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Our unique county

May 3, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Data from the Census Bureau brings the unusual details into focus again

The new county population estimates supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau clarify the diversity and relative complexity of Fremont County's population distribution.

For example, our county doesn't have a city among the top eight on Wyoming's population list, yet the county's population is fifth-largest.

Of the four bigger counties than Fremont, each has a top-five population city. No. 1 Laramie County has Cheyenne, the state's largest city. No. 2 Natrona County has Casper, the state's second-largest city. No. 3 Campbell County has Gillette, now almost certainly the state's third-largest city. No. 4 Sweetwater County has Rock Springs, the state's fifth-largest city (and, for good measure, Green River, the eighth-largest city).

But No. 5 Fremont County, one of just five counties in the state with at least 40,000 residents, has Riverton, the ninth-largest city.

What we also have is six incorporated municipalities, one of which is Lander, the No. 13 city. Three other unincorporated population centers -- Beaver Creek, Ethete and Fort Washakie -- are bigger than Pavillion, which is one of the official towns.

The census numbers show that if a county has one big town, it rarely has another. Think Cheyenne in Laramie County, Evanston in Uinta County, Sheridan in Sheridan County, or Laramie in Albany County. In fact, most Wyoming counties were formed with this model in mind.

Fremont County was created with Lander as its headquarters, but Riverton's arrival and growth in the same county is nearly unique among the state's 23 counties built around a single big town.

Only Sweetwater County, with No. 5 Rock Springs and No. 8 Green River, is bigger than Fremont County in this rare "two-big-towns" model. Park County, with Cody and Powell, neither in the top 10 but both in the top 15, parallels Fremont County to an extent, but Fremont County has full 12,000 more residents overall.

That points to Fremont County's other unique population features. The counties that have a large rural population rarely have a big town, but Fremont County has both. Rural Casper has nothing like the "Midvale triangle," that big swath of unincorporated ag land between the "V" formed by highways 26/287 to the northwest and 26/789 to the northeast. Thousands of people live there, but the biggest population center is Pavillion, an incorporated town with a population of about 240.

Fremont County's other population oddity is the Wind River Indian Reservation, which reinforces the county's position as having the biggest unincorporated population in Wyoming. Think of Beaver Creek, St. Stephen's, Arapahoe, Ethete and Fort Washakie. Any or all of them could be a town in another county, but not a big town. Instead, each is a concentration of residents contributing to the uniqueness of our county's population profile.

What does it all mean? Fremont County has it all, unlike any other place in Wyoming. We have big towns and tiny ones, the state's biggest agricultural population, and an Indian reservation. We have industry, tourism and government installations. We are a huge county geographically, containing the state's widest assortment of terrain, from the rolling farms to the national forests, and from the towering Wind River range to the edge-of-the plains prairies.

Sometimes, caught up as we are in our day-to-day existence, we can lose sight of our special place in the world. Sometimes, then, it's worth remembering. The new census numbers help us all do exactly that.

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