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Canyon road improvements weighed at talk session

Mar 5, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Community members shared thoughts about the future of the Wind River Canyon during a public meeting about the scenic byway's Corridor Management Plan.

The CMP is meant to guide future development of the 34-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 20 between Shoshoni and Thermopolis. The plan is being created with support from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes and the Federal Highways Administration.

"This document (is a) reflection of local desires, issues and community goals," consultant Susan Springer said during the Riverton public meeting in February. "It's important we have stakeholder participation all through the process."

She has been gathering public input for the CMP from area residents, asking people to think about the spots along the corridor that hold special meaning for them.

"I can start that out," Riverton resident Dick Inberg said last month. "I guess the most special thing about the canyon (is) the geology."

Inberg said he has spent a lot of time on the byway studying the geological formations visible along the canyon walls.

"There's no place in the west where you can drive through a canyon and see anything from Precambrian rocks to modern," Inberg said, suggesting that signs could be installed to inform people about the natural attraction. "We need some sort of visitors center there to enhance that."

According to Springer, the Hot Springs Greater Learning Foundation has supported the development of the Big Horn Basin Nature & Discovery Center in Hot Springs State Park. The center would be designed as a regional attraction for visitors, an interpretive center for the region and an educational arts and sciences center; its proposed location is on the northern edge of the scenic byway.

Inberg also talked about the railroad tracks that line the canyon, and Riverton resident Georgia Davis said she enjoys driving through the highway's three tunnels between Shoshoni and Thermopolis.

Davis also commented on the significance of the Wedding of the Waters, where the Wind River becomes the Big Horn River at the north end of the canyon.

"You can put boats in there and raft to Thermopolis or get out at the Hot Spring (State Park)," Davis said.

Jennie Hutchinson of the Wind River Visitors Council said she has learned about the history associated with the canyon during rafting trips from that spot.

"We do that all the time," she said. "It's an annual event, a family thing we do."

The group mentioned wildlife, waterfalls and campgrounds along the byway and noted that Boysen Reservoir and Boysen Dam are attractions as well. Inberg said there are opportunities for side trips from the canyon, but he added that much of the land is owned by the tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

"When you leave the right-of-way, you're trespassing," he said. "If the tribes will kick in, (we could) make those open to the public. (The tribes) can provide some access."

The group also talked about the potential for boating permits from the tribes so more people could raft through the canyon.

Concerns

With their favorite parts of the canyon in mind, Springer asked audience members to think about their concerns regarding the byway. Hutchinson, a photographer, said she'd like to see more parking or turnouts along the highway. She also was interested in a walking bridge across the Wind River.

Inberg's concern had to do with speeding.

"As I'm going through the canyon I'm looking at stuff and going 50-55 miles per hour, and everyone's passing me on the curves with traffic," Inberg said.

Davis said more passing lanes would be beneficial, and Inberg suggested a more restrictive speed limit. They both expressed a desire to keep the canyon relatively undeveloped.

"We don't want to start blasting," Davis said. "We want to preserve it. ... It's special the way it is."

Springer said she would take their feedback into account when forming the CMP over the following months. She anticipates forming a mission statement complete with goals and objectives for the CMP in March. After that, she will work with engineers to analyze the byway and outline the CMP document.

"We'll come back to the public ... probably sometime in July to September," she said. "My goal is to get this finished by the end of the year."

For more information e-mail Springer at susan@intrinsic

info.com, call her at (512) 847-7744, or call Howard Brown with the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes Division of Transportation at 335-7669.

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