Sunday, December 14, 2014

What happens when Wyoming tourists no longer want to drive?

Gas prices are lower and expected to go even lower. We may be in for $2.50 gas prices in early 2015.

Yellowstone had a record 4 million visitors in 2014.

All good news for Wyoming.

Or is it?

America's love affair with cars may be over. Hard to believe for us Baby Boomers. I've been driving for almost 50 years. I couldn't wait to get my license and a car and tear around Volusia County, Florida -- and possibly use my new motorized self to get a date.

I did get a date or two. And I've driven in hundreds of counties all over this county and had a pretty good time doing it.

But those days may be over, at least in urban centers where most of the population lives. Kids these days -- they don't dream so much about piloting their own car as they do about saving the planet. Public transportation and car-sharing and walking and biking are hip.

Teton County, the gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks and the cornerstone of Wyoming tourism, just opened a new terminal for its Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit (START) bus line. We have buses in Cheyenne and Casper and maybe a few other communities. But none of us has a transportation terminal that includes a "bus barn" for storing vehicles indoors away from the cruelties of Wyoming weather. The first phase of this transportation terminal was dedicated Friday. When it's completed, it will even include employee housing, a real concern for any middle class person hoping to make a living in one of the richest counties in the country.

The state has no plans to widen tourist-clogged Teton County roads. And many environmentally-conscious residents don't want those roads widened anyway. So the county plans for more rapid transit to get residents and visitors out of their cars. As it is now, visitors can fly into Jackson and spend a week without a car. In fact, they may prefer that.

The town of Jackson's web site had a link to this article written by Tim Henderson for the PEW Charitable Trusts. It talks about the drop in rates for commuting by car, not only in cities but here in the Great Wide Open:
Western areas known for wilderness and a car-loving culture are seeing big decreases. In Oregon, Washington and Colorado, the percentage of workers commuting by car dropped by either 3 or 4 percentage points. 
The car commuting rate in Teton County, Wyoming, with its breathtaking mountain views and world-renowned skiing at Jackson Hole, dropped from 79 percent to 70 percent. No other county saw a larger decline. 
“We took a number of actions between 2000 and 2010 with the intention of changing the mode of travel away from the auto, particularly for the work trip in our area,” said Michael Wackerly of Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit. Some of the steps included providing commuter buses to get workers from neighboring Idaho, bus passes for Teton Village employees and higher parking fees to encourage bus use. For Teton County, the motivation was largely environmental. 
“A transportation system oriented toward automobiles is inconsistent with our common values of ecosystem stewardship, growth management and quality of life,” said the county’s 2012 master plan.

The Western Greater Yellowstone Consortium, a four-county partnership in Wyoming and Idaho, cites the expectations of Eastern tourists, many of whom come from cities where driving is falling out of favor. “A growing percentage of those visiting our National Parks from the nation’s urban centers and other countries expect to have alternatives to driving a private vehicle,” the group said in laying out its transportation goals.
You can read the rest of the article at

Many tourists "expect to have alternatives for driving a vehicle." They may be prompted by an environmental ethic. They may not want to be bothered with the hassles getting around unfamiliar territory on their own. Or they may not want to endure a National Lampoon-style family summer vacation family trip from Des Moines to Yellowstone. Where's Aunt Edna?

Sure, Jackson may be filled with tree huggers (along with the occasional Dick Cheney). But what about tourists visiting other Wyoming destinations? It's hard to imagine Cheyenne Frontier Days without city streets clogged with coal rollers and RVs. But even at CFD, the city uses school buses to transport tourists from a big parking area off of I-25 to concerts and the rodeo. And the city offers a free downtown circulator bus each summer. Downtown is very walkable and there are more and more reasons to walk around in it. We have a superb bikepath system, although communing by bike on roadways still can be a harrowing experience.

There is a huge difference between Jackson and Cheyenne, One of the first comments I heard after moving to Wyoming in 1991: "Too bad you live in the ugly part of the state." It's true -- Jackson Hole is gorgeous while you have to hunt for the beauty in the High Plains. It's there, but it's not staring you in the face as it is every day in The Hole. More and more, Teton County residents realize what a gift they have. It's reflected in transportation policies and planning and a strong "locals" movement and arts and cultural activities such as the summer's Wild Festival which has the goal of "deepening our connection to nature through the arts."

In Wyoming, tourism is as important as digging carbon out of the ground to incinerate in giant power plants that obscure our national park vistas and contribute to global warming. But changes in national attitudes and demographics may be the real key to the state's future.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wyoming Democrats respond to Rep. Cynthia Lummis's comments about the Affordable Care Act

This was posted on the Wyoming Democratic Party web site today:
Yesterday during a hearing about the Affordable Care Act in the House Oversight Committee, Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis suggested that issues enrolling in the Affordable Care Act were partly to blame for her husband’s death.  
The following is a response from Pinedale's Ana Cuprill, Chairwoman of the Wyoming Democratic Party: 
“Wyoming's Code of the West reminds us to be “tough, but fair” and to “know where to draw the line.” Representative Lummis missed the mark on both accounts yesterday. Rep. Lummis voted more than 50 times with her Republican colleagues to repeal Obamacare. The real consequence of those votes is time and effort wasted by the administration defending the law instead of addressing “glitches” that would make the process of enrolling go more smoothly. I will agree with Rep. Lummis that there is no time to be glib about the problems with healthcare. Now is the time to find solutions that will have real impact on people's lives. While we are sorry for the tragic loss of Rep. Lummis’ husband, we are glad for the thousands of people in Wyoming and millions of Americans with access to quality, affordable care. We’re relieved for families who no longer face bankruptcy, can’t be dropped from coverage when they get sick and don’t face lifetime maximums when a sick child needs care. We’re still concerned for the thousands of people in Wyoming who make important health decisions based not on the best available care, but whether or not they can afford to have any care at all. We believe using her truly unfortunate situation to attack the Affordable Care Act was disingenuous and call on our Congresswoman to join us in finding ways to improve the Affordable Care Act."
Well said, Ana Cuprill. And amen.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Aaron Abeyta will be keynoter at 2015 Wyoming Writers conference

Aaron Abeyta

This news comes from Wyoming Writers, Inc., WYO's statewide writing org:
The Board of Wyoming Writers is excited to have the poet, Aaron Abeyta, from Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado, as our presenter in poetry workshops, and as our keynote speaker. When the word got out that Aaron was coming, we got messages from people praising the choice. Poets, writers, and teachers who have had the privilege of working with Aaron in a variety of workshop and classroom settings were enthusiastic about both his writing and his thoughtful approach to teaching and motivating poetry from the roots up.

Aaron says: “The poet must be both ‘piper’ and ‘bard,’ tender and turbulent, dangerous and comforting; the poet must be able to understand, as Czeslaw Milosz put it: ‘In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent: a thing brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us, so we blink our eyes….’ ( Ars Poetica)” In our correspondence he excerpted another poet from workshop material, the American, Mary Oliver: “‘…just/ pay attention, then patch/ a few words together and don’t try/ to make them elaborate, this isn’t/ a contest but the doorway…’ (from Praying). In short, we must be observant and ‘prayerful’ in our watchfulness of the world around us.”

Aaron has a B. A. in English, and an M. F. A. in Poetry from Colorado State University. His most recent collection: Letters from the Headwaters (Western Press Books) in out this year. An earlier collection, Colcha won the American Book Award for Poetry, and the Colorado Book Award. His list of publications and appearances is lengthy.

Aaron will be at the WWInc. conference June 5-7, 2015, in Cheyenne, just a short six months from now. Get more info here. 

Aaron is a fellow grad of the excellent CSU creative writing program. One of his mentors was poet Bill Tremblay, who also mentored me although I am not a poet. A slew of CSU writers have visited Wyoming during the 23 years I've been in the state. Both Bill and Aaron taught at the Words Worth Writing Symposium for high school students, a very fine workshop spearheaded by poet Diane Panozzo when she taught at Cheyenne East High School. 

See you in June.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

This progressive wants to go to Mars

You can't spell "progressive" without "progress."

That's a fact. But you can be a political progressive without believing in all forms of progress.

Take space exploration, for instance. Baby Boomers recall the space race of the 1960s, the fuss we made over the original batch if astronauts and our passion for the the moon landing. Progressive hero JFK said we would land a man on the moon by the end of that decade and, by gum, we did.

Forty-five years later, I was impressed by the successful Orion launch. Many of my fellow progressives were not. Some considered it a stunt by aerospace companies to suck more money out of taxpayers. Others looked at it as NASA's showy way to continue it's storied but error-plagued ways. Many conservatives aren't fans of NASA, one of those wasteful gubment agencies. Libertarians, of course, want space to be left to free enterprise. Progressives see it as a waste of money and resources in a time when our country's infrastructure is crumbling and the middle class is disappearing. Wouldn't our money be better spent in fixing problems here on earth than it would be to go gallivanting off to Mars?

We can do both, of course. We can tend to business here on earth and still reach for the stars. It takes vision and we have to prioritize. We'd rather snipe at one another than shoot for Mars. Human failings. If we choose, space exploration can help us transcend our earthbound ways.

While all of Friday's fireworks happened at Cape Canaveral, Fla., much of Orion's hardware and software was built by Colorado companies. This from The Denver Post:
Orion will go farther into space than any NASA spacecraft built for humans in more than 40 years, powered by Colorado aerospace: It was designed and built by Littleton-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems, has antennae and cameras from Broomfield-based Ball Aerospace, and will hurtle into space on a Delta IV Heavy rocket, made by Centennial-based ULA. 
But these big players could not do what they do without the help of some very specialized skills supplied by businesses such as Deep Space Systems, which worked on backup flight control electronics and camera systems. 
There are Colorado companies with as few as six employees working on Orion, all specialized in one specific aspect of engineering or technology.
There were hundreds of employees from these companies observing the Orion launch this week on the Space Coast. I didn't realize Colorado's crucial role in this latest space venture. I wondered if there were any Wyoming aerospace companies in the mix. Cheyenne and Laramie have been friendly to auxiliary companies to larger ventures in energy and electronics. What about space? I did several Google searches on the topic and came up empty. Do my loyal readers know of any Wyoming-based companies involved in the Orion project? It would seem to be that Cheyenne, the northern terminus of The Front Range, would be a great location for companies involved in propulsion systems and materials and engineering, among a few I can think of.

But back to politics.

I want equality and accessibility and justice and all those other things that progressives believe in. I also want to go to Mars. Not personally, as astronauts may not get there until 2035 or 2040, which would make me much too cranky for the venture. But just to think that it could happen in my lifetime. That's exciting. That's progress.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sunday morning round-up: Yummy Gore-tex for seniors, Wyoming Medicaid expansion and "The Poor Are Always With Us"

As we draw closer to the next Wyoming legislative session, we eagerly anticipate having fun with oddball bills promulgated by Republican legislators. State employees may see attempts to change the pension plan from an almost-fully-funded defined benefit plan to something crafted by the Koch Brothers and their minions at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Fellow prog-blogger Rodger McDaniel wrote yesterday about the Wyoming Liberty Group which is working overtime against the current retirement system, calling it a "gold-plated pension plan." The money behind the WLG is right-winger Susan Gore of Texas, who has nothing better to do with her billions than to ensure that hundreds of retirees eat cast-off Gore-tex plucked from dumpsters instead of living -- and eating -- comfortably in retirement. Wonder if Gore-tex tastes better than three-day-old pizza crusts or half-eaten Big Macs? We may all find out if Gore and her outside agitators have their way with the legislature.

Dem gubernatorial candidate Pete Gosar pressed Gov. Mead on this issue for months during the campaign. Now it appears that Medicaid expansion is coming to Wyoming. This excerpt comes from Talking Points Memo:
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead's administration is officially recommending that the state expand Medicaid under Obamacare, making the Republican governor the latest conservative to embrace a key pillar of the health care reform law. 
The state department of health released a modified plan to expand the low-income insurance plan, the Casper Star-Tribune reported, which pulls from the alternative expansion plans pursued by some other states. 
If you are among Wyoming's 17,000-some uninsured, get more info at the Wyoming Department of Health.

Love this quote by a writer I admire, Walter Mosley (from Vintage Shorts):
“A good short story crosses the borders of our nations and our prejudices and our beliefs. A good short story asks a question that can’t be answered in simple terms. And even if we come up with some understanding, years later, while glancing out of a window, the story still has the potential to return, to alter right there in our mind and change everything.”
Earlier today, I dug out the 1985 Tobias Wolff story anthology, Back in the World. I was talking about Wolff yesterday after I found out that he's one of the presenters at the 2015 Jackson Hole Writers Conference. I was talking to a writer friend about one of Wolff's stories. I thought it was called "The Rich Are Always With Us." I was in the ballpark -- the story's called "The Poor Are Always With Us."  I first read the story a couple decades ago and it stayed with me. It has to do with conflicts between generations in Silicon Valley. Now that I found it, I had to read the story again. I suggest you do the same. I didn't even have to look out the window to realize the effect Wolff's story had on me then and now.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

No Black Friday shopping for me

Chris and I were talking about Black Friday.

"We've never shopped on Black Friday, right?" she asked.

I thought about it. I may have bought something on Black Friday. A book. A cup of coffee. Lunch. But we've never stood in line all night waiting to buy the newest electronic gadget at half price. If I had been thinking clearly in 1994, I would have stood in line all night to get Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers figures for our nine-year-old son, Kevin. As it turned out, I was scampering from store to store up until Christmas to find the figures which were flying off the store shelves as soon as they were trucked in from shops in China. We knew it was ludicrous to get manic about little pieces of colored plastic. But try looking your kid in the eye and telling them that Santa Claus failed to deliver a treasured toy. This could lead to a broken heart and lack of faith in the world which later would mean lots of therapy. Who wanted that?

Twenty years later, our kids are grown and in therapy, as are their parents. It all works out.

If only we'd gone to Black Friday....

Thanksgiving weekend shopping has become a battleground. Months ago, stores such as CostCo began advertising that they would not be open on Thanksgiving in order to give their employees a much-needed day off to spend with family.

The inference is that stores which decided to open on Thanksgiving, stores such as Wal-Mart, hated their employees and their families.

The battle lines were drawn even before Black Friday! Interesting to note that CostCo is the darling of union and liberal circles because it pays its employees well, offers benefits and still manages to thrive in a cutthroat business. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, pays such low wages that many of its employees qualify for food stamps and other social safety net services. Wal-Mart is beloved by conservatives because, well, just because.

Liberals don't shop at Wal-Mart, or at least don't admit it. Same goes for Hobby Lobby and Chick-Fil-A. My guess is that if we knew the politics of a store before we shopped there, we may never shop again.

Saturday is Small Business Saturday and is promoted by corporate giant American Express. If you can skip by the irony, you might get enthused enough to shop at your local independent businesses, if you can find any. Indie businesses are usually found in thriving downtowns nourished by the current localism mania. In the 70s and 80s, downtowns were left to fester as development thrived in the burbs and out on the peripheries, such as the formerly sleepy cowpath that became bustling Dell Range Boulevard in Cheyenne, home of Wal-Mart, Frontier Mall and many of the usual chain stores.

Shoppers in the know now look for purveyors of home-grown food and homemade arts and crafts usually located in the central parts of towns and cities. Coffee shops, craft breweries, art galleries, renovated theatres, boutique hotels and customized/ethnic restaurants make up vibrant downtowns. There are some chain stores, true, but they tend to be appropriate to downtown's quaint nature.

I may shop small on Saturday. Or I may not. What about Wal-Mart? I never rule it out. Many bargains. Great people-watching. And, well, Cheyenne has no CostCo. We are getting a second Wal-Mart. And there is a CostCo being built off I-25 in Fort Collins. But that means shopping in Colorado and paying Colorado sales taxes.  This boosts the Colorado economy and fuels growth that inexorably slouches toward Cheyenne. Colorado's liberal influences will seep into Cheyenne's culture and turn us slowly blue. I'd hate to see Cheyenne get Colorado-ized, but a tilt toward liberal politics would be a welcome change.

If you must shop, shop small and locally on Saturday, or any any day.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"If we're going to keep our young people in the state..."

"If we're going to keep our young people in the state....."

How often have you seen that phrase used by Wyoming politicians, community leaders and newspaper columnists?  I saw that phrase twice on the op-ed pages of this morning's paper.

"If we're going to keep our young people in the state we have to....."

We hear solutions. Diversify the economy. Transform our downtowns. Emphasize the state's "quality of life." Enhance our recreational opportunities. Give every UW grad a lifetime smartphone subscription and his/her own coffee shop or craft brewery.

I made up that last one. Although it's not bad, as ideas go. Wyoming has $2 billion in its rainy day fund and millions more stashed in coffee cans buried in Republican legislators' backyards. Let's take some of that dough and put it to work keeping our young people in the state and energizing the economy.

Alas, even this modest proposal is doomed to failure. There's more to life than crazy apps and pumpkin spice lattes and bitchin' IPAs.  Once these young people discover Wyoming's rapidly aging population, they will desert their funky new shops in Cheyenne to do what millennials do -- find other millennials to hang out with in FoCo and LoDo and Boulder and -- God help us all -- Greeley. Cheyenne could end up with legions of drunk, caffeine-infused oldsters tottering around downtown. Many of us will be flush with cash, recipients of those gold-plated state retirement plans. I, for one, plan to buy a gold-plated house and a gold-plated Caddy with all of my gold. I may even gild a lily or two and sell them in the Ye Olde Gilded Lily Emporium which I hope to open downtown.

It's hopeless, you see.

"If we're going to keep our young people in the state...."

In a pig's eye.