From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 4 - January 24, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Town Park expansion is debated

by Alecia Warren

At first glance, extending the town park by 18 acres might draw a new wave of tourists, salvaging Pinedale’s economy from post-boom ruination. On the surface, acquiring the parcel of wetlands into the town’s protective umbrella might allow locally funded projects to improve wildlife habitats there, and even expand a reliable fishing hole for barefoot youths to drop a line in. By the looks of it, buying the land would be just like conservation projects in any other town, in any other state.

But beneath this logic lies motivation more rooted in nostalgia — an innate attachment to the land among Pinedale’s natives. The true natives, that is, those who remember when only the dull clang of cowbells and dragging hooves clamored down Pine Street, instead of skidding 18-wheelers and roaring truck engines. They understand that preserving the land is preserving their heritage, the fading memory of a gentleman rancher’s paradise where conserving just simple open space preceded the need for housing developments, hands down.

“Obviously, you can’t make more land,” said Mindi Crabb, marketing director for the tourism board, who remembers towns that didn’t save green space when they had the chance, and evolved from grass and dirt to an ocean of cement. “It’s nothing like being able to walk kids in a park, or have them wade in a creek. We just become closer to our environment that way.”

For now, progress in the Town Council’s choice to acquire the land depends on other people’s decisions — specifically, whether James Bowles, owner of the land where the extension would lie, will agree to sell at the sacrifice of his proposed housing development in the area. Also, whether the state will agree to pay for the land by matching funds for municipal infrastructure projects, which some Town Council members identify as a necessary measure because the town probably can’t afford to purchase the property on its own.

And finally, whether town residents, including both natives and newcomers hungry for cheaper housing, approve the cost for the land purchase, which has yet to be appraised but is estimated at about $2 million.

At least a portion of homeowners in Pinedale support the town purchasing the park extension property, according to results from a survey mailed earlier this month. Only 125 people have responded out of the 800 surveys mailed out, but thus far 84 percent of those who filled out the questionnaire agree that the town should at least partially fund the property purchase.

The Town Council will wait to make a decision until the town receives the “maximum” number of responses, said Mayor’s Assistant Lauren McKeever.

Town Council member Gary Heuck, however, protested that the results are rigged by biased phrasing in the survey, labeling the decision as a “rare opportunity” to increase the park’s size.

“It starts out like a threatening deal, if we don’t grab up this property right now, it will be lost forever,” Heuck said of the survey written by the Town Hall staff.

With no guarantee that state grants or outside contributions will be available to help Pinedale buy the property, Heuck argued that the pursuit was a waste of time, and the 18 acres a tolerable sacrifice.

“There are other places already being preserved,” he said. “There’s going to be a park in the Split Diamond subdivision, and another north of town along where the Bloom-Field Subdivision is going to be. And the subdivisions are giving these to the town. We don’t have to pay for them.”

If Bowles wants to build a subdivision south of the current town park, he can go right ahead, Heuck added.

“I believe in property rights, as long he conforms with town regulations,” Heuck said.

But Bowles, who lives in Florida and flies to Sublette County for business at least once a month, has already told the Town Council he would quickly scrap the subdivision idea and sell the land for a town park. But the Council hasn’t discussed the matter with him in over a month.

“I thought the town was through with the idea — that’s why I was surprised to see the survey in the mail,” Bowles said.

He bought the property south of the town park a year ago, to build a home for his family, and hoped a subdivision on the property would offset construction costs.

He’s due to present a revised version of the 12-lot subdivision’s preliminary plat to the Town Council at the end of January. “I’m not married to building a subdivision, but the clock is ticking,” Bowles said. “It might take a year or two for the town to get funding, and I can’t wait forever. I have to move on with my life.”

Currently the Town Park, also known as the Boyd Skinner Park, boasts a modest retreat, with a swing set and jungle gym between the sparse aspen trees, with a narrow path meandering to Pine Creek. The small fishing pond offers a popular venue for dogs to romp and splash, while families enjoy cookouts at the adjacent picnic tables.

The extension would look nothing like its predecessor, Heuck pointed out. Located in a floodplain, few areas in the property would allow construction for playground equipment or picnic areas.

But that’s not the point, argue many locals, including Joanne Garnett, former county planner and 10-year Pinedale resident.

Who cares about constructing jungle gyms, already dotted throughout Pinedale’s pocket parks, or whether the extension offers extra barbecue pits? It’s not about creating an outdoor Toys R Us — it’s not even really about preventing development, Garnett said.

Instead, the importance of acquiring the land is simply to retain what she calls a “visual break” in the midst of deflating scenery thanks to new subdivisions, new facilities, and drilling rigs cropping up around town. It’s a precious remnant of open space and a vestige of what Wyoming has begun to lose and might one day forget.

“I can’t see how it could be a wrong hing,” Garnett said.

For now, the empty land stands as a sign of the past, when gratitude for land swelled in the sighs of ranchers after a long day of herding. It’s also a promise for the future, when even after the rest of the world is swallowed up by industry and progress, Pinedale children might still dip their toes in clear water and catch glimpses of deer nosing through wildflowers and understand what comes so easily to Pinedale residents today.

As the sun sets over Pinedale tonight and briefly strikes the oil rig towers, then stretches long shadows across the fields that might one day be slated for the 926-unit BloomField subdivision, a patch of sunlight still rests over the circular park at the edge of town and highlights the profile of a deer stepping through the wetlands beyond. Darkness finally falls, leaving only the question of what will remain tomorrow.

Pinedale residents can pick up a copy of the Town Park survey at Town hall, or can request a copy of the survey to be e-mailed to them from Mayor Smith at Locals can also call the mayor directly at 367-4136 with their own suggestions on how to fund the park extension.

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