Smoke and haze hanging in the air Tuesday didn’t cloud an event celebrating this summer’s opening of no-fee areas on the southern shore of Buffalo Bill State Park.
Park County Commissioner Joe Tilden, joined by three other members of the sitting commission, State Sen. Hank Coe (R, Cody), two representatives of Buffalo Bill State Park, Park County Engineer Bryan Edwards and Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources commissioner Don Schmalz gathered at the shores of the reservoir Aug. 14 for a brief ceremony by one of the shoreline’s new fee-free signs.
Those gathered widely credited Coe, Tilden and Schmalz with getting the fee-waiver across the finish line. The idea had been in the works since 2014, but it had to overcome numerous legislative and bureaucratic obstacles first. There was uncertainty over who had authority to grant the waiver and concern among State Parks officials that the loss of fees would be a major revenue drain or lead to other exemptions within the parks system statewide.
In reference to those worries, Tilden told Buffalo Bill State Parks Supervisor Daniel Marty, “I hope [the fee-waiver] doesn’t open up a whole can of worms for you guys.”
Assistant park supervisor Jared Brinkerhoff, who lives near the now fee-free area, pointed to one of the signs and said, “I’ve noticed since these went up [in June], the use went up on all these pull-outs.”
As a breeze swirled in off the water and waves slapped at the shore, Tilden shared his vision of the free recreation area.
“Maybe a single mom could come here, with a kid and a dog, and they could have some fun for free,” he said.
Of Coe and Schmalz, Tilden said, “I couldn’t have done it without those two guys.”
Coe sent the Legislative Services Office to the stacks researching the fee-waiver, discovering through the LSO’s efforts that no new legislation was needed to get the waiver approved.
Prior to that, former state Rep. Sam Krone (R, Cody) had drafted a bill to get the fees waived but it never made it out of committee.
For his part, Schmalz worked with State Parks division administrator Dominic Bravo to broker the agreement between Park County and State Parks that will allow local residents to access parts of the park for free – and without looking over their shoulders for a ranger.
“It’s a great deal,” Schmalz said. Prior to the new fee-free area, he said “[kids] couldn’t even step over the fence and throw rocks in the reservoir without paying the fee.”