west of Cody on Tuesday afternoon.

The slides did not close the highway, but they did lead to minor traffic delays as Wyoming Department of Transportation maintenance workers cleared the road, the department said in a Wednesday news release.

Rains triggered this mess along the North Fork Highway. Photo courtesy WYDOT
The mud and rock slide hit the highway about 12.5 miles east of Yellowstone National Park's eastern gate (at milepost 12.5). Mud and debris from the rainstorm also plugged a handful of pipes that run underneath the highway between mileposts 9 and 12.5.

“A rain cloud hung over the area and caused the issues,” said WYDOT maintenance foreman Jim Berry of Cody in the release. “The soils are saturated with water, so we may see more of this if afternoon rain storms continue.”
Berry said maintenance workers are monitoring the situation.

Monday crash claims life of 21-year-old Cody man

A young Cody man has died as a result of injuries he received in a Monday evening crash, when a car struck the four-wheeler he was riding.

Spencer Boone, 21, died Tuesday at a Billings hospital, said Park County Coroner Tim Power.

The intersection of Robert Street and Twin Creek Trail Avenue. Cody News Co. photo
Spencer Boone was traveling north on Robert Street when he collided with a Subaru Legacy driven by Jacob Nothe, 20, of Cody, Cody police said in a Wednesday news release.

Nothe had stopped at the stop sign at Twin Creek Trail Avenue, then turned south onto Robert Street, police said. The two vehicles then collided in the intersection, with crash taking place around 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Boone was not wearing a helmet and received serious head injuries that led to him being transported to Billings, police said.

Nothe, who was uninjured, was cited for failing to yield the right of way, police said.

The Cody Police Department said in the news release that it's continuing to investigate the crash.

Jun 15, 2015

UPDATED: Crash near Wapiti injures trooper, re-routes traffic

A Wyoming State Trooper was injured Monday afternoon after crashing into a truck that turned in front of him just east of Wapiti.

The injuries to Trooper Rodney Miears of Cody, 28, were not life-threatening and he was released from the hospital Monday night, Wyoming Highway Patrol Lt. Phil Farman said Tuesday.

Miears had been traveling east on U.S. Highway 14-16-20, heading back toward Cody, shortly after 2 p.m.,  Farman said. That's when the westbound commercial truck and its trailer failed to yield and turned into the Yellowstone Valley Inn in front of the approaching trooper, according to a news release from the patrol.

The remains of the trooper's vehicle in front of the Yellowstone Valley Inn. Photo courtesy Wyoming Highway Patrol
Miears hit his brakes and swerved to the right to try missing the truck, but the two vehicles still collided. Farman said he did not know what speed the trooper's vehicle had been going.

The patrol vehicle was pushed into the ditch in the crash and Miears was pinned. Motorists stopped to help, but the fire department ultimately had to extricate the trooper from his vehicle, the patrol said.

Miears was taken to West Park Hospital while the driver of the commercial truck, 27-year-old James Friede of Billings, was not injured, the patrol said. Friede, who'd been making a delivery to the inn, was cited for failing to yield to oncoming traffic while making a left-hand turn, Farman said.

Both drivers were wearing their seat belts.

Miears, who’s been with the patrol for five years, was recovering at home on Tuesday and expected to return to full duty after a few scheduled days off.

After the crash, authorities diverted traffic from the North Fork highway to Stagecoach Trail to bypass the scene of the crash. They were able to reopen the highway at 8 p.m., Farman said.

He said Tuesday that the crash remained under investigation.

Young moose wanders into Cody, safely taken away

A young moose made a rare appearance in Cody over the past couple of days even getting a brief meeting with the mayor.

The moose apparently wandered into the city this weekend, being spotted late Sunday night near Big Horn Redi-Mix and the Park County Law Enforcement Center on River View Drive, said Cody Police officer and department spokesman John Harris. The moose, believed to be a juvenile yearling, managed to stay out of the view of authorities last night, but he was spotted in a backyard on Newton Avenue today, Harris said.

Cody Police Officer Josh Van Auken and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's Dusty Lasseter look over the tranquilized moose. Photo courtesy Cody Police Officer John Harris
“He was just sitting down and he wasn’t causing any problems, but the Game and Fish (Department) determined the best way to deal with him was to tranquilize him and move him to a better environment,” Harris said.

The operation went smoothly, he said, with the moose darted and unconscious in a matter of about 10 minutes. The animal was then moved to a horse trailer, where he got a photograph with Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown before being taken far from town. (Unfortunately for the young bull, the sedatives likely mean he won't remember the photo op.)

Harris, a life-long Cody resident, couldn't recall another instance where a moose had ventured so far into town. One visited the outskirts of Powell in October 2010.

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