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Sheep Herder Hill Fire

Wildfire tears through timber along the northeast corner of Casper Mountain on Sept. 10, 2012. The Natrona County Parks board is attempting to rebuild Ponderosa Park, which has been mostly abandoned since the fire.

Casper Mountain’s Ponderosa Park renovations will move forward this summer after the Natrona County Commission gave Natrona County Parks a tentative thumbs up to get to work on the project.

The parks department requested $46,000 from the county for the renovations, as part of the department’s 2020 fiscal year budget. Natrona County Chairman Rob Hendry said the budget won’t be finalized until early July, so there were no guarantees on the requests. Still, at the conclusion of the Tuesday meeting where Parks Director Matt Buhler asked for the funds, Hendry seemed to approve of the work.

“Full speed ahead,” he told Buhler.

Buhler said the plan is to start work on those reconstructions this summer. Although, construction won’t begin until all of the snow in the area is melted, likely late June.

Park destroyed in Casper Mountain fire may soon get new life

The park burned along with 15,000 acres and 37 homes on the east end of Casper Mountain. It’s been essentially abandoned since.

Resident Rebecca Thorne said that’s created a safety concern on the mountain. Thorne is part of the snowmobiling club the Casper Snow Gypsies. She said the warming shelter that was in the park was crucial for snowmobilers who have been stranded in the remote area by mechanical difficulties or other circumstances.

Thorne is among residents volunteering to help reconstruct the park. Many of those volunteers are part of a subcommittee created by the county parks board to discuss options for the park’s future.

That subcommittee met for the first time recently and has proposed building an open-air shelter in place of the formerly walled warming shelter that once stood in the park. Buhler said this way, construction can begin right away.

After they finish building the shell of the shelter, they can decide whether to add walls in the future, he said. He also said the department already has toilets and doors for the bathroom in the park; they just need to wait for the conditions to improve so they can get to the park. The park sits past East End Road and is one of the more remote areas on the mountain. Because of this, it has tended to be used only by snowmobilers and backwoods horse riding groups.

But traffic to the area has increased, Buhler said, because the road leading to the park has recently been improved. That increased traffic is one reason Buhler wants to move forward on the project sooner than later.

The bathroom and warming shelter that burned in 2012 were insured. That insurance money — $15,000 — is finally coming in, Buhler said. But because the structures, and the insurance on them, were old, the return is less than what it will cost to rebuild.

Buhler is hoping the $46,000 request will cover the remaining costs.

As for the rebuild itself, a variety of stakeholders have volunteered to help, and there’s been significant public interest in the park’s future.

The parks board released a survey this week to gauge the level of use the park might have. That survey had more than 80 responses after being online one day, County Commissioner Brook Kaufman said.

Buhler will know if his budget request was approved by July 15, Hendry said.

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Follow city reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites.

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Local Government Reporter

Morgan Hughes primarily covers local government. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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