2018: The year of celebrating new beginnings

 

By IKE FREDREGILL

The beginning of every new year is an opportunity for reflection, but for the Laramie Area Visitor Center, 2018 was more than just 12 months of highlighting visitor attractions, exceeding funding goals and creating business plans.
In addition to the regularly scheduled programming, the Visitor Center helped orchestrate Laramie and Albany County’s 150th Anniversary celebration, recorded increased visitation to the area and created new avenues for engaging people interested in the great state of Wyoming, including this blog.

150 Years in the Making

On May 4, 1868, the first Transcontinental Railroad arrived in Laramie, and a provisional government was elected. A mere “Hell on Wheels” when the first train rolled in, the tent city would soon boast the first Wyoming Territorial Prison, bringing law and order to the chaotic settlement, the location of the first woman to vote in a general election and the home of the University of Wyoming.
Since, the area’s history has been vast and varied, but the Visitors Center worked with volunteers throughout the community to ensure 2018 was a celebration of all 150 years, not just the founding era, Visitor Center Assistant Director and 150th anniversary committee member Mike Gray said.
“I think we did a great job tying in our history with attracting visitors,” Gray said. “From May 3 to Dec. 15, we had something going on every week.”
Kicking off the sesquicentennial bash with a four-day celebration, he said the Visitor Center not only contributed volunteer hours and planned events, but also helped create a commemorative flag, put together a short book and commissioned decorative railroad spikes, gold coins and a unique Christmas ornament for events attendees.
Additionally, the center contributed a $10,000 grant to the anniversary committee for organizational and marketing needs.
“It was a learning experience and an excellent opportunity to increase our network of valuable experts throughout the community,” Gray said. “Participating in the seminars and gathering data for the book helped us provide our visitors with information about the history of the area.”
The book, “Laramie 150 Years,” is available for FREE at Visitor Center, 210 E. Custer St.

C’mon in

Highlighting what we love most about Wyoming is the easy part, but true to form, the Visitor Center hit the marketing nail on the head and visitor numbers increased for the eleventh year in a row.
“Our visitor numbers are up 11.5 percent from 2017,” Gray said. “From 2005-2018 it has been a 123 percent increase in lodging tax numbers, which has a lot to do with our continued marketing efforts.”
By promoting the Laramie area across various media, he said the visitor center is able to attract more people, which in turn funds more promotions.
“As more people come in and stay at our hotels, they provide more money for more marketing,” Gray said.
In addition to promoting Laramie across America, the center has ramped up recent efforts to bring people in from around the world.
“We have seen increased numbers from the countries we’ve been working with — Australia, New Zealand and Germany to name a few,” Gray said. “But Canada, by far, provides most our visitors.”

Trails End

In September, I popped over to the Ivinson Mansion for the annual end-of-summer bash at the Laramie Plains Museum. The celebration kicked off this endeavor, which has been one adventure after another — discovering what Albany County truly has to offer.
Winter comes quick around these parts, and it wasn’t but about a month later I found myself trying to scale the highest peak in the region, only to be prevented by an early week-long snow storm. Flexibility is key in Wyoming, mostly because you have to learn to bend around the 60 mph gusts of wind, so when a virulent storm swarmed around the peak, I snowshoed the base instead.
At 7,200 feet above sea level, Laramie’s weather is fickle at the best of times, so when Gray and I saw a break in the winter storm schedule this fall, we clambered at the opportunity to hit the plains lakes for some morning fishing.
Four Seasons Anglers co-owner and guide Don White rowed us around Gelatt Lake, regaling us with stories from trips past. I’m no avid angler, but in a few hours time, I pulled three trout into the boat and lost a couple more. On the other hand, Gray, a voracious trout hunter, let me soak in the glory and kept “missing” the fish choking on his flies, ending the day without a single catch.
Diving into adventures with little or no experience is only as fun as the people you bring to laugh with you, so I invited my wife to join in my escapades, and we visited a local escape room around Halloween. But the scariest part of the experience was how adept my wife was at solving puzzles, and there I was thinking myself the clever one.
We closed out the year in a distinctly western and festive fashion, by attending the University of Wyoming’s production of the “Nutcracker.” To some, the German play may not seem western at all, but the theater production folks at UW found ways to infuse each scene with local flavor — the nutcrackers were frontier soldiers, the mice were gun-slinging outlaws and the whole play was set at the Ivinson Mansion, returning me to the start of this grand adventure.
It has been, without a doubt, one of the most exciting years of my life, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share it with you.
But where 2018 set the bar, 2019 is shaping up to clear the standard with ease. Tune in later this month for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing. It may be cold, but if you don’t mind a few icicles in your beard, Wyoming has plenty to offer in the winter.