Renovations and improvements are plentiful at Horseshoe Bend

Memorial Day is fast approaching, and the staff at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area intends to be ready for it.

Several projects, aiming to make the park both more inviting and accessible, are nearing conclusion.

The most visible change to visitors to the park will be the handicap ramp heading down to the Horseshoe Bend beach. What used to appear as a series of slabs rising starkly out of the earth now feels far more fitting, with a series of retaining walls outlining its path. 

Ted Preator saws retaining wall block during work on the handicap ramp at the Horseshoe Bend swimming beach Thursday morning.
DavidPeck photo

According to Tyler Ennis, Zone 1 safety manager and acting south district maintenance foreman, the retaining wall at the borders of the ramp reflect the primary goal those at the park have for Horseshoe Bend. 

“We want to put it all together toward a concept,” Ennis said. “It’s all going to look like one theme. Like it all ties together.”

The new ramp is also more ADA compliant, with a curb or crutch stop added to prevent roll-offs and make the ramp more safe for those using it. 

Giving the ramp a new look has been a team effort in the truest sense, according to Ennis. 

“It’s been a  really neat project for Horseshoe Bend because we’ve brought the talent from everyone in the park out here to work on things,” Ennis said. “We are so lucky to have the talent we have here in every division.”

For example, the resource management division also has many team-members skilled in masonry, Ennis said, which made them essential in designing the rock retaining walls. Meanwhile, John Rhodes, a law enforcement ranger, has a carpentry construction background, allowing him to assist in modifying the deck.

Hard at work at Horseshoe Bend last Thursday morning are Park Service employees (l-r) Ted Preator, Bill Pickett, Josh Scheffler and Ryan Felkins.
David Peck photo

It’s not the only ramp that’s had work done at Horseshoe Bend.  A ramp heading up to the marina has also been entirely revamped, according to Ennis, in order to ensure the ramp meets ADA compliance. 

“It’s the appropriate size for ADA accessibility. In order to have that you have to have five feet of maneuverability space,” Ennis said. We cut the deck in half, extended the ramp out, poured the concrete so we have the landing that is needed, and we also have a flat area of minimum 60 inches up there.”

Entirely new siding has also been added to the building. The inside, meanwhile, has new flooring, but perhaps more importantly for visitors a new fire suppression grill hood, which modifies the kitchen so it can meet fire code. This has allowed a griddle and deep fat fryer to be installed inside the kitchen, meaning for the first time items such as French fries will be served at Horseshoe Bend. 

For those not looking to swim or boat in the lake, a new activity will be available at the location this summer.  A beach volleyball court will be available and fully furnished, sand, net and all, for anyone looking to play. 

New block retaining walls like the wall seen here adjacent to a picnic table site are being constructed at Horseshoe Bend this spring as part of a major renovation and enhancement project at the popular site.
David Peck photo

When water levels rise to 3,617 visitors will notice another change to both Horseshoe Bend and Barry’s Landing: Entirely new docks. With the old docks being replaced due to disrepair, replacements will be installed with a new fiberglass top on them, which will make them both safer for users and also more resistant of the elements. 

“I have walked on it after it rained,” Ennis said. It’s not even slick. It’s kind of amazing.”

Smaller changes have been made to Horseshoe Bend as well. While visitors would previously see a whole variety of different picnic tables at the site, some aluminum and some wooden, now the aluminum tables will be removed, in order for the space to be more consistent and purposefully designed. The same process will happen for the recycling cans, garbage cans and so on.

It goes back to the initial goal. 

“We want to make it look like it was done on purpose,” Ennis said. “Like we’re working toward a big idea.”

According to a press release from the National Park Service utility sites and dump and fill station at Horseshoe Bend are also open, as well as the fish cleaning stations.

Boat tours held at the Horseshoe Bend Marina will be starting mid-June at 10 a.m. and at 2 p.m. with Friday and Saturday evening tours at 6:30 p.m.   For more information about boat tours, call Hidden Treasure Charters at 307-899-1401. 

By Ryan Fitzmaurice