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Rotary Park

Water overflows the banks in May 2013 as Garden Creek Falls roars down Casper Mountain.

Neighborhood opposition and the need for a more complete application delayed a possible amphitheater project at Rotary Park on Casper Mountain.

The Casper Rotary Club recently withdrew its application for a conditional use permit after the Natrona County Planning Department said more information would be needed. The hearing had been scheduled for June 14.

Meanwhile, about 25 residents who live near the park said recently that the amphitheater would increase noise and traffic, disrupt the rural nature of the area and lower the values of the mountainside homes.

“We had our house for sale, had a contract on it, and the people backed out at the last minutes because of this thing that they are doing,” said Keri Martin, who lives across from the proposed amphitheater site.

In a show of hands at a recent meeting, not one was raised in support of the amphitheater.

During the past three years, the Rotary Club has donated around $400,000 in money and in-kind services for improvements at the popular county park. The civic organization has rebuilt the bridge over Garden Creek, added observation decks and upgraded key trails, among other things.

The addition of a gravel parking lot with up to 30 spaces, a restroom and the amphitheater, all in the lower part of the park, would be the next phase of the project.

“The amphitheater, that sounds kind of scary to some people ... the stage would be about 15 by 25 feet, so it’s a very small, intimate setting, with a beautiful backdrop, that being Casper Mountain,” Rotary Club official Bill Schilling said.

Schilling said the traffic has probably “quadrupled” in the last four years, creating a need for additional parking.

“It’s linked to the fact there is a severe congestion of parking up above, very severe,” Schilling said. “You couldn’t get an ambulance up there if you needed to, the parking is so congested.”

The Rotary Club has been raising money for the improvements through its annual Duck Derby event, though the county would pay for the latest proposed additions.

County parks director Dick O’Hearn said there is limited money available for new restrooms in the mountain parks, where each one can cost upward of $20,000.

“We already have a restroom at Rotary, and we don’t have one at biathlon, so I think that will be the priority,” O’Hearn said, referring to the new biathlon center on top of the mountain.

O’Hearn also questioned going forward with the project, saying it would need more support.

“I’ve told Bill Schilling I’m not supportive of expanding the parking, or adding a restroom — which are only connected to an amphitheater,” O’Hearn said. “I’m not going to move ahead against the will of the people, because there are more protests than letters of support.”

Meanwhile, an amphitheater-style structure is also called for in the master plan for Beartrap Meadow park, and O’Hearn said he did not see the need for two.

The Natrona County commissioners would make any final decision on the additions to Rotary Park, and Chairman Forrest Chadwick said they would need more information before taking up the matter.

“It’s kind of hard to have a position when you don’t have all the facts,” Chadwick said. “Ultimately that’s what got the CUP (Conditional Use Permit) withdrawn...”

Chadwick said funding was also a question, noting the county has allocated money only for improvements to the existing parking lot at Rotary Park.

“All the commission has committed to is $100,000 in 1-cent funds for the expansion of the upper parking lot… beyond that we have made zero commitment to amphitheater dollars, parking lot dollars, or a bathroom down there,” Chadwick said. “Who’s paying? Too many unanswered questions at this point.”

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