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Conservancy christens Heart Mountain cabin

With its doors opened to the morning sun and a steady stream of visitors, the Heart Mountain Trailhead Interpretative Cabin got an official grand opening on Saturday. The one-room interpretive cabin, a project spearheaded by the Nature Conservancy, features a wealth of information about Heart Mountain and the people and animals that have used it over the centuries. The Conservancy hopes the cabin will help people build a deeper connection with the area. With its doors opened to the morning sun and a steady stream of visitors, the Heart Mountain Trailhead Interpretative Cabin got an official grand opening on Saturday. The one-room interpretive cabin, a project spearheaded by the Nature Conservancy, features a wealth of information about Heart Mountain and the people and animals that have used it over the centuries. The Conservancy hopes the cabin will help people build a deeper connection with the area. Tribune photo by CJ Baker

A hike up Heart Mountain has always provided participants a chance to get a deeper understanding of their personal physical fitness. But a new interpretative cabin installed at the trailhead now offers mountain visitors an opportunity for a deeper understanding of the place itself.

The Nature Conservancy, which owns and manages much of the land on the mountain’s north side, on Saturday held a grand opening for the Heart Mountain Trailhead Interpretative Cabin.

The structure is a kind of one-room mini-museum, with photographs and panels sharing information about the mountain and its current and past inhabitants. Some displays explain the mountain’s geological formation millions of years ago, while others detail its habitation by Native Americans, more recent homesteaders and its wildlife.

Speakers on Saturday called the cabin a way to strengthen the connection between people and the land.

“This mountain should belong to this community,” said Andrea Erickson Quiroz, the Nature Conservancy’s Wyoming state director.

Quiroz said the facility’s opening was the culmination of patience, work, vision and drive.

The Nature Conservancy prides itself on partnering with others, and the Trailhead Cabin is a microcosm of that approach: the graphics and panels were installed with the help of Buffalo Bill Historical Center staff; the wood signs at the site were crafted by Cody Eagle Scout Alex Murphy and his wood-shop classmates; and the cabin itself, a unique structure that dates back to the mid-1880s, had been headed to demolition until being rescued east of Cody by Conservancy supporters Anne Young and Jim Nielson.

Quiroz credited Young’s vision and dedication for making the revamped, interpretative cabin a reality.

Describing her motivation, Young recalled a years-old encounter with some teenage volunteers from Thermopolis. The teens were helping clean up some old barbed wire and were enthralled by the Conservancy project, Young said.

“But one of them came up to me and said, ‘Do you think you could show me an Indian Paintbrush?’” Young recalled. “And I said, ‘But wait a minute, aren’t you from Wyoming? Haven’t you ever seen an Indian Paintbrush in the wild?’”

The teen responded they’d only seen the state flower on a kitchen calendar.

“I was horrified, and I was also motivated,” Young recalled. “Because I thought, ‘My word, we need to get these kids outside; we need to get them out on the land.

“‘We need to get not just these kids but so many people who are stuck inside nowadays, we need to get them out and stomp around in the grass and look at the sagebrush, see an antelope ... or long-billed curlews and the myriad of wildflowers.’”

Young said she was looking forward to the programs the cabin will enable.

Visitors to the Heart Mountain trailhead will be able to check out the cabin from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends through September. In the spring, the conservancy will work out a new schedule.

Arlen Lancaster, the Conservancy’s conservation initiatives director in Wyoming, rhetorically asked after the presentation how many people are aware of, say, Heart Mountain’s unique geology that features older rock on top of younger rock. It’s that deeper knowledge that the cabin is intended to help foster.

As Lancaster puts it, “When you understand it, you value it, and when you value it, you want to do more to protect it.”

The Heart Mountain trail is accessed by turning west of U.S. 14-A onto Road 19, at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, and then following the road towards Heart Mountain as it turns into Lane 13H.

Visitors are asked to sign in at the Heart Mountain Ranch headquarters at the end of the road before proceeding up to the mountain.

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