The Lovell Chronicle’s annual look back at the top 10 stories of the year begins with a national issue that had local ramifications: federal budget wrangling. A divided Congress first narrowly averted going over the so-called fiscal cliff in January, but the federal government sequester that no one thought Congress would allow to take place kicked in on March 5, forcing federal agencies to make massive cuts — $176,000 from the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, for instance. Then on Oct. 1 barricades went up at Bighorn Canyon NRA and citizens were not allowed to enter the park when a budget impasse forced federal workers to be furloughed across the United States, including many in Big Horn County. The partial government shutdown lasted a little more than two weeks and impacted the shoulder season at Bighorn Canyon.
Projects were in the news in 2013. After years of planning, the first of three primary phases of the Lovell High School remodeling project began with major work in the central office, music room and vocational education portions of the high school. School office staff members had to endure a move to the Family and Consumer Science room, with FCS classes, as well as band and choir classes, moving to the middle school. A sparkling new central office re-opened in late November, and the vocational education and art programs were moving into new classrooms over the holidays, with Family and Consumer Science classes returning to the high school. Work will continue on a new multipurpose room/music room and lobby, north wing remodeling and outside parking, driving and front entrance work.
Meanwhile, a remodeling and expansion project at North Big Horn Hospital is in the planning stages, and a recent planning meeting explored a long laundry list of ideas for the project. Planning and engineering wrapped up this fall for the Lovell Main Street water, sewer and street repair project, which will take place in 2014. The Wyoming Dept. of Transportation and Town of Lovell project engineering firm DOWL HKM held two meetings with Main Street business owners/manager and residents to plan for the impact the project will have during the spring, summer and fall.
Work on historic buildings made the news in 2013. The Hyart Redevelopment Corp launched a hugely successful fundraising effort to convert the venerable theater to modern, fully digital sound and projection equipment. With late large donations by the Big Horn Rural Electric Co., Basin Electric Power Cooperative and the Newell B. Sargent Foundation, local fundraising topped $126,000, nearly three times the original fundraising goal, toward a total project cost of $175,000. The new NEC 4K resolution equipment began showing movies to great fanfare in early April. Meanwhile, the historic log gym in Cowley opened to an eager and appreciative crowd during Pioneer Day in July following its restoration project, only to be closed hours later by the state fire marshal’s office due to a lack of a fire suppression system. The gym remained closed for more than two months until the Town of Cowley worked out an arrangement to procure a suppression system and open the gym to the public in the meantime. Byron has seen great use of its former school building now operated by Postern Capital, with the Byron Recreation District and Postern Capital planning numerous events and activities in the structure.
North Big Horn County saw a number of transitions in 2014 including new mayor Pam Hopkinson in Byron, new mayor Vance Peregoy in Frannie, new physicians Dr. Richard Jay and Dr. Brendan Fitzsimmons at North Big Horn Hospital, new Lovell Middle School principal Doug Hazen, John Hyde replacing Scotty Hinman on the Big Horn County Board of County Commissioners upon Hinman’s untimely death, Jason Beal replacing Hyde as county emergency management coordinator and the announcement that Dan Coe will retire as Supt. of Big Horn County School District No. 2 at the end of the school year.
The U.S. Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, was a huge story both nationally and locally. The first phase of the act kicked in on Oct. 1, and Wyoming Dept. of Insurance Commissioner Tom Hirsig made the rounds to explain the complexities of the new program. Meanwhile, numerous glitches, delays and political opposition have hindered the implementation of the program. Locally, Rep. Elaine Harvey has been working statewide and nationally on aspects of the law and how they affect healthcare in a rural state like Wyoming.
Large fires caught the attention of folks in North Big Horn County in 2013. In late April, a wildfire burned some 1,500 acres in the Yellowtail Wildlife Management Area, damaging the ecosystem. On Aug. 4, an intense, wind-blown fire destroyed the shop and offices of the NEPECO oil field service company in Byron. Owner Chad Petrich later announced that the company would close, and an auction was held Oct. 31 to sell remaining equipment.
The board of the North Big Horn County Museum and Historical Center made great progress in 2013 toward establishing a museum in Lovell to tell the history of North Big Horn County communities, current and past. Board members worked throughout the year to gather signatures to place a museum district on the 2014 primary election ballot and by the Dec. 3 deadline had gathered more than enough signatures representing more than the required assessed valuation to put the district on the ballot. In the meantime the museum board is working with the Lovell Area Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Lovell to place a “mini-museum” in the downtown chamber office and visitor center.
In an “all’s well that ends well” story, 87-year-old Phillip Whaley was found in a remote section of the Dryhead region after being stranded for six days without food or clean water. Social media, good police work, numerous search volunteers and the keen eyes and dedication of horseshoers Daniel Hooper and Timothy Bates led to the rescue of Mr. Whaley.
Lovell High School was recognized nationally in September as one of a handful of Blue Ribbon Schools honored for being among the best performing schools in the country. Officials cited motivated students, great teachers, good leaders and a supportive community. Principal Scott O’Tremba attended the national awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. in November 18-19, along with AdvancedED committee members Tawnya Teter, school counselor, and Katie Hernandez, English teacher.
In agriculture news, local sugar beet growers produced a record crop for tonnage, but late summer rains served to lower the sugar content of the 2013 crop. That occurrence, combined with lower sugar prices nationally caused by a glut of sugar on the market, have made the 2013 growing season a mixed bag for local producers.
Sports – Success on the court, on the field and on the golf course were the highlights of the 2013 sports world in North Big Horn County. In February, Lovell senior Dino Collins completed his second straight undefeated season on the wrestling mat and was joined on the individual champion platform by seniors Nathan Grant and Jacob Beck as the Bulldogs place third as a team. Rocky Mountain senior Jake Jones made the state title match for the fourth consecutive year.
•The Lovell boys basketball team defeated Lusk for the state basketball title a week later, completing a 25-1 record. The LHS dance team captured second place at state dance, competing among much larger schools, and the Rocky Mountain cheerleaders placed third. Sophomore Lauren Hinckley won the Class 2A statewide title in the “regional” golf tournament, with the Lady Bulldogs placing second as a team, and the Lovell boys captured the Class 2A state title in track and field with the Lovell girls a close second.
•Cody Savage won the Wilford Mower Award as the top 1A-2A athlete in the Big Horn Basin in May, and in June Dino Collins won the Milward Simpson Award as the outstanding male athlete in Wyoming.