Wyoming may nearly double the size of a popular state park nestled in the western foothills of the Bighorn Mountains.
The Legislature will consider a request this session to allow Wyoming State Parks to assume control of 52 acres of public land adjacent to Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site about 30 miles northwest of Worland.
State Parks administrator Dominic Bravo said the park has experienced significant growth in recent years and needs more campsites and trails to accommodate the new volume of visitors.
“It was kind of a supply and demand piece,” Bravo said. “We can just see the need to expand.”
The park saw over 34,000 visitors in 2016, a 21 percent increase from five years earlier, according to State Parks. A recent report noted that the 28 campsites at Medicine Lodge are at or near-capacity during summer months.
The site is a nationally registered historic site featuring Native American rock art from 2,000 years ago and also offers the campgrounds, horse corrals, creek access and trails connecting to U.S. Forest Service and state Game and Fish Department land.
Medicine Lodge is known as a popular base camp for hunters. Trout fishing is also popular in the adjacent creek.
Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation on park land as far back as 10,000 years ago, according to the Wyoming State Historical Society. Rock art has been found on a sandstone bluff at the site.
“On top of being a beautiful setting, being on a creek, being near the Bighorns, it’s an important site,” Bravo said. “It’s a pretty magical place.”
The proposed expansion would allow State Parks to assume management of Game and Fish land, though no property would change hands in the deal.
Bravo said that taking over management of the land would allow State Parks to build campsites and trails while offering easier access to the adjacent land for hunters, anglers and hikers.
The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee has sponsored a bill allowing for the park’s expansion but it still requires the approval of the full Legislature, which will meet in February.
Bravo said he believed it was likely that the measure would pass because the plan has been in the works for several years and has the support of both State Parks, Game and Fish and a key private landowner in the area.
“It’s a win-win for pretty much everyone,” Bravo said.
He added that State Parks would not require any additional funding to expand camping and trails at Medicine Lodge.
Game and Fish Department spokesman Renny MacKay said the agency had worked with State Parks to jointly manage some portions of the Medicine Lodge site since the early 1970s and that the current plan was a natural expansion of that relationship, turning over control of a very small portion of a 12,000-acre parcel in the area that is managed by Game and Fish.
“It allows us to manage some crucial habitat for elk and mule deer so it’s a great location for wildlife and then the public has access there with the land being managed by State Parks,” MacKay said.