Kirk Waggoner got his birthday cake a day early. It came with the surprise of a lifetime Saturday as the Park County Search and Rescue dedicated its facility in Cody, naming it for the founding …
Kirk Waggoner got his birthday cake a day early. It came with the surprise of a lifetime Saturday as the Park County Search and Rescue dedicated its facility in Cody, naming it for the founding member of the all-volunteer group.
Waggoner started the organization in 1970 at the request of Harley Kinkade, former Park County Sheriff, after Kinkade realized the increasing importance of backcountry rescues.
“He was seeing that my buddies and I were rock climbing and backpacking before it became popular,” Waggoner recalled. “And the sheriff saw that he was going to be having some problems and wanted somebody with more training to help him.”
The county’s search and rescue organization started with five members and a small budget.
“We had a little bit of outdoor experience and it grew from there,” Waggoner said.
Now the team has 36 “dedicated” members — all volunteers except for Bill Brown, the SAR coordinator. The organization’s building, at 721 15th St. in Cody, was completed in 2015, Brown said. Some of the revenue to build the facility came from the sale of the old search and rescue building in Powell.
Waggoner was surprised at Saturday’s open house in Cody, as his daughter, Echo, presented the sign bearing his name at the ceremony prior to having it secured on the facade.
“It was unbelievable. I never really expected that,” he said while enjoying a piece of cake during the celebration.
The facility is now officially known as the Kirk Waggoner Search & Rescue Building.
“Kirk is our man,” said Park County Sheriff Scott Steward. “Even though he retired from the sheriff’s office years ago, he is still very active in search and rescue 50 years later.”
Waggoner has recently helped with communication issues and is handy with technology, developing several programs for tracking equipment and services, Steward said.
“He’s known throughout the state as a major search manager,” the sheriff said. “He’s been called to searches all over the state — probably the country.”
As the county sheriff, the state has tasked Steward with search and rescue operations. But he said it would be impossible without the dedicated staff of volunteers — initially started by Waggoner.
“When I started search rescue we had about 17 or 18 people,” Steward recalled. “We’re now 36 members strong and we have a waiting list.”
As dozens of people toured the facility and shared in a picnic during the open house, Waggoner said the secret of his success with the organization was adding fun to the equation.
“I made it a requirement to have training be fun as well as useful,” he said, “because if it’s fun, people keep coming back.”