With a new highway sign pounded into the ground, the population of Beulah, Wyo., recently shriveled by nearly 55 percent.
That’s just peachy with the residents of the hamlet in the northeastern corner of the state, who have big ambitions to remain little.
They’re so ambitious, in fact, that they embarked on a yearlong campaign to dispute 2010 U.S. Census data that counted the area as having 73 residents when they insisted there were 33.
Gregg Forsberg, a former Beulah resident and business owner who now lives in Florida, contacted folks at the Crook County Commission, local Wyoming Department of Transportation offices, regional WYDOT offices, the Wyoming Office of Tourism and the media.
Most passed the buck, he said, until he contacted Gov. Matt Mead’s office at the end of August.
“This seems like an issue that should come from the town as a body,” wrote Kari Jo Gray, Mead’s chief of staff, in an email to Forsberg. “Maybe your mayor and city council could collectively work on a resolution.”
“Problem is, Beulah is the oldest town in Crook County but it is unincorporated so we have no mayor or city council,” Forsberg wrote back.
That email exchange began Aug. 27.
By Oct. 1, a new sign saying “POP 33” was in the ground. Gone was the sign saying “POP 73.”
Forsberg didn’t know how it happened, but he suspected the governor got it done.
A spokesman for the governor confirmed that Mead worked with WYDOT to change the sign.
“This was a simple way for Governor Mead to help out a small town,” said Mead’s spokesman, Renny MacKay. “As you know, he’s passionate about supporting Wyoming’s cities and towns with economic development, and Beulah uses its population as a means to market itself to tourists.”
Since the 1990s, the highway sign entering town said “POP 33” and the town marketed itself on all things 3s: The Fourth of July parade and the “Beulah Burnout” event during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally begin at 3:33 p.m. Town fireworks displays always begin at 10:33 p.m.
Town residents told stories of visitors hopping out of their vehicles and taking pictures under the highway sign. The novelty has helped the town’s economy, they say. Visitors might buy a tank of gas and cup of coffee while they’re stopped. Tourists can purchase T-shirts and beer can chillers showcasing the population.
For the first time, the 2010 Census Bureau counted the population of Beulah and classified it as a “Census Designated Place,” meaning not a county or incorporated city. In its count of Beulah, the Census Bureau considered new subdivisions outside the historic boundaries.
Advocates for the lower population argued Alex Moorcroft drew the town’s boundaries in 1885, and it only included six blocks. If you go to Crook County offices in Sundance and ask for a town map, you’ll get a photocopied version of Moorcroft’s original hand-drawn map.
That argument, apparently, won.
The town’s identity is having a population of 33, said Scott Jarvis, owner of the Sand Creek Trading Post.
“Everybody’s really excited about it being back to 33.”