While Powell Mayor John Wetzel was preparing to cut the celebratory yellow ribbon with a pair of giant scissors, marking the completion of a new boat ramp on the Shoshone River south of the city, …
While Powell Mayor John Wetzel was preparing to cut the celebratory yellow ribbon with a pair of giant scissors, marking the completion of a new boat ramp on the Shoshone River south of the city, boaters were already taking advantage of the structure to float the river from the Willwood Dam to the new takeout.
Chuck Hassler was rushing to meet his crew, drop off a vehicle and hustle back to the Willwood Dam to get on the river for adventure, but took time to personally thank Wetzel prior to the ceremony.
“You couldn’t get your boat out of the water here before this. It’s a great addition. Now we’re going to explore the lower part.”
Wetzel brought the project to the Park County Outdoors Recreation Collaborative and followed it through to fruition — from finding funding to joining in the manual labor to get the job done. The entire process took a couple years: It could have been sooner, but Mother Nature hasn’t been cooperative lately.
The new takeout gives boaters easy access to the portion of the river below the Willwood Dam and above the Penrose Dam. At one time boaters could get a small boat out at the adjacent Willwood Access Area, but the area is now closed to all but foot traffic due to heavy littering and vandalism. Even when it was open, it didn’t have a proper takeout.
Wetzel was instrumental in finding funding and volunteers to complete the construction. But he didn’t stop there. He was also on hand with the volunteers to help prepare the site and assist with the labor to put the finishing touches on the ample-sized cement ramp.
Federal, state and local officials, employees and volunteers filled the parking lot for the ceremony. Wetzel watched with a smile on his face as the multi-year project finally reached the grand opening, his retriever Samantha — wet from playing in the river — at his side.
“It took lots of support from the community to put this project together,” he said after cutting the ribbon. “We had some hiccups along the way. Obviously, digging next to a river is not easy. And we had a lot of permitting to get done. We made it happen and all with most of the volunteers. So I’m pretty excited to be at this point.”
Before the gathering, a lot of people came together to prepare the site, said Powell Economic Partnership Executive Director Rebekah Burns. The Wyoming Department of Transportation owns the land, allowing the ramp to be built, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which had an easement on the property, agreed to manage the facility. Volunteers organized by the Powell Economic Partnership and the collaborative were on site a year ago to remove vandalism from the bridge supports “to make the area more family friendly,” Burns said.
Game and Fish donated the paint for the clean-up.
The project was funded by Wyoming Outdoor Recreation Office. Initiated by former Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, the office aims to diversify Wyoming’s economy by expanding, enhancing and promoting responsible recreational opportunities through collaboration, outreach and coordination with stakeholders, landowners, private industry and public officials. The department sponsors seven outdoor recreation collaboratives across the state.
Laurel Stephens, outreach coordinator for the state, said the office donated the $20,000 needed to complete the project. Other individuals, groups, agencies and businesses also donated time and/or money to the project.
In kind donations were provided by Ian Morrison at EA Engineering, Ryno’s Rentals, Park County Commissioner Lloyd Thiel, the Powell Chamber and Powell Economic Partnership, MDM Concrete, the East Yellowstone chapter of Trout Unlimited, Wyoming State Parks and Recreation, WYDOT and Game and Fish, while Zack Thorington donated the use of his Bobcat for the project.
“We’re really excited. This is the first completed project under [the Park County Collaborative’s] belt. And I think we hope that this is just the first of many.”
The collaborative has several other projects underway, but, due to the nature of the projects on federal public land, they require National Environmental Policy Act approval. The act established a broad national framework for protecting the environment.
Members of the collaborative — the largest in the state — are facing many months or years of work to get approval on other projects, including building a bridge to reopen access to thousands of acres of public land near Heart Mountain, building trail systems near Cody and on the Polecat Bench, and looking into ways to improve outdoor recreation throughout the county. Yet, at every turn there are long, complicated federal requirements standing in the way of quick results.
“It’s just not that easy. Trust me. I wish it was,” said Rick Tryder, outdoor recreation planner for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Cody office..
The requirements are expensive and the best case scenario to get a NEPA application approved can be six to 12 months, said Kevin O’Dell, a representative from ACR Consultants, a Sheridan company offering its services to assist the collaboration though the NEPA process.
O’Dell said an Environmental Assessment could take a year, but it can take 12-24 months to complete an Environmental Impact Statement, should it be required for projects.
Yet, for the moment the volunteers for the collaborative have a great reason to celebrate, Wetzel said.
“Luckily we had a lot of help and people stepped up for the task,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to get to this point.”
There are still a few things left to do at the ramp, Wetzel said. The team wants to even out the driveway and parking lot and look into installing a concrete picnic table and signage. After the ceremony East Yellowstone chapter of Trout Unlimited president Tom Brown and member Dave Sweet teamed up with Game and Fish Habitat and Access Coordinator Brad Sorensen to install a monofilament line disposal unit to keep unwanted fishing line tidy.
“It’s still a work in progress, but it’s floatable,” Wetzel said. “It’s a great feeling.”