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Sheep Herder Hill Fire

Wildfire tears through timber along the northeast corner of Casper Mountain on Sept. 10, 2012. As of 2017, the Sheep Herder Hill Fire ranked in the top five largest Wyoming wildfires of the 21st century. Along with 37 homes and cabins, the fire destroyed facilities at Ponderosa Park. 

In 2012, a wildfire engulfed the southeast end of Casper Mountain. Three hundred twenty five firefighters stood to meet it, costing more than $2 million. The fire burned more than 15,000 acres and destroyed 37 homes.

Nearly seven years after the Sheep Herder Hill Fire, damage remains: In charred tree limbs, the rubble of structures never repaired, and in a remote park set far back, past East End Road.

Ponderosa Park, an almost 2,500-acre natural reprieve from the city below, burned along with the rest of the southeast side of Casper Mountain in 2012. A bathroom and shelter burned with it. The park, gutted by the fire, has gone unrepaired since. But now, the Natrona County Parks Board and community stakeholders have a plan to revitalize the area.

“We’re in the early stages of trying to figure out what we want to do with the park,” Natrona County Parks Director Matt Buhler said.

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The first step is the formation of a committee that will look at the costs to repair the park and the best route to accomplish it, Buhler said. That committee will be comprised of Park Board members, Casper Mountain property owners, and representatives from other groups invested in the future of the park, like the Casper Snow Gypsies, a snowmobiling club that, prior to the fire, relied heavily on the park’s shelter.

“It is a huge safety concern,” said Rebecca Thorne, a member of the Casper Snow Gypsies. “(The shelter) has been a way to keep snowmobiliers safe and warm,” when they’ve run into issues with their equipment or gotten stranded.

Thorne serves on the committee tasked with planning the park’s resurrection. Rebuilding that shelter is her primary goal.

The Snow Gypsies have roughly 80 members, and more than just that club uses the Casper Mountain trails, Thorne said. But the trails are remote, and it can be difficult to find cellphone reception in emergencies. That’s why the Ponderosa Park shelter has been so important in the past, she said.

The shelter had a wood-burning stove, and the club would stock the shelter with firewood so stranded snowmobilers would have somewhere warm to go if they ran into trouble, but that option hasn’t existed since 2012.

Club members and other interested parties have been lobbying to rebuild the park, Thorne said, and finally, they’ve made some progress because the county recently received the insurance money from the park’s damage claim.

That money, however, will only make a small dent in the repairs needed to get the park to where it used to be, Thorne said.

The insurance money comes out to roughly $15,000, Buhler said, and that should be enough to rebuild the bathroom and begin renovations on the shelter.

Thorne said to completely rebuild the shelter, it will likely cost around $50,000. If money can be secured for a new shelter, a member of the Snow Gypsies has donated a new wood stove to heat the shelter.

In addition to rebuilding the damaged structures, Buhler also hopes to develop some multi-use trails through the park.

Ponderosa Park has primarily been used by snowmobiles and ATV riders in the past because the road to the park has been impassible without either four-wheel-drive or an off-road vehicle of some kind.

“That was a big deterrent for people,” he said.

But last year, there were some improvements made to the road, making it easier to access the park, Buhler said, so he anticipates more use in the future. Buhler said he anticipates starting on renovations this summer.

The Natrona County Park Board was scheduled to discuss preliminary plans for the park at its meeting Monday night.

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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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