Jul 23, 2015

Yellowstone's bison injure fifth tourist of 2015

A Yellowstone National Park visitor saw other people near buffalo on Tuesday and figured it was OK for her to get close, too. Unfortunately, much like other visitors who've gotten too near the animals this year, the 43-year-old Mississippi woman was attacked.

It was the fifth such incident in the park this year. That's already an unusually high number as Yellowstone's averaged one or two such attacks in recent years.

Yellowstone bison file photo courtesy Randolph Femmer, U.S. Geological Survey
Yellowstone officials said this woman was about six yards away from the bison, near the Fairy Falls trailhead, when she and her daughter turned to pose for a photo with the animal.
“When they turned their backs to the bison to take the picture, someone warned that they were too close,” said a park service news release on the incident. “They heard the bison’s footsteps moving toward them and started to run, but the bison caught the mother on the right side, lifted her up and tossed her with its head.”

The woman's father moved in to protect her, using his body to cover hers. The animal then moved back and the family drove to the Old Faithful Clinic, where the woman was treated and released with minor injuries, the release said.

“The family said they read the warnings in both the park literature and the signage, but saw other people close to the bison, so they thought it would be OK,” Colleen Rawlings, Old Faithful District Ranger, said in the news release. “People need to recognize that Yellowstone wildlife is wild, even though they seem docile. This woman was lucky that her injuries were not more severe.” 

Wildlife should not be approached, regardless of how tame or calm they appear. When an animal is near a trail, boardwalk, parking lot, or in a developed area, visitors must give it a wide berth and not approach it closer than the required minimum distances: 25 yards away from large animals like bison and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves. 

Bison can run much faster than people and are unpredictable and dangerous. Visitors are advised to give the animals enough space, even if it means altering your plans. 

For more information on park safety, visit http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/safety.htm.

Local roller derby team showing big improvements

Though their most recent bout ended with a loss, the local Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels roller derby team has been on something of a roll this season.

After failing to win a bout all of last season, the team  of women from Powell, Cody, Deaver and Greybull has already won three matches in 2015.

“We have had tons of improvement in all of our ladies,” said Siina Swanson of Powell, one of the team's founders as well as the vice president and bout coordinator.

Jammer Alisha Oneyear of Casper’s A’Salt Creek Roller Girls (at left) works to slip past Heart Mountain Wreck of Wheels’ Dr. Daggers (a.k.a. Dagny Revilla), while she and Rose E. Bottoms (a.k.a. Crystal Rose, in red helmet) battle with Casper’s Doppleganger (Katie Buffington, center) during Saturday's bout. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker

Casper’s A’Salt Creek Roller Girls beat the local derby team 169-58 on Saturday, “but they made sure we earned every point,” the A’Salt Creek team later posted on Facebook.

Saturday’s bout was played at Cody’s Riley Arena and Community Events Center — the Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels’ home turf.

The loss put Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels' record at 3-5 on the year. Their season, which runs from roughly March to November, has included two wins at home and another at the Wyoming Roller Derby Cup in Rock Springs.

Eleven women are currently eligible to skate for the Heart Mountain team, with another three who are “fresh meat” (that is, beginniners), Swanson said. In addition, five other men and women help the organization by serving as coaches, as a head non-skating official and as a referee, she said.

Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels’ “Ruhroh” (real name Shayna Swanson) flies into the air after knocking Casper A’Salt Creek jammer Lehammer (a.k.a. Kelly Calloway-Lehan) out of bounds, while referee Tera Bites (Tera Cowles) monitors the action. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker

Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels’ last home event for the year is an Aug. 22 “Battle in the Basin Mixer.”

“A mixer is where you take girls from all over the area and mix them onto different teams to play each other,” Swanson explained. It will consist of two bouts: one with a theme of DC versus Marvel comics and another with a theme of Star Wars versus Star Trek.

Swanson expects some 60 girls from various teams to participate.

As for the Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels, their team’s next bout is set for Sept. 26 in Casper, where they’ll face the Casper Deadly Ghosts.

The local team is a non-profit organization. A portion of the proceeds from Saturday's bout went to SHACK, a Greybull youth center.
For more information about Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels, visit www.hmwow.org or find the team on Facebook.

New building welcomed at Park County Fairgrounds

Park County officials excitedly christened a new multi-use exhibit hall at the Park County Fairgrounds on Tuesday evening.

Overcoming some early weather delays, crews under contractor Synergy Construction readied the main section of the building just in time for fair use, though a couple of the building’s most notable new features — a commercial kitchen and some conference rooms — will need to be finished later.

With the snip of a ribbon and some squirts of silly string, Park County officials formally opened their new multi-use facility. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker

At Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting, Park County commissioners and fair board members spoke enthusiastically of the new building.

“There’s still work to be done — we have some more paving and water drainage issues to do, and we’re going to run a couple new water lines eventually — but we think we have a state-of-the-art fairgrounds to accomodate 21st century-type people and 19th century people and everyone in between,” county commissioner Bucky Hall said in a recent interview, noting the county has also spent more than $1 million upgrading the fairgrounds’ electrical system.

“We think we have a state-of-the-art fairgrounds to accommodate 21st century-type people and 19th century people and everyone in between,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall.

The new $3.1 million building is housing exhibits during fair week, but commissioners are at least as excited about its potential as a meeting place throughout the rest of the year.

“There’s the potential for the private sector in Powell to provide lodging space to really make that a destination point in the winter — especially (because) there’s a convention in every weekend,” Hall said.

Inside the facility on Tuesday evening, superintendents were busy judging and arranging fair entries for display.

Johanna Cubbage, now in her 39th year as a fair superintendent, said she thinks the new building is a good investment.

“It’s going to be something the community is going to be able to enjoy and use for a long time,” she said.

Adjusting to the larger wide-open space was a learning experience this year, but “people have really been upbeat about the changes,” Cubbage said.

“The new building is “going to be something the community is going to be able to enjoy and use for a long time,” Powell resident Johanna Cubbage predicted.

Park County Fair Board President Steve Martin said that no one really knew who needed how much room in the new space, but people were cordial. Even in Monday’s and Tuesday’s last-minute preparations, Martin said it didn’t feel overly stressful, “because it seems everybody’s working together to make it work.”

“It’s going to be a good deal,” he said of the new building.

The new exhibit hall is slightly smaller than the halls it’s replacing — about 16,100 square feet versus 17,500 square feet — but the general consensus appeared to be that it feels bigger.

It also has natural light from skylights and glass doors, something the old halls did not.

Cubbage said the fairgrounds have come a long ways; she laughed as she recalled a year when one former exhibit space became so hot that “the seals were popping” on the jams, jellies and other canned goods.

The county is beginning a private fundraising campaign to help pay for furnishings for the new facility, Martin said. Commissioners and fair board members are hoping the public will buy commemorative bricks, which will be laid near the building’s main entrance.

Jul 22, 2015

After being routed around new thermal feature, drive near Mammoth Hot Springs reopens

A popular drive near Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park has reopened to vehicle traffic, though officials have had to block off a part of the road that's turned into a small kind of hot spring.

Traffic is being routed around the new thermal feature. Photos courtesy Yellowstone National Park
Park officials temporarily closed the drive to traffic last week after discovering a new thermal feature had become active underneath one part of the pavement.

Maintenance crews have since installed temporary concrete Jersey Barriers and eliminated three parking spaces around the thermal feature to help protect it.

“The activity is changing and the thermal feature is evolving,” said park geologist Hank Heasler in a Tuesday news release. “The Jersey Barriers are a temporary measure to allow vehicle access to the Upper Terrace Drive while options are investigated.”

The thermal feature became visibly active in May and then water began flowing from a new spot at the edge of the pavement last week. About a gallon of thermal water a minute is now streaming from one of the holes that geologists drilled to keep tabs on the activity.

Staff will continue to monitor the thermal feature and reassess restrictions as needed, Yellowstone officials said.

State providing more legal help to Cody area victims of abuse

A state organization is looking to set up a kind of law office in Cody to help victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking.

With the help of the state government, the  Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is working to bring in an attorney to provide civil legal services for victims who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

“There is a very big need in Cody and the Big Horn Basin area,” Angie Dorsch recently told Park County commissioners.

Dorsch is the executive director of Equal Justice Wyoming, a branch of the Wyoming Supreme Court that's building up a statewide network of legal services for people with lower incomes.

“This is really the last place that we're lacking a full-time attorney to really serve the needs of the public,” Dorsch said last month.

The Cody office, when it's set up by the non-profit Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, will focus solely on victims of sexual and domestic violence, she said.

Equal Justice Wyoming has provided the coalition with money to help staff and equip the office, but they've run into some trouble finding a location to set up shop.

“There is a very big need in Cody and the Big Horn Basin area,” said Angie Dorsch of Equal Justice Wyoming.

County commissioners initially agreed to provide a rent-free space inside the Park County Complex — a roughly 9.5- by 9.5-foot former mailroom that had been unused. However, Marathon Oil Company officials — first offered the space some seven months earlier — recently decided they want it, Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said last week.

“They do have first right of refusal on that ... so we're going to have to give it to them,” Tilden said, later apologizing to Dorsch.

Commissioners offered a couple other spots for the new legal office: in the basement of the county courthouse, the basement of the former Cody jail or at the Park County Annex in Powell. However, those spots might not offer the weekend and off-hours access that the coalition's attorney would need.

Now Equal Justice Wyoming and the coalition against domestic violence are looking for a new spot.

“We’re committed to having an attorney in Cody, so I know that we’ll make that happen,” Dorsch said in an interview.

Low-income locals can already call the Legal Aid of Wyoming's free hotline (1-877-432-9955) for help. The service — which is partially funded by Equal Justice Wyoming — assisted nearly 200 Big Horn Basin residents over the past year, Dorsch said. Half came from Cody and other parts of Park County.

Only people with incomes at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines (around $23,500 for an individual) are eligible. The new legal services are also only for civil matters (lower-income criminal defendants have long been provided attorneys for free) and they cannot be used for personal injury cases, such as claims of medical malpractice.

Dorsch estimated that 90 percent of the cases handled by Equal Justice Wyoming’s partners involve family, consumer or housing laws.

“The majority of our cases are really just to help people find stability,” she said.

As for the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault's planned work in Cody, Dorsch said it might include helping victims with divorce or child custody issues or perhaps helping them get out of leases or business arrangements that are tied to their abuser.

“The majority of our cases are really just to help people find stability,” said Angie Dorsch.

Beyond helping to hire attorneys around the state, Equal Justice Wyoming is also working to make more self-help materials available for people who are handling their own legal affairs. It’s also continuing to encourage Wyoming attorneys to take on more cases pro bono.

Dorsch said that not only do the services help the people in need, getting them professional legal help eases the burden on the judges and court clerks.

Equal Justice Wyoming’s efforts are funded by a $10 fee attached to the civil cases filed in Wyoming's courts.

For more information — including to access some of the self-help materials — visit www.legalhelpwy.org.

Cody to Chicago direct flights almost full

Although early in the summer-only service, Chicago flights from Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody are going well.

It is a once-a-week direct flight that arrives in Cody Saturday night and departs Sunday Morning from June 20 through Aug. 16.

United Airlines will depart Yellowstone Regional at 8 a.m. Sunday to arrive at O’Hara International Airport in Chicago at 11:43 a.m.

An airplane is readied for a flight to Cody at Chicago O'Hare International Airport in June. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
“They’re doing pretty good,” said Bob Hooper, Yellowstone Regional Airport manager.

“Flights are running 85 percent full,” said Hank Coe, Cody Yellowstone Air Improvement Resources (CYAIR) president.

The Chicago aircraft is a 70-seat jet with six first-class seats. On July 5, 63 boarded the flight to Chicago.

“We’re very pleased with air service right now,” Coe said.

The minimum revenue guarantee is approximately $55,000 this year to keep United making the Chicago run. That would be the most the airline would receive, based on how the flights perform, Hooper said.

Last summer, United’s minimum revenue guarantee for Chicago flights was $158,000, but, the program was so successful, CYAIR and the Wyoming Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division were required to pay only around $36,000, Coe said.

Most of the people who take the flight from Chicago to Cody are tourists, officials say.

CYAIR raises half the revenue guarantee locally and Aeronautics chips in the other half. The guarantee is based on the cost to fly the aircraft and ticket sales.

“Ultimately, if we have a lot of success, we don’t have to pay anything,” Coe said.

Mostly tourists board the flights from Chicago to Cody. They come from Europe and the Midwest United States, Coe said.

“And we (Yellowstone Regional) want to keep growing,” Coe said.

Coe would like to see daily summer flights to Chicago and to expand the Salt Lake City and Denver aircraft from 50 to 70 passenger regional jets, he said.

SkyWest Airlines, the largest regional carrier in the country, makes the Chicago and Denver runs for United Airlines and the flight to Salt Lake City for Delta Airlines, Coe said.

With declining revenue, Northwest College is leaving some positions unfilled

This year’s budget for Northwest College shows a good-news, bad-news situation: The good news is that the bad news isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Once again, enrollment at Northwest College is predicted to decline for the coming school year. But the decline is less than originally predicted, and that’s good for the college’s bottom line.

Northwest College has instituted a kind of hiring freeze to combat declining revenue. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
Lisa Watson, the college's vice president for administrative services, told the NWC board of trustees at its July 13 budget hearing that the improved enrollment outlook will mean a revenue decline that is $144,000 less than earlier projections.

In addition, the college’s local tax revenue ended up being relatively flat compared to last year, declining by $2,213 instead of the $116,037 drop previously predicted. State revenue for the college dropped by $470,529 instead of an estimated $652,108.

In addition, the college received $449,855 through the recapture/redistribution process, which is designed to equalize funding between Wyoming’s seven community college districts. Northwest received the additional funding because Park County saw a drop in tax valuation last year, while other districts experienced smaller drops or increases in county tax valuations. Because that redistribution money is one-time funding, it will be spent on one-time projects and will not be used for salaries or other ongoing expenses, NWC President Stefani Hicswa told the board this spring.

Even with the redistribution dollars, the estimated total revenue for Northwest College for the 2015-16 fiscal year is $341,033 lower than last year’s budget.

To reduce expenses accordingly, only vacant faculty positions are being filled this year, Watson said. Other vacant positions are on hold pending a thorough analysis of the most efficient and economic ways to perform needed tasks, she said.

For example, Watson and Business Office Manager Jo Ann Heimer are working together to perform duties previously accomplished by former Finance Director Sheldon Flom.

 While the college is continuing to fill faculty positions, other vacant posts are being left open for now.

Other positions on hold are vice president for student affairs, formerly held by Sean Fox, and a scholarship aide.

Gerald Giraud, vice president for academic affairs, also will serve as interim vice president for student affairs.

“That’s how we covered that ... shortfall,” Watson said.

Watson, who assumed her position in February, said she plans to do a detailed study of the college’s accounts and expenses in order to make budgetary decisions more precisely in the future. In the past, money has been transferred occasionally from one account to another when needed, but that doesn’t paint an accurate picture of how funds are used, she said.

Watson warned board members that future budgetary decisions could get even tougher.

“The county and state in general are watching very closely the revenue trend as related to the oil and mineral revenue,” she said.

As of Monday, the price of oil had fallen again, to $50 per barrel, less than half the price it was a year ago.

Northwest College budget summary

Northwest College expects to receive $32.22 million in estimated revenue for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which began July 1.

Of that, $14.65 million, or 45.5 percent, is from state funding; $4.87 million, or 15.12 percent, from local taxes; $4.18 million from tuition and fees; $3.79 million from restricted sources; $4.66 million from the auxiliary fund and $63,000 from other sources.

Salaries and benefits make up the lion’s share of the college’s 2015-16 expenses, at $19.1 million, or 59.4 percent of the overall budget.

Second is operating expenses, budgeted at $11.86 million, or 36.8 percent of the budget.

Capital outlay expenses are budgeted at $842,416, and transfers at $384,851.

Broken down another way, $10.57 million will go toward instruction, $5.26 million toward instructional support, $3.48 toward scholarships, $2.79 million toward student services, $2.67 million for plant operations, $147,067 for public services and $68,151 for transfers.

Another $4.67 million is spent from the auxiliary fund, which covers revenue and expenses for student housing, meals and similar services.

Jul 21, 2015

Kmart owners say county is overvaluing their property

The owners of the Cody Kmart are protesting the taxable value of their property, believing the Park County Assessor’s Office has overvalued the store’s land.

While a higher assessed value from the county can indicate that a piece of property will fetch a better price on the real estate market, it also means having to pay more property taxes.

Assessor Pat Meyer said Kmart is the only property owner appealing their assessed valuation.

The Cody Kmart. File photo courtesy Park County
However, Meyer said he doubts officials with the store’s parent company in Illinois will actually take the case all the way to a hearing before Park County commissioners.

“They’re probably playing this little game where they’re going to wait until I come up with all the evidence (justifying the value) and send it to them. Then I imagine they’ll withdraw,” Meyer told commissioners on July 7. “But I can’t say that for sure.”

He said the dispute is over the value of the land and not the store itself.

The assessor’s office gave the property a roughly $2.61 million market value this year. That includes around $1.7 million for the building and $914,000 for the land. Those values are about the same as last year’s.

Commissioners set the appeal for an Aug. 18 hearing.

Denver lawyer, two family members and friend died in Saturday plane crash

A 66-year-old Denver man, his sister, his brother-in-law and a friend were the victims of Saturday's plane crash west of Cody, the Park County Sheriff's Office says.

Donald E. Scott had been piloting the plane, accompanied by his friend Joyce Bartoo of Washington, D.C., his 68-year-old sister Diane J. Stubbs and her 69-year-old husband Gerald B. Stubbs of Annapolis, Maryland, the sheriff's office said Tuesday.

Scott had been headed from the Sheridan airport to Billings late Saturday morning, but he took an unscheduled detour to fly over Yellowstone National Park, the sheriff's office said. After circling the Yellowstone, Scott started to head back toward Billings. However, not long after that, the plane took a sharp eastern turn toward Cody, rapidly dropped and crashed.

Autopsies conducted on Monday did not reveal any clues about what might have caused the airplane to crash, said Park County Coroner Tim Power.

"It did not indicate any cause as far as physical (health problems) that we could find," Power said. "So I guess that's going to be for the National Transportation (Safety) Board to hopefully come up with some answers for everybody."

The rough location of the crash.

The 1979 Cessna 310, a fixed-wing multi-engine prop plane, went down sometime around noon on Saturday. It crashed about 1.5 miles west of the Mooncrest Ranch along Big Tree Creek and a little more than 10 miles northwest of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.

The Park County Search and Rescue Unit, with the help of Salt Lake City air traffic controllers, found the wreckage Saturday afternoon. Sheriff' Scott Steward later said it looked as though a bomb had gone off at the crash site.

The late Don Scott. Photo from Bartlit Beck website
Search and rescue team members, along with sheriff's personnel and the Shoshone National Forest's fire team and a helicopter from Sky Aviation in Worland, helped remove the victims' bodies on Sunday.

Members of the National Transportation Safety Board visited the crash site and began their investigation on Monday, taking over as the lead investigative agency.  The NTSB has been in contact with the plane’s insurer and removal of the wreckage is scheduled within the next several weeks, the sheriff's office said.

The plane was owned by a Independence Aviation, LLC, an Englewood, Colorado-based company that rents out airplanes like the Cessna 310.

Pilot Don Scott was a prominent lawyer who helped found the firm Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP in Denver.

"Don was an exceptional friend, mentor, and trial lawyer. All of us at Bartlit Beck are better people and lawyers because of him," the firm said in a Tuesday statement, adding, "Our deepest condolences go out to his family and all of those close to those on board."

Commissioners choose parking lot over community garden plot

One Park County commissioner’s proposed garden paradise will be paved into a parking lot, his colleagues decided last week.

Commissioner Bucky Hall suggested turning a patch of county land across from the Park County Courthouse and Cody High School into a kind of community garden. However, the majority of the commissioners preferred moving forward with plans to turn it into 20 additional parking spots for county employees.

“It’s more valuable to the county as a parking lot,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

Commissioner Bucky Hall envisioned planting a community garden here, but a majority of commissioners would rather have it paved for parking. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
The property, on the southeast corner of Beck Avenue and 10th Street, sits adjacent to an employee parking lot. While there’s generally plenty of spots in the summer, parking can become scarce when high school is in session. The county removed a house from the property earlier this year.

Hall and University of Wyoming staff horticulturist Bobbie Holder said a garden could grow fruit, vegetables and herbs for low-income families while serving as a place for students and other volunteers to learn gardening.

Hall pitched the value of producing more local food and invoked the lyrics of Joni Mitchell — “‘You pave paradise and put up a parking lot’ kind of thing,” he said — to basically argue that the county wouldn’t know the value of the unpaved space it’s got until it’s gone.

Hall also said the lot could host both the community garden and some more parking, but other commissioners felt the space was too small to share.

“You’re not going to produce enough stuff there,” said Commissioner Tim French, a Heart Mountain farmer, calling it “not a good idea.”

Commission Chairman Joe Tilden wondered if a community garden might prove a target for thieves.

“I can see people walking by and saying, ‘Oh gosh, there’s a nice tomato,’” Tilden said.

The cost also concerned French, Grosskopf and Tilden. Horticulturalist Holder’s proposal called for her performing $6,000 worth of work in the first year, with additional costs for materials such as fencing.

“You’re not going to produce enough stuff there,” said Commissioner Tim French.

Commissioner Lee Livingston wanted to further explore the garden idea. He said it would never be a money-maker for the county, but asked rhetorically, “as far as kids in the community doing stuff over there, what’s that worth?”

Assuming the county moves forward with the paving, First Deputy Park County Clerk Hans Odde said it should mean that the public will be able to find more parking spots closer to the courthouse.

While commissioners may have quashed the idea of a community garden near the courthouse, Cody could still be getting one in the near future.

In an appearance on KODI-AM's "Speak Your Piece" last week, Cody schools superintendent Ray Schulte said the district is considering putting in a garden at the site of the former Sunset Elementary School on 21st Street. Schulte said that might be a good short-term use
of the property.

Ben Carson early presidential favorite among Wyoming donors

While many Wyomingites have yet to even start thinking about the 2016 presidential election, some have already opened their checkbooks.

In the very early goings of the campaign, Wyoming’s political donors are showing a preference for Republican candidate Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon and a political newcomer.

Ben Carson, speaking at CPAC in early 2015. Photo by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0
Carson has raised $26,435 from around the state so far, according to campaign finance data released by the Federal Elections Commission last week.

Following Carson in donations was U.S. Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, with $14,412 and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, with $14,120 from the Equality State.

After those three Republicans came former Secretary of Sta
te Hillary Clinton, the leading Democrat, who has raised $9,226 here.

Carson’s donations came from all over the state, including $250 from a supporter in Cody and $200 from a Powell backer. However, the top local fundraiser so far is Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Cruz has already raised $2,825 from Park County, with $2,800 from a pair of Meeteetse residents, campaign finance reports show.

Presidential candidates' fundraising through June 30. Red denotes Republicans, blue denotes Democrats.
Wyomingites have chipped in a total of $86,111 to the 11 presidential candidates who’ve raised more than $100,000. The Cowboy State’s contributions are a mere fraction of the $125.4 million donated to the contenders across the nation.

The financial picture is likely to change over the coming year as a whole lot more money pours into candidates’ coffers; some prominent candidates only recently announced their runs.

Federal Election Commission records show Wyomingites gave more than $3.5 million to presidential candidates during the 2012 campaign cycle. The vast, $2.5 million majority went to Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Nationally, more than $1.32 billion was raised by the last batch of candidates.

While political contributions are one way to measure a candidate's appeal, they’re not always an accurate predictor of success. For example, billionaire Donald Trump — a Republican candidate and the leader of some national polls — has generally been financing his own campaign.

Park County Fair begins today, runs through Saturday

Jousting knights, crashing cars, agile alligators, spinning carnival rides, award-winning livestock, a country music star and homemade pies worthy of a blue ribbon are among the highlights this week at the Park County Fair in Powell.

The fair officially kicks off today (Tuesday) with free admission all day. Acts begin on the Free Stage at noon, and the annual Pig Wrestling, featuring local teams taking on mud-covered swine, starts at the Main Grandstand at 7 p.m.

Abby Eaton shows shares a moment with her horse Biscuits and Gravy during last week's miniature horse show at the Park County Fairgrounds. Cody News Co. photo by Carla Wensky
At 5 p.m. today (Tuesday), Park County Commissioners will hold a ribbon-cutting for the new multi-use facility.

The new 16,100-square-foot facility is expected to cost Park County around $3.1 million, with about $1 million of the funding from a pair of grants from the State Loan and Investment Board.

The main exhibit space is ready to showcase fair entries this week, but construction crews still need to finish up some work after the fair is over.

Free admission continues Wednesday until 1 p.m. The carnival opens at noon Wednesday, and several 4-H showmanship events begin that afternoon.

The Knights of Valour return to the fair Wednesday evening with their jousting show at the Main Grandstand. Gates open at 6 p.m., and tickets are $10 for youth and $15 for adults.

Free admission also is offered until 1 p.m. Thursday. The day also includes Kids Day Races at 1 p.m., sponsored by the Powell Kiwanis. On Thursday night, country music star Chris Cagle performs at the Main Grandstand. Gates open at 6 p.m., and Cagle takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 per seat.

On Friday, the Park County Endurocross returns to the fair. The family-friendly event brings off-road riding to a track in the Main Grandstand beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for youth and $15 for adults.

The annual Park County Fair parade will roll through downtown Powell at 10 a.m. Saturday, featuring a variety of local floats.

Aspen Aguirre’s dog, Kass, watches intently while for the next command during Thursday’s Dog Show at the Park County Fairgrounds. Cody News Co. photo by Ilene Olson
Park County 4-H and FFA youth will show their animals throughout the week, culminating with the Junior Livestock Sale at 1 p.m. Saturday. Around 220 youth are expected to sell the animals they've raised this year.

An annual favorite, the Demolition Derby starts at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Main Grandstand. Tickets are $15 for seats in the grandstand, $18 for box seats and $20 for a spot in the arena bleacher.
Throughout the week, a variety of entertainment will be offered on the Free Stage and around the grounds.

This year's acts include Kachunga and the Alligator Show, the Marshall Catch band, Mango and Dango, Caricatures by Connie, ventriloquist Jim Adams, hypnotist Michael Mezmer, and the Absaroka Mountain Thunder Cloggers.

Individual gate admission is $5 per day or $10 for the week. Kids 12 and under are free. Parking on the grounds is $5 per day or $10 for the week.

For tickets and more information, visit www.parkcountyfair.com or call the Fair Office at 754-5421.

Jul 20, 2015

Shakespeare in the Parks to perform in Cody on Wednesday

A story about a poet cursed with an enormous beak of a nose will be performed in Cody as part of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks’ free summer series.

The acting troupe will perform Edmund Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Canal Park. In case of rain, the performance will be moved to the Cody Auditorium at 1240 Beck Ave.

Danny Junod and Sarah Dunnavant in 'Cyrano de Bergerac.' Photo courtesy Winslow Studio and Gallery
In the play, poet and guardsman Cyrano de Bergerac believes that no woman can ever love him on account of this enormous nose. To compensate, he has made himself renowned in Paris for his personal bravery and the charm of his verse.

Cyrano's beautiful and wealthy cousin, Roxane, is much sought after. After a spectacular duel with a man who has been annoying her, Cyrano receives an urgent message from Roxanne. He is encouraged to believe she may actually love him. He finds, however, that she imagines herself in love with the handsome Christian de Neuvillette, a newly enlisted brother guardsman.

“Typically what people think of is a guy with a big nose who’s in love with a girl and who sacrifices, but the play is also about betrayal and dirty tricks,” said Si Osborne, director of the Montana Shakespeare in the Parks production. “These are very macho people. It takes place in wartime.”

Though the play is fictional, Cyrano de Bergerac was a real person who was born three years after William Shakespeare died. Both men lived during a volatile period in European history, when countries were formed and torn apart by inseparable political and religious conflict.

“Cyrano de Bergerac” is presented in Cody by the Park County Arts Council and local business sponsors.

In its 43rd season, Montana Shakespeare in the Parks is on its largest tour in its history. The summer schedule includes performances throughout Montana, northern Wyoming, eastern Idaho, western North Dakota and eastern Washington. Montana Shakespeare in the Park features 10 professional actors selected from national auditions who tour without technical assistance to bring live theatre to mostly rural communities.

This summer, 47 percent of the communities reached by the troupe have populations of 2,000 or fewer.

“We are thankful to all of our tour coordinators who help us share the gift of Shakespeare with their communities,” said Kevin Asselin, artistic director for the company.

All performances, with the exception of those at Bozeman’s Sweet Pea Festival, are free and open to the public. Audiences are encouraged to arrive early with chairs, blankets and picnics.

Montana Shakespeare in the Parks is an outreach program of Montana State University’s College of Arts and Architecture.

For more information on the plays and a complete tour schedule, visit www.shakespeareintheparks.org.

The following are some of their scheduled nearby performances:

July 20: Powell, “The Taming of the Shrew” at 6:30 p.m. at Washington Park
July 21: Worland, “The Taming of the Shrew” at 6 p.m. at Sanders Park
July 22: Cody, “Cyrano de Bergerac,” at 6:30 p.m. at Canal Park
July 25: Red Lodge, “The Taming of the Shrew” at 6:30 p.m. at Lions Park

Theft and misuse of judge’s credit card results in daughter’s arrest

A Cody woman is alleged to have stolen a credit card from her father — a local judge — and made nearly $2,500 worth of unauthorized charges over a span of two weeks.

Martha Meghan Cranfill, 31, is charged with a felony count of unlawful use of a credit card.

Cranfill was arrested shortly after the alleged unauthorized charges were discovered by her father — Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Steven Cranfill — and reported to Cody police earlier this month.

Martha Meghan Cranfill
Meghan Cranfill remained in the Park County Detention Center on Monday, awaiting a preliminary hearing. Bond is set at $10,000 cash or surety.

She is alleged to have stolen the VISA card from her parents’ home and made $2,477.39 in unapproved charges at gas stations, restaurants and motels in and around Cody between June 24 and July 7.

Charging documents say Judge Cranfill reported the allegations to Cody Police Detective Jason Stafford on July 7. Stafford confronted Meghan Cranfill that day at a motel room she was renting with the stolen card, the detective wrote in an affidavit used to support the case.

During the interview, Meghan Cranfill recalled that she “did not know what to do because she needed money, so she went to where she knew her dad kept a credit card and took it,” Stafford wrote. The detective arrested her that day.

At a July 10 appearance in Park County Circuit Court, Meghan Cranfill said she is currently unemployed.

“I've just had a hard time,” she said.

Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Sam Krone recommended the $10,000 bond, citing some past criminal history. Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters agreed after Meghan Cranfill described the figure as “fully acceptable.”

Sixteen months after seizure of plane and cash in Cody, feds still investigating

More than year after Cody police seized a plane and nearly $260,000 from a pair of suspicious Colorado men, federal prosecutors apparently have yet to determine whether the men committed any crimes.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Cheyenne has alleged in a civil forfeiture complaint that the aircraft and cash were involved in trafficking drugs and that the government should get to keep them. However, prosecutors have not made those allegations in a criminal case, with no charges filed to date.

The man who flew the Cessna TU206E into Cody’s Yellowstone Regional Airport in February 2014, Scott M. Lewis, has been fighting to get the plane and the money back from the government. He’s denied any wrongdoing.

“The criminal investigation has not been completed and remains active,” Eric Heimann, a federal prosecutor, said last month.

Authorities say Lewis and his traveling companion, Gilbert W. Wiles Jr., acted strangely after landing in Cody in February 2014 (taking steps to obscure their identities that included Lewis using a fake name) and a Powell police drug dog detected the scent of narcotics on the plane.

After getting search warrants for the aircraft and the men’s hotel room at the Holiday Inn, Cody police found the cash (mostly inside vacuum-sealed plastic bags) and three fake Idaho licenses that had Lewis' photo paired with three different names. Police did not find any drugs.

The legal fight over who gets to keep the plane and the $259,717 has been on hold since December to keep it from conflicting with the government's ongoing criminal investigation.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson of Cheyenne postponed the civil forfeiture case for another 60 days to let federal authorities continue the investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Heimann sent Lewis a letter in November saying the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was looking into allegations that could include conspiracy to distribute marijuana, money laundering, identity theft and operating an unregistered aircraft.

“The criminal investigation has not been completed and remains active,” Heimann wrote in a motion last month, saying the extra time would allow the investigation to wrap up.

Lewis’ legal team objected to the additional delay.

“The government has now had ample time to complete its criminal investigation and, because of that, Claimant (Lewis) does not agree to any additional stays,” attorney David M. Michael of San Francisco wrote in a filing.

“The government has now had ample time to complete its criminal investigation,” wrote David M. Michael, an attorney for Lewis.

After a July 9 hearing in Cheyenne, Judge Johnson sided with the government. He did not detail his reasoning in the written order.

Federal law makes it significantly easier for the government to get a person’s property in a forfeiture proceeding than to convict a person of a crime. The government needs only to prove the property’s involvement with the drug trade by a “preponderance of the evidence” rather than the higher threshold of “beyond a reasonable doubt” required in criminal cases.

The law is intended to discourage drug trafficking, though critics says it’s subject to abuse.

Four confirmed dead in Saturday plane crash west of Cody

Four people  two males and two females  died in a Saturday plane crash northwest of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, the Park County Sheriff's Office announced Monday morning. There were no survivors.

“Taking into account what we know from air traffic control and evidence at the scene, I’m convinced something catastrophic happened aboard that aircraft. However given the condition of the site, it will take some time to sift through the evidence to determine exactly what happened,” Sheriff Scott Steward said in a news release.

The sheriff's office has not yet released the names, ages or residences of the victims, saying the people still need to be positively identified and their next-of-kin notified.

The smoldering remains of the Cessna 310. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff's Office
According to the sheriff's office, the small twin-engine Cessna 310 went down around midday Saturday, roughly 10 miles northwest of the reservoir and about one-and-a-half miles west of the Mooncrest Ranch, at the end of Rattlesnake Creek Road.

The plane had been headed from the Sheridan airport to Billings, the sheriff's office said.

Shortly after an 11 a.m. takeoff, the plane deviated from its scheduled flight path and circled Yellowstone National Park. After that, the pilot radioed air traffic controllers in Salt Lake City and asked for new Instrument Flight Rules to Billings. The pilot was told to climb to 14,800 feet  and they did  but shortly after that, the plane suddenly turned east toward Cody and went into a steep descent.

Without another word from the plane, air traffic controllers watched it drop below the radar at 11:56 a.m. It crashed northwest of Logan Mountain.

Members of the Park County Search and Rescue Unit located the plane a few hours later and spent the rest of day and Sunday processing the scene. Members of the Shoshone National Forest fire team assisted them.

The victims were airlifted from the site Sunday afternoon by a helicopter from Sky Aviation in Worland, the sheriff's office said. Autopsies have been scheduled for today (Monday).

Representatives from the National Traffic Safety Board will ultimately be taking over the investigation.
Sheriff Scott Steward said it looked like a bomb had exploded. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff's Office
In the news release, Steward said the crash site looked as though a bomb had exploded.

“The impact area is no bigger than 30 feet in diameter with debris scattered in all directions,” he said.

The sheriff praised the members of the Search and Rescue unit and the Shoshone National Forest fire for the professional recovery of the victims at “what only can be described as a horrific scene.” Steward also thanked the owners of Mooncrest Ranch for their help in getting rescuers to the site of the crash and to Sky Aviation.

Jul 19, 2015

Fatal small plane crash reported northwest of Buffalo Bill Reservoir

A small twin-engine plane crashed about 10 miles northwest of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir early Saturday afternoon. The Park County Sheriff's Office said Sunday morning that it does not yet know how many people were aboard, but it appears no one survived. (Here's an update with more information.)

The plane went down around 12:20 p.m. Saturday in an area along Big Tree Creek, northwest of Logan Mountain and inside the Shoshone National Forest, the sheriff's office said in a news release. The location is about 1.5 miles west of the northern end of Rattlesnake Creek Road and the Mooncrest Ranch, the sheriff's office said.

Air traffic controllers in Salt Lake City saw the plane suddenly drop off their radar and contacted the sheriff's office at 12:35 p.m., the release said.

The Park County Search and Rescue Unit was immediately called into service. A Search and Rescue airplane found the crash site shortly after 3 p.m. and ground teams reached the area not long after that, the release said. They processed the scene until darkness fell.

"Due to the condition of the crash site, the identity of the plane as well as the identity or number of victims could not be confirmed," sheriff's office spokesman Lance Mathess said in the news release.

Members of the Search and Rescue unit were returning to the scene of the crash Sunday morning.

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