Apr 29, 2016

Latest issue of National Geographic all about Yellowstone

An iconic magazine is celebrating an iconic national park.

National Geographic devoted its entire May edition to Yellowstone National Park.

“Yellowstone is more than just a park. It’s a place where, more than 140 years ago, people began to negotiate a peace treaty with the wild,” writes David Quammen, the principal author of the issue.

Through powerful photographs, stories, videos and interactive online features, National Geographic offers readers an in-depth look at America’s first national park.

National Park Service employee Matt Nagel reads the newly released Yellowstone edition of National Geographic. Photo courtesy National Park Service
The May 2016 edition, “Yellowstone: America’s Wild Idea,” hit newsstands this week and it's been a hot commodity in Cody. The special issue is part of the publication's year-long series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Yellowstone staff worked with National Geographic for more than two years to create the edition, said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk in a Wednesday news release.

“Our goal was to illuminate how special this place is and the incredible challenges it faces today. Everyone who cares about the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and its future should read this issue,” Wenk said.

National Geographic explored many of the complex issues surrounding Yellowstone: animal management, land use, tourism, wildlife restoration and animal migration.

Locals flipping through the edition may recognize Nic Patrick of Cody, who was mauled by a grizzly bear on the South Fork in 2013. In addition to a two-page photo of Patrick, National Geographic also features an online video of Patrick describing the attack.

To capture images for the special edition, six photographers spent 18 months in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“Yellowstone, the first national park, was not founded for all the right reasons, and it was not very well thought out at the time. It has been a slow process of discovery — what could Yellowstone be, and what should Yellowstone be?” writer David Quammen told the Yellowstone Park Foundation.

Quammen of Bozeman, Montana, an award-winning author and journalist, is the only writer of the Yellowstone edition. It’s the first time in National Geographic’s 128-year history that one writer served as the single author of an entire edition, according to the Yellowstone Park Foundation.

In an interview with the foundation last week, Quammen said he’d like readers “to take away a better understanding of the national parks idea and how it has evolved.”

He referenced the famous quote by Wallace Stegner: “National parks are the best idea we ever had.”

“But a point I tried to make in this issue was that it hasn't always been a great idea; it has become great,” Quammen told the foundation. “Yellowstone, the first national park, was not founded for all the right reasons, and it was not very well thought out at the time. It has been a slow process of discovery — what could Yellowstone be, and what should Yellowstone be?”

Quammen is no stranger to Yellowstone. He has lived in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for 30 years.

The ecosystem encompasses Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park as well as forests, wildlife refuges and private lands, totaling over 22.6 million acres, according to the National Park Service.

For Quammen, the most memorable experience he had covering Yellowstone for this edition was flying over the Thorofare region — a place he had never really seen. He flew over it in a low-flying airplane, then spent eight days in the Thorofare on horseback.

“Those were two of the most wonderful experiences I had, and two of the most enlightening experiences I had because the Thorofare is a legendary corner of the ecosystem — the most remote area in the lower 48 states,” Quammen told the foundation.

The special Yellowstone issue is available where magazines are sold and online through the Yellowstone Association.

City of Cody gets pushback on idea to sell open space

City of Cody officials didn’t need a survey to learn what the public thought of selling a park to raise money.

As part of the city’s efforts to bolster its shrinking budget, Cody officials recently held a hearing on whether they should consider selling off a 2.53-acre patch of open space along Sheridan Avenue.

The answer voiced by the public was a resounding no.

Roughly three dozen people objected in writing and about half that number spoke against the idea at a packed April 5 council meeting.

One common complaint was that the short-term gains from the sale weren’t worth the long-term costs of losing the open space in Holm View Subdivision.

“What’s our legacy going to be? (That) we balanced a budget or we kept it for the kids?” asked subdivision resident George Niemann.

Cody leaders explored the idea of selling off the open space shown in the background, inside the Holm View Subdivision.
Cody officials said they weren’t excited about the idea of selling off the grassy space, but were trying to explore all their options in tight times.

“I don’t want to sell the park; I just want to keep the community stable,” said Councilman Donny Anderson.

Anderson said in a follow-up interview that proposing a possible sale was, in part, a reaction to citizens who have criticized the city for spending too much on recreation.

“To me, these are eye-openers for folks; it’s a way to get them involved,” he said, saying he was pleased with the turnout and the civility at the meeting.

Cody City Administrator Barry Cook said at the meeting that, with sales tax collections and other revenues on the decline, “the governing body is looking closely at all expenses to determine where savings can be achieved.” Their efforts include recently eliminating two city positions and reducing two others from full to part time.

The net cost of maintaining the grassy space each year is around $7,350, according to city figures. Meanwhile, an appraisal concluded the land might be worth around $324,000.

Cook said there are other city parks that Holm View residents can use, including nearby softball fields and an elementary school playground.

However, many of those who spoke during the public hearing talked about how much the open space is enjoyed. It’s a popular place for youth soccer and several residents said the park was one of the reasons they moved to the roughly 80-lot neighborhood.

Lael Beachler, a podiatrist who lives in the subdivision, said losing a park is “the last thing we need” in a time when people are getting less exercise.

“Taking this park away, it sends a terrible, terrible message, not only to our children but to parents,” Beachler said. “Basically, it’s telling us money over health.”

A few residents felt it wasn’t right for the city to sell off the public land.

“The fact of the matter is, this whole thing’s (the possible sale) come up because one of your neighbors up there continually pounds us ... that we have too many parks, we have too much recreation,’” said Cody Councilman Stan Wolz.

Like the City of Powell and other municipalities, the City of Cody requires developers to set aside 10 percent of a subdivision’s land for public use (or pay the city an equivalent value). That’s how the city got the open space in Holm View, with the developers handing over the property and dedicating it the public’s use.

“I guess we feel that we held up our end of the bargain,” said Roy Holm, who helped engineer the subdivision. “And now we’d like to have the city hold up their end of the bargain.”

Cody City Attorney Scott Kolpitcke said the property could be legally sold if the city revised its ordinances, but a couple opponents of the idea said it would remain wrong on principle.

“The city basically took the land from my family with an implicit promise to provide open space and a park. And now, 20 years later, after Holm View has built the surrounding infrastructure and improved the value of the land, the city wants to condemn it and pocket the proceeds from the sale,” said Gloria Hedderman of Powell. She helped develop the subdivision, which sits on land her grandparents once owned.

“Right is right and wrong is wrong and your financial situation in no way makes it right,” Hedderman said.

By the end of hearing, a couple city leaders indicated they didn’t plan to further explore a sale of the lot.

“After hearing what I’m hearing, and feeling what I’m feeling, I don’t anticipate that,” said Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown.

At the end of the hearing, Mayor Nancy Tia Brown said she doesn't expect that the city will continue to pursue a sale of the open space.

Several council members said they wished more people would attend and offer input at the city’s budget meetings, which usually draw no little or no public interest. A few complained about specific citizens that they felt have voiced inaccurate or off-base criticism of the city over the years, sometimes calling them out by name.

“The fact of the matter is, this whole thing’s (the possible sale) come up because one of your neighbors up there continually pounds us ... that we have too many parks, we have too much recreation,’” said Cody Councilman Stan Wolz, apparently referring to conservative activist and Holm View resident Vince Vanata.

Although Vanata has criticized some of the city’s spending on parks and recreation — namely, the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spends to support the recreation center — he actually was among those who opposed the sale of the open space in Holm View. Vanata, who was unable to attend the meeting, said in an interview that his views were misconstrued by the councilmembers who spoke about him.

Councilman Anderson had brought up Vanata’s criticism at the meeting, too; Anderson also named another critic of the city as having “a very very uneducated opinion about our budget.”

With the large audience, Anderson took the opportunity to make a pitch for passing an additional 1 cent of sales tax to boost local governments.

“At this point, if we want to maintain the status quo, we need to take that penny and kick it in the pot so we can maintain what we have now,” he said.

The open space lies off of Sheridan Avenue.

Apr 28, 2016

Yellowstone bison to be featured on new stamp

The National Park Service’s centennial is being celebrated with a series of new stamps — and Yellowstone is among the parks being featured.

A preview of the new stamp — which features a photograph of two bison silhouetted in Yellowstone National Park’s winter morning sun — was released Monday. It's one of 16 U.S. Postal Service Forever Stamps to be released in June to mark the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary.

The image was captured by Art Wolfe of Seattle, who described it as, “perfectly backlit bison standing on a small rise in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley.”

Lamar Valley bison adorn a forthcoming stamp. Image courtesy U.S. Postal Service

“Rising at dawn and braving the minus 30-degree temperature, I was able to catch the first rays of the morning sun,” Wolfe said in a news release from the Park Service. “The bitter cold of a long winter’s night had left the animals encased in a mantle of thick frost. I had scouted the area the day before and had seen the herd of bison.”

The bison had bedded down there all night and were then standing and trying to shake off the cold as the sun came over the horizon, he recalled of the moment he captured in February 2000.

“These are the serendipitous moments I wait for as a photographer,” Wolfe said. “I shot this in the days of film, so I didn't know until I got back to Seattle and had the film processed if I had been successful or not.”

A uniquely designed stamp pane containing all 16 stamp images will be previewed later this week.
The first-day-of-issue ceremony for the national parks forever stamps pane is June 2 at New York City’s Javits Center as part of World Stamp Show-NY 2016. The event is the world’s largest stamp show and it takes place only once per decade.

In addition to the ceremony in New York, other dedications will also be held in or near each of the National Parks depicted on the stamps.

Apr 26, 2016

County narrowly misses out on state dollars for dispatch equipment

Had Park County waited a few more months to replace some of the equipment in its dispatch center, it might have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars.

County commissioners and staff expressed frustration last week that — after buying $593,616 worth of equipment in December — the state of Wyoming is now offering grants to cover 50 percent of the purchases.

City of Cody officials are also unhappy, as they rely on the county’s dispatching system and have to cover half of the nearly $600,000 bill.

“We’re feeling a little bit left out of the picture — especially since we did everything we were supposed to do and spent the money,” said Park County Chief Information Officer Mike Conners.

Park County Sheriff's Office Communications Officer Michelle Horn monitors first responder and incident status from the county's dispatch hub. File photo courtesy Park County Sheriff's Office
The county submitted a grant application last week, asking the state to reimburse half of its costs. However, that request appears dead on arrival; the grant money is meant only for entities who still have to replace their dispatch console systems.

“It’s not for entities that have already done that; there won’t be any reimbursement,” said Public Safety Communications Commission (PSCC) Chairman Mark Harshman of Casper.

The PSCC oversees WyoLink — the statewide radio communications network — and its members persuaded the Legislature to set aside $680,000 for console system upgrades in the recent budget session. The consoles help direct radio traffic for agencies like police and firefighters and connects them to other Wyoming agencies through WyoLink.

Harshman said the state grants were intended “to help those counties that could not afford it” — such as Niobrara and Crook counties. But he said the recently approved money will likely end up going to everyone who waited to upgrade.

“It’s certainly not an ideal situation,” Harshman said. “Because all of the other entities in the state funded those replacements at significant cost to themselves and didn’t wait.”

Only five of 33 entities have not yet upgraded their dispatching consoles; they're all likely to get some state help.

Of the 33 cities and counties on WyoLink’s system, 28 of them — including Park County and the City of Powell — have already replaced their consoles.

The five stragglers are the Riverton and Sheridan police departments and Crook, Niobrara and Teton counties. While they now stand to get some help from the state, Harshman said they took a risk by sticking with their aging consoles. For example, he said Niobrara County has been having trouble with its console and can’t find replacement parts.

“It’s a huge gamble on their part and it paid off,” Harshman said.

Making it more of a gamble, the going consensus had been that the state wasn’t going to offer any help. In fact, there have been rumblings that the state might actually start charging cities and counties a fee for being part of WyoLink.

When Park County commissioners spoke with local lawmakers this winter, “it was like, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me. We might get rid of the entire WyoLink project; don’t go asking for extra money,’” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

Conners, the county’s CIO, said he and the City of Cody officials searched for grants before buying the $593,000 worth of dispatch equipment last year.

“They (the city) are thinking now we made a big mistake by not waiting to do this,” Conners said, but “we all came to the same conclusion (that) there’s going to be no money available.”

“We all came to the same conclusion (that) there’s going to be no money available,” said Park County Chief Information Officer Mike Conners.

Harshman noted cities and counties have known for years that they would have to upgrade their dispatching equipment by this summer.

The City of Powell was one of the first communities to join WyoLink and it generally made the required upgrades between 2007 and 2008.

The city’s roughly $739,000 communications overhaul — which included not just a new console but also radios and a new tower — was paid for with grants from various state and federal agencies.

With the looming possibility that the state may now be cutting back on its help, Powell Information Technology Manager Zack Thorington is thankful that the city has received multiple upgrades in recent years.

“Right now, we’re fortunately on the latest stuff,” Thorington said. “We lucked out.”

Harshman said Park County is the only entity to have complained about missing out on the new grant funding; he also said the county was the last entity to upgrade its consoles before the state help became available.

Apr 22, 2016

Values of local homes keep rising; sales stay steady

Local homes sales held steady last year, according to data from the Park County Assessor’s Office.

Nearly as many houses were sold in 2015 as the year before and the median, middle-of-the-pack sale
price rose by more than 6 percent, to $225,000.

“It’s been a pretty stable market,” said Assessor Pat Meyer.

Meyer said residential property values have been slowly but consistently rising in recent years.

“It’s been a steady flow, and when you’ve got lots of sales, that usually is a good indicator” of a real estate market that’s doing fairly well, he said.

A total of 374 homes with 10 acres of property or less were sold last year. That’s about a dozen fewer sales than were made in 2014.

Sellers found buyers for 95 homes in Powell and 163 in Cody last year. Those figures were in line with 2014’s totals.

While it depends on the neighborhood and the price range, Meyer said houses in both cities generally increased by 2-4 percent in value between the two years.

“The rural ones are climbing a bit more, it looks like,” he said.

Houses in the $180,000 to $200,000 price range also appeared to be more popular, Meyer said.

His data also shows a sizable difference between the Cody and Powell real estate markets.

In Cody, the median selling price was $221,000; in Powell, meanwhile, the median sale price was $173,000 — or 28 percent less than Cody’s.

Cody's median price rose by more than 4 percent between 2014 and 2015; Powell's rose by less than 1 percent in value.

All of the locally assessed property values — which include homes, business equipment, agricultural land and commercial and industrial property — rose by an average of around 3.5 percent, Meyer said. State-assessed values of things such as oil and gas production will be calculated later.

Higher property values are good news if you’re preparing to re-sell a property, but they also generally mean having to pay higher property taxes.

~By CJ Baker

Apr 21, 2016

Plague found in three South Fork area cats

Three Cody area cats recently became infected with plague, the Wyoming Department of Health announced on Thursday.

All three of the cats lived off the South Fork Road, the department said in a news release. There are no reports of people being infected.

The Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory confirmed the first case of plague on April 12 and confirmed the third on Wednesday.

This graphic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains how plague can spread from infected fleas and rodents to other animals and people.
Plague is a serious bacterial infection and can be deadly for people or animals if not treated promptly with antibiotics, said State Public Health Veterinarian Karl Musgrave. As of Thursday, two of the infected cats had died.

The bacteria can be spread to humans by sick animals or by fleas that have fed on sick animals.

“We want people to know of the potential threat in the area the cats were from as well as across the state. Dogs can also become ill and transmit the disease,” Musgrave said in Thursday's release. “While the disease is rare in humans, it’s safe to assume that the risk for plague exists all around Wyoming.”

Several house cats in the southeastern part of the state became infected with plague in 2005 and another case was confirmed in the rural, western part of Laramie County last October. In this northwestern part of the state, four mountain lions in the Greater Yellowstone Area/Teton County were confirmed to have died of plague between 2005 and 2006, according to past Reuters and Associated Press reports.

Since 1978, six people have been infected with plague in Wyoming. The most recent case was in 2008, when a Boy Scout became ill after visiting Yellowstone National Park and parts of Teton County.

“It’s kind of always around and actual cases in humans are quite rare, but it’s possible,” said Kim Deti, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health. “So we want to find that balance between providing that education to remind people it’s something they need to consider — and perhaps in that (South Fork) area they want to look at it a little more closely — but also not pull a panic alarm here.”

The health department did not specify the exact area on the South Fork where the infected cats lived, in part because “we don’t want people to think it may only be in one area,” Deti said.

Musgrave recommends taking the following precautions to help prevent plague infections:

  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to rodents
  • Avoid contact with rodent carcasses
  • Avoid areas with unexplained rodent die-offs
  • Use insect repellent on boots and pants when in areas that might have fleas
  • Use flea repellent on pets, and properly dispose of rodents that pets may bring home

The disease is basically the same one responsible for the “Black Death” that ravaged Europe in the 1300s — with the difference being that modern medicine has brought methods for limiting its spread and treating it. For example, only 10 cases of plague were reported in the United States in 2014 and all of those patients recovered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Plague symptoms in animals can include enlarged lymph glands; swelling in the neck, face or around the ears; fever; chills; lack of energy; coughing; vomiting; diarrhea and dehydration. Ill animals should be taken to a veterinarian, the Department of Health said.

Plague symptoms in people can include fever, swollen and tender lymph glands, extreme exhaustion, headache, chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. The health department said people who are ill should seek professional medical attention.

More information about plague is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Commission penalizes contractor for late work at fairgrounds

An electrical contractor is being penalized more than $6,000 for finishing work at the Park County Fairgrounds more than five months late.

Park County commissioners decided on Tuesday to withhold half of Action Electric’s final payment as a kind of punishment for not meeting their deadline on the job.

The $112,000 project brought electricity to the new exhibit hall and over to the west side of the fairgrounds near Sixth Street.

Action Electric closed its Powell office after problems that included late work at the fairgrounds.
Action Electric was supposed to finish the work by July 1, but didn’t actually complete it until mid-December.

Commissioners had considered keeping the entire $12,260.80 retainage, while Action Electric had suggested it would be fair for the county to keep 25 percent, or $3,065.20.

On a 3-1 vote, commissioners decided to keep 50 percent, or $6,130.40.

“I think all of us want to be done with it; get it behind us,” said Commission Chairman Tim French. “It’s unfortunate it turned out the way it did, but the work was finally done ... to our satisfaction.”

Commissioners said that in retrospect, the county should have done more to speed up the work.

“I think we learned a valuable lesson that, next time we approach a deadline, we send an official letter or whatever saying the deadline is X, and if you don’t meet the deadline, then you will start accumulating a fine,” French said

He added later that, “we said X was going to happen, and we allowed Y and Z to happen” when county staff told Action Electric it could have more time.

“Letting them go that long, some of the burden’s on both of us,” agreed Commissioner Loren Grosskopf, though he added it was “mostly” on the company.

Action Electric owner Max Griffin has said he wasn’t aware there were problems with the fairgrounds job until November, when county staff first called the company’s head office in Billings. (Staff had previously been dealing with the Powell office.)

Griffin immediately dispatched staff from Billings to finish the work. He told commissioners in February that the problems with the fairgrounds project were one reason he closed Action Electric’s office in Powell.

“Letting them go that long, some of the burden’s on both of us,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

Commissioner Lee Livingston cast the lone vote against paying the $6,130.40 to the company, saying he wanted to withhold the entire retainage.

Action Electric had narrowly been the low-bidder a year ago and Livingston said there may have been contractors who didn’t bid because of the original July 1 deadline.

“I understand where we’re at — where we probably should have given them earlier notice on the penalty, etc., etc. — but I think it's sending the wrong message out to some of the other contractors,” Livingston said.

Commissioner Joe Tilden said he’d also been leaning toward withholding all the money, but he suggested that Action Electric might actually be entitled to full payment.

“Technically speaking, we’re obligated to pay him (Griffin) all of the retainage, because he did finish the job,” Tilden said, adding, “if he balks at this, we could get in a big political mess and a big legal mess we just don’t need to be bothered with.”

In proposing the 50 percent payment, Grosskopf indicated the county is generally willing to give contractors some leeway.

County getting ‘Cadillac’ parking lot at courthouse

In improving the employee parking lot across from the Park County Courthouse, the county chose what one commissioner calls the “Cadillac option.”

On a 3-2 Tuesday vote, commissioners decided to repave, reshape and expand the lot at an estimated cost of about $134,500.

The project will do three things:

• Replace the existing pavement, which has become uneven and potholed.
• Reshape the bulbous “islands” that divide the existing lot, making it easier to plow.
• Pave a dirt/gravel portion of the lot to add 20 large parking spaces

Commissioners all agreed the dilapidated lot needs to be fixed, but differed on whether to add the extra paved spots.

“I think we should get that done while we’ve got the money,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall. He joined with Commissioners Loren Grosskopf and tiebreaker Tim French in voting for complete reconstruction.

The dirt/gravel part of the employee parking lot (in the foreground) will be turned into pavement.
The county had budgeted $100,000 for the project this year.

Commissioner Joe Tilden wanted to stick closer to that figure, lobbying to leave the gravel portion of the lot as gravel. That option, also favored by Commissioner Lee Livingston, had an estimated cost of around $104,300.

“We’re trying to watch our pennies and pinch pennies whenever we can and ... I don’t want to do a bad job, but I don’t think we need to go overboard,” Tilden said.

He noted that, earlier in the day, the commission had refused to pay an extra $570 in salary for Park County’s new 4-H educator.

“Come on, guys,” Tilden said, calling the full reconstruction the “Cadillac option.”

Grosskopf, however, said the extra cost should be offset by how much easier it will be to plow an entirely paved lot.

Park County will soon reconstruct this employee parking lot, south of the courthouse.
The county’s public works office had offered five different designs for the commissioners’ consideration that ranged from a bare minimum, $82,375 option up to the complete reconstruction. The actual cost of the work will depend on what contractors bid.

Hall had suggested the county start a community garden on the now-gravel part of the lot last year, but a majority of the commission wanted it to become parking.

Apr 19, 2016

Grizzly tracks spotted in Peaks northeast of Cody; Heart Mountain trail closed

After spotting grizzly bear tracks on the west side of the McCullough Peaks, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is asking people to be “bear aware” when recreating in the area.

It's an area, northeast of Cody, where the Game and Fish doesn't expect to see grizzlies.

The McCullough Peaks. File photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management
“This is another indication of a healthy and recovered grizzly population,” Bear Wise Wyoming Coordinator Dusty Lasseter said in a Tuesday news release from the department. “As grizzly bear populations continue to grow and increase in distribution, people should be aware that they may see bears in areas they normally would not expect to see bears.”

Lasseter said it's “imperative” for people to report grizzly bear conflicts and activity — especially when near residential areas — to Game and Fish.

“This is the time year when we typically see increasing black bear and grizzly bear activity at lower elevations in areas surrounding Cody,” Lasseter said. “Outdoor enthusiasts are reminded to be bear aware and take preventative action to avoid conflicts with bears.”

Meanwhile, the Nature Conservancy separately announced that bear activity in the area has prompted it to temporarily close the Heart Mountain Ranch Preserve to hiking. Conservancy staff will be monitoring the Heart Mountain trail for signs of bears and reopen it when there seems to be less activity.

The Nature Conservancy made a similar decision last year, closing the trail in mid-April and re-opening it about a month later.

As a general rule, the Game and Fish Department says outdoorsmen should watch for bear tracks, scat and diggings. Hikers, fishermen, antler hunters, or anyone else recreating in areas that could be occupied by bears should take precautions, travel in groups and carry a deterrent like bear spray, the department advises.

“We thank the public for their cooperation and support, and acknowledge the efforts of residents and visitors of Park County toward grizzly bear recovery,” Lasseter said in Tuesday's release.

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