1. Our top story is the ripple effect from the dramatic drop in state revenue from the sharp downturn in Wyoming’s oil, gas and mineral industries. The Wyoming Legislature dipped into the state’s so-called “rainy day accounts” but also made a number of budget cuts. Many facets of state government and Wyoming’s economy were affected by the revenue decrease, including funding for schools, which had to deal with a $400 million shortfall. Both School Districts One and Two in North Big Horn County dealt with the cuts in their own way. District Two held a public forum to receive input on how and where to trip costs, while District One dealt with the issue largely in house.
2. Weather is always a topic of conversation, and people in North Big Horn County got a whopper of a topic to chat about on Jan. 11 when Old Man Winter dumped more than a foot of snow on the area – on top of already sizeable deposits of the white stuff that came down before and during the holidays. The snow kept coming in the weeks to follow, leading to more than double the normal snowpack in most Wyoming mountain ranges and a record spring runoff, which caused the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare by lowering the elevation of Big Horn Lake and delaying the opening of the boat ramp at Horseshoe Bend by several weeks. Ice jams in March caused flooding along the Big Horn River.
Frigid temperatures averaging a full 17 degrees below zero in January on top of the heavy snowfall made conditions difficult for homeowners, people trying to move about and firefighters, such as when firemen had to extinguish a blaze on Kansas Avenue in Lovell Jan. 16 in temperatures that hovered around 10 to 15 degrees below zero. Numerous pipes and water meters froze and had to be thawed that week in the area.
3. There were numerous transitions in leadership positions throughout the area in 2017. Jamie Flitner of Shell assumed the House District 26 seat in the Wyoming Legislature for the retiring Elaine Harvey after surviving a hotly contested election. Also taking office were new county commissioner Deb Craft, town council members Tom Newman and Carol Miller in Lovell and council members Allan Clark and Michelle Hoyt in Byron, among others. Later, Hoyt assumed the mayor’s chair in Byron in July after the resignation of Heidi Brightly in June, and councilman Bill Camp in August moved to the mayor’s chair in Deaver following the resignation of Michael Beyer.
Jason Beal resigned as Lovell chief of police in July, and after an interim period Dan Laffin was named chief by Lovell Mayor Angel Montanez on Aug. 8.
Linnea Dickson conducted her final concert in May to conclude a 28-year teaching career at Lovell schools.
Two longtime local coaches stepped down this year following their respective seasons: Rocky Mountain High School boys basketball coach Michael Simmons and Lovell High School football coach Doug Hazen.
4. Though the Town of Lovell’s water and sewer project wrapped up a couple of years earlier, there were still plenty of public works projects under way in North Big Horn County in 2017. Perhaps the most visible area project was the new Town of Lovell 400,000-gallon water tower, which was constructed during the summer and painted white in October with a rose logo. Many people gathered to watch the fascinating work as welders erected the 170-foot tower piece by piece in June.
In Deaver, work got under way in August on a new water distribution and transmission line project, and during the fall the former Deaver-Frannie High School and Rocky Mountain Middle School building was razed while a new Town of Deaver maintenance shop was constructed across the street from Town Hall.
In Byron, planning is under way for a 2021 WyDOT highway project on Main Street, along with a water and sewer infrastructure project being planned by the Town of Byron in conjunction with the state project. The town is also working on related projects to upgrade fire hydrants and the town sewer lagoon following the completion of a master plan.
The Town of Cowley began work in September on a project to remodel and expand the former Rasmussen Repair building east of the Log Gym as a community center. The project will include attaching the new center to the Log Gym with a 16-foot corridor that will run the length of the building, a 30-by-35-foot addition at the west end of the building, a commercial kitchen and education center for cooking and classes, new restrooms and a large meeting room that can be divided into three spaces with folding walls.
A number of upgrades were also made by the National Park Service at the Cal S. Taggart Visitor Center, Horseshoe Bend and the Devil’s Canyon Overlook.
The Big Horn County Public Health staff was able to spread their wings after moving into a spacious new facility in the remodeled former Bairco and Pacific Power building at 213 E. Third thanks to the generosity of Big Horn County Fire Protection District No. 1, which offered the building to Public Health rent free after remodeling the facility. The large building replaces cramped quarters Public Health occupied at the North Big Horn Senior Citizens Building.
Work began in late July on the $11.7 million Sage Creek highway and bridge improvement project between Lovell and Cowley, which will replace two bridges, widen a third and widen the highway near the Oasis Junction. The project will continue well into 2018.
Work on a new cafeteria and kitchen at the Lovell Elementary School also got under way late in the summer and continued through the fall and into winter.
5. Although only partial in Big Horn County at around 98 percent, the solar eclipse that crossed central Wyoming was huge news in August as around 260,000 visitors flocked to Wyoming to view the Aug. 21 event. Many found the eclipse to be an emotional, once-in-a-lifetime event.
6. The Lovell Inc. economic development organization in February welcomed a new but familiar face at the helm: Elaine Harvey, who retired after 14 years in the Wyoming Legislature. Harvey assumed the reins from Dave Reetz of Powell, who had led Lovell Inc. for the previous year and a half following the departure of Sue Taylor in June of 2015. Among the projects Lovell Inc. is working on are a year-round commercial greenhouse fed by steam from the Western Sugar Cooperative plant, a region-wide food hub and completion of the housing project on the site of the former North Big Horn Hospital building on 10th Street.
7. Businesses in North Big Horn County showed growth and progress in 2017, including a number of expansions, renovations and new buildings. During the late winter and spring, the Red Apple Supermarket was upgraded with a state-of-the-art energy efficient refrigeration system and new food cases throughout the store.
In August the machinery began humming at the new Zeller and Sons Honey processing building on the Cannery Road west of Lovell as the longtime honey company successfully made the move to a new location from the Zeller farm east of town.
The Maverik Country Store building on Main Street in Lovell was torn down in October and is being replaced with a brand new structure as part of a series of store reconstruction projects Maverik is undertaking in the Big Horn Basin.
Bairco Construction opened its state-of-the-art fitness center – Club Dauntless — just off U.S. 310 on the Cannery Road in late fall. A Jan. 6 grand opening is planned.
8. North Big Horn Hospital continued to rake in honors and awards in 2017 including “among the best of the best” scores in HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) surveys. The hospital and clinic also completed a new infusion suite so patients can receive infusion treatments closer to home and a new sleep lab for conducting sleep studies for local patients.
9. On the cultural front, the Lovell-Kane Museum received a special gift in the form of a deed to a house at 354 Oregon Ave. gifted to the museum by owner Loretta Bischoff. The house was remodeled and the museum moved from its temporary digs in the Chamber of Commerce visitor center to the new, much larger house around Mustang Days.
Around Thanksgiving, the community play “A Christmas Carol” produced by the Masons of Lovell and the Big Horn Arts Council, with support from the Lovell Area Chamber of Commerce, was staged four times to large crowds, three times at the Hyart Theatre (one for school children, two public) and once at the Byron Auditorium.
10. Local schools continued their excellence both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. In March, the Lovell High School cheerleading squad earned the first fire truck ride of the year after capturing the Class 2A Non-Stunt championship at the State Spirit Competition March 8, a little less than a week after three local basketball teams brought home trophies from the Class 2A State Tournament in Casper. The Rocky Mountain girls and Lovell boys placed third, and the Rocky Mountain boys won the consolation title.
In May, the Lovell and Rocky Mountain boys track teams placed 1-2 at the State Track Meet in Casper. Lovell won its third boys title since 2010, and the Grizzly boys placed second. And in September the LHS golf team won the boys title at the Class 2A State Golf Tournament in Sheridan.
Rocky Mountain junior Alecx Christensen qualified for the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Birmingham, Ala., competing in World Schools Debate event, and Lovell junior-to-be Grace Edwards in June captured first place in the medical math category at the SkillsUSA National Championships in Louisville, Ky.
In May, Lovell High School English teacher Katie Hernandez received the prestigious Arch Coal Award for teachers.
By David Peck