An Advocate for Carbon County Tourism


January 15, 2020

The holidays have just finished and, with them, have come in messages from friends all over the world.

There were a few from friends overseas that wonder when I am going to come back. It is a fair question in a way. Although I bought my first home in Saratoga back in 1998 and my second house in Hanna a couple years later, for almost the past two decades I made my living out of this country.

I would come back to Wyoming for a few months and then head back to where jobs were a bit more plentiful. I will admit, I usually timed it so I could spend time in Wyoming in the summer and skip winter entirely. Sort of an international snowbird.

I didn’t always make it back every year. One time, there was a stretch when I owned my restaurant in Taiwan, I didn’t see my house in Hanna for five years.

Then, about five years ago when I decided I was tired of being an ex-pat in other countries, I made a commitment to live in Carbon County full time. I came to question this decision as I faced winter and the perils of driving in it. To be truthful, there was a year I took off for the mid-Atlantic region for about a year because of a job and I didn’t miss shoveling my driveway on a weekly basis.

When I came back, two things happened that made me realize Carbon County is the place I want to be, winter included. This happened almost three years ago.

First was Keith McClendon hiring me at the Saratoga Sun. Through this job I met people who had local history to tell that gave me a real understanding of the culture of the county that I live in that I didn’t have before.

About that same time, I was made the Hanna representative for the Carbon County Visitors Council (CCVC).

I have always known that Carbon County had its jewels for tourism, but I didn’t know how much. More importantly, I became aware that tourism was a real viable way for Wyoming to keep its youth population that often finds other places to live.

It is no secret, Wyoming cannot depend on extraction industries the way it once did. By having my house in Hanna for 20 years, I have seen first-hand the demise of King Coal.

Coal may be gone, but around Carbon County there is world class scenery.

I don’t use the words world class lightly. I have been really lucky and have seen some amazing places. Whether it is tropical waterfalls dumping into pools of freshwater or hiking some of the highest mountains in the world.

I should say my hiking didn’t include places like Everest but in East Asia, Jade Mountain in Taiwan is the highest peak. Haleakala in Maui is above the clouds and has a plant called the silver sword that lives for decades, blooms once and dies. I have been on beaches all over the world and there are places where it feels like Eden.

Yet my favorite place in the world is an outcropping of rocks on a canyon about a twenty minute walk from my doorstep. The vista I over look lets me see trains coming and going in the distance. There is a bit of Indian Paintbrush–the rare Wyoming State flower–that grows steps away from my outcropping. The wind in my hair (it is northern Carbon County after all) on a warm summer day, with blue skies above, make this place my church.

My second favorite place is the Encampment River Trail. When I lived in Saratoga, I hiked it at least once a week in the summer. I have no idea how many times I have traveled it but when friends visit, especially from overseas, these two places are a go to for the outdoor experience in Wyoming.

When I do get visitors, besides the two mentioned destinations, the Grand Encampment Museum, the Hotel Wolf and the Virginian Hotel are on my tour. As I have worked with the Sun and CCVC, I have been exposed to places I used to pass by, but never stopped. Ft. Steele is interesting as any place in Carbon County. Going to Miracle Mile via Hanna and Medicine Bow took me through awe inspiring country I didn’t even know existed, much less in my back yard.

This county is blessed with places for the tourist to visit. In my opinion, this is a boon economically.

I know what it is like to have a restaurant in Wyoming that is full and every table from out of town. Tripadvisor ranking us number one in Laramie made all the difference in the world to my business.

I not only saw it at my place in Laramie, I worked in several of the restaurant/bar venues in Saratoga. The summers I worked in the Hotel Wolf and Firewater, different years of course, I met many out-of-towners. At both establishments, visitors would usually ask my favorite places.

Snowy Range is a safe bet to send people when they are looking for something with easy access. The same with the Hobo Pool.

In columns before, I have mentioned I was a manager of youth hostel in Waikiki for a couple years, in addition to bartending. I met the international tourist every day of my life during those years. I saw what they wanted to do and what they wanted to spend their money on. Because of my fitness and youth, the hostel had me give walking tours to Diamond Head and I got to hear what was important to these travelers.

Our staff at the hostel had several young workers. It is my experience that many businesses do well because of tourism are run and staffed by the younger generation. Brush Creek Resort is living proof.

Recently, I listened to Berkeley Young of Young Strategies, a national destination travel professional, explain the importance of locals being the best advocates of tourism. Residents know what to show off and what to stay away from. This all made sense to me as I listened.

I know as a tour guide to visiting friends and as a bartender giving helpful tips to tourists how much impact a local can make.

There is so much to see in this county alone, much less the entire state. It really is easy to support tourism by just what comes natural to most Wyomingites; being friendly and helpful.

Don’t think telling them of a special place will eventually ruin it. It doesn’t have to be that way. The more people that visit our attractions, the more opportunity for jobs to be created.

The other thing Mr. Young said local media should be involved and supported to do stories about tourism whenever they can.

I have taken those words to heart.

I am going to support the tourism industry in what ways I can and I hope many other Carbon County residents do the same thing.

It really is about giving many in the future generations a chance to have a livelihood and stay in Carbon County.

Personally, I am grateful I have had the opportunity to make Carbon County my home and happy to share its beauty and culture with visitors.


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