Connecting Communities One Step At A Time

Wyoming Community Success Stories: Part II

Here we have the second half of our Wyoming success stories.  Enjoy!

Energy & Wildlife Conservation efforts:

Wyoming’s extraordinary wildlife and natural resources provide a platform for cooperation. At the academic level, the University of Wyoming is home to the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center, Energy Innovation Center, and Ruckelshaus Institute. The University is a national leader in research on fluid movement through unconventional media (e.g., water and oil flow through the ground). 

Jackson has tried to modernize their town to mirror their incredible natural and sustainable surroundings. In 2006 Jackson leaders requested an energy audit ($40,000) and in 2009 World Bank Chairman Wolfensen challenged Jackson to become the most energy efficient town in the nation. The town created the ‘10x10 program’ (10% energy reduction by 2010), which morphed into the ‘40x20 program’ (40% energy reduction by 2020). While the city did not meet the goals laid out in the 10x10 program, public departments have been reducing energy use thorough efficiency, human training, and electricity generation methods, and are on track for the 40x20 goal.

Jackson resorts and private companies are following the town’s lead and reducing their energy footprint. The town has also partnered with Teton County and has begun generating hydro electricity from the Strawberry Creek Dam for 6 cents per kw/hr. The town has paid for these improvements through a sales tax (leveraging tourism dollars) raising 3.79 million for public facilities and a 1%, 10-year loan from the state. Jackson is additionally hoping to build a 1 MW solar station after capping the waste fill station.

There is an optional 1% sales tax “for the Tetons” in which local businesses can participate; this program was started by Patagonia in several communities around the country. In addition to the new electric motorcycles mentioned above, the Jackson police department installed a second battery in its car fleet to save gas and avoid idling. The Jackson planning department uses a natural resources overlay, which maps migration corridors, nesting habitats, vegetation, etc., which are incorporated into city and regional planning.

Across the state, many former environmental disaster sites are being cleaned up after previously unsustainable practices.  In 1991, after years of poor waste management, Amoco closed its Casper oil refinery, a notoriously toxic site. The land was redeveloped to build the Three Crowns golf course, a business park, and a conference center. Though area projections put a 400-year timeline on complete natural reclamation, this was a positive step for a once heavily damaged environment.

Community Engagement, Investment, & Events:

Old Bill’s Fun Run is an annual philanthropic event that includes a two-month giving period and concludes with a day of community celebration and a 5k/10k fun run. Since 1997, Mr. and Ms. Old Bill have inspired and challenged Jackson Hole with a 19-year, $9 million matching grant to raise money for local non-profits. With the help of many community members this event has raised over $100 million for the ~250 area nonprofits.

In the past decade, Dubois has passed one bond, received matching funds from the state, and collected donations to build an arts & conference center ($120,000 bond), library, medical center, fire hall, assisted living and fitness center, and school buildings. In line with the presence of over 60 tech companies in town, a new Tech Park is being built north of the University of Wyoming in Laramie. A quarter of the park is owned by the University for use as a 2nd stage business think tank facility. 

Wyoming has a permanent mineral trust fund that finances mineral development and local businesses. Funds are distributed by the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB), which is comprised of the five elected statewide officials (the Governor, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Education, Treasurer, and Auditor). The state continues to improve infrastructure. For example, to create a ‘unified network’, the state is upgrading to a 100 GB internet backbone, changing from IPv4 to IPv6 at a cost of $1.5 million.

Wyoming offers support for disabled individuals outside of school. Thanks to $20 million in funding from the state legislature, the waiting period to receive key resources was reduced from 6 years to 18 months. Support for community organizations is reflected across the state: in Laramie, University of Wyoming employees voluntarily donated a portion of their paychecks to the Albany County United Way, a fundraiser in Casper raised $1 million for the local Boys and Girls Club, and many towns participate in annual community service days. 

Wyoming Community Success Stories: Part I

Wyoming is known for its incredible natural resources and ‘pioneer’ attitude. As a result, Wyoming’s economy is based on mineral exportation and energy, tourism, and agriculture. In many areas, communities have been subject to a ‘boom and bust’ economic cycle, and the state strives to find a balance between energy, environment and economy to mitigate these fluctuations.

Our journey in Wyoming took us through Jackson, Dubois, Riverton, Casper, Laramie and Cheyenne. We heard many recurring themes in our discussions with community leaders and present these Wyoming success stories both by topic as well as location. Part I addresses tourism, education, and law enforcement.


Jackson, WY lies next to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, and serves the thousands of area visitors each year. The city’s personnel and budget are allotted for the full-time residents, which correspondingly address only 20% of the peak season population. Jackson’s tourism necessitates a high number of seasonal service jobs, which leads to a shortage of employee housing. New developments are now required to have 15-25% affordable housing units. 


Much like we observed in Oregon and Idaho, small towns in Wyoming face unique challenges with regards to education. K-12 teacher recruitment can be difficult and most teachers must cover multiple subjects, sometimes made even more difficult due to certification requirements. ‘Generalist’ teachers are desirable, not only because they offer a degree of flexibility but also because they can make connections between disciplines.

However, many schools in these small towns offer incredible opportunities for students. Small class sizes permit a focus on the relationship between student and teacher, reflected in personalized academic attention as well as outdoor team-building trips. In Dubois, many students take online classes through Virtual High School, with the course cost covered by the school. This offers the chance for students to learn about subjects that could not be covered in their own school, interact and engage in discussions with students across the country, take virtual field trips, and learn at their own pace. Dubois also participates in a student exchange program (interestingly, similar to one from the small town of Nyssa, Oregon).

Much of Wyoming’s education funds are derived from natural resources (e.g., coal leasing). In some districts, high school students receive personal Mac Book Air computers and middle school students receive iPads. Many Wyoming students are awarded merit and/or need-based Hathaway Scholarships to help finance the cost of post-secondary education. These scholarships are funded by the state for students to attend the University of Wyoming or a Wyoming community college.

Special education is very well-funded in Wyoming; while this has undoubtedly helped many families, it does put strain on local schools to provide enough personnel and resources.  It also attracts a number of families from out of state to utilize these resources. The educational cost of a normal student is $8-12,000 per year while the cost of a special needs student is ~$200,000 per year. In Riverton, 15% of students are enrolled in special education or alternative programs, so it is not difficult to understand the resulting financial stress on local school systems.

Sufficient funding has also allowed for innovative teacher-driven initiatives. For example, the ‘Dream Your Dream’ program in Casper was announced ~20 years ago by the superintendent; teachers were encouraged to submit their visions for the perfect education environment (including longer school days, increased resources, longer class sessions, smaller class sizes, etc). 3 options were accepted, funded, and employed for several years.  Many of those ideas are still in place today.

The University of Wyoming is the major 4-year higher education institution in the state. The University admits 95% of in-state students who apply and there is a 75% retention rate for sophomores (which the University strives to increase). Article 7, Section 16 of the Wyoming State Constitution states that ‘…in order that the [university] instruction furnished may be as nearly free as possible, any amount in addition to the income from its grants of lands and other sources…shall be raised by taxation or otherwise, under provisions of the legislature.’ In this regard, the University offers the lowest tuition costs of any 4-year state university in the nation at approximately $5,000 per Wyoming resident per year. 


Jackson Mayor Mark Barron believes ‘there should be as few things as possible between the police officer and the public.’ Jackson recently purchased two new electric motorcycles for the police department, not only to save energy (at a cost of $.001 per mile), but also to be physically closer to citizens. Casper’s police department recently implemented a 1-to-1 car-to-officer program, which allows officers to have a more consistent presence at homes, in neighborhoods, and across the city.

A new dispatch center and Crime Stoppers program in Casper was just completed, with more space and new technology including a citizen tip text infrastructure. Under the leadership of a new police chief (who has a Marine Corps background) in Casper, the department is developing and implementing a specialized training program: rather than all officers being trained in a ‘general’ sense, they are able to choose a track (traffic enforcement, firearms, crime prevention, etc.), allowing them to become an expert in a target area. The department hopes that having ‘go to’ officers on staff will lead to information sharing and more effective police response. 

The Riverton police department has a number of community involvement programs.  With the Business Alliance Program, officers check in with assigned businesses regularly. The police department also participates in a number of community programs including the federal drug drop-off program, community-policing, student ride alongs, Special Olympics, and ‘shop with a cop’, where an officer accompanies a child from a low-income family on a $100 Walmart holiday shopping spree with donated funds. Casper’s police department is excited about a new Police Athletic League, or PAL. The department is partnering with a local boxing gym, and officers will train with local youth to build more positive relationships.

Lincoln, NE through Des Moines, IA

After successfully navigating Rex through Friday afternoon traffic in Lincoln, we spoke with Lincoln City Council member Leirion Gaylor Baird (herself a native of Portland). We learned how the Pinnacle Arena has helped spur economic development in the West Haymarket area of the city by attracting high-profile music acts (we missed Pearl Jam by a night), conferences, and sporting events. Ms. Baird introduced us to City Attorney Jeffery Kirkpatrick, who told us more about the history and workings of Nebraska’s unique Unicameral. On Saturday morning we volunteered at the 13th Annual Pumpkin Run, a 1 mile kid’s fun run, and later enjoyed some terrific coffee and pancakes at Cultiva.

Due to our arrival in Omaha falling on Columbus Day, we weren’t able to schedule any meetings but we enjoyed our brief time in the city nonetheless. We met a young couple who completed the RAGBRAI-an annual bike ride across Iowa. Our first couple of days in Iowa, state #5, consisted of strong winds and a lot of big rolling hills on Route 6-quite a change from relatively flat Nebraska! In Atlantic, we met with Mayor David Jones, who told us a bit about the positive economic impact of a Coca Cola bottling plant and rotational molding manufacturing company, as well as the community involvement in a recently built YMCA facility.

We enjoyed camping in two beautiful state parks before arriving in Des Moines. Adam discovered the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which took us into West Des Moines and was a wonderful break from roadside shoulder running! In Des Moines we met with Assistant City Manager Matt Anderson (who works on economic development), Mayor and City Council Liaison Amanda Romer, and later Adam met with Mayor Frank Cownie. One interesting program is the Community Ambassador program, which brings together police and influential faith leaders in challenging scenarios. The city is also very proud of its push for government transparency; this was shown during a recent city manager hiring process. Specifically, candidates were taken through a multi-day vetting process involving public questioning and numerous panel discussions with department heads, city council members, the mayor, and others. The city, which is the world’s third largest insurance capital, continues to bring in young professionals who flock to its downtown to work and live. There is also a sense of philanthropy: a wealthy professional donated many pieces of sculpture to the city, creating the foundation for a public sculpture garden, and many finance and insurance institutions contributed to the city’s beautiful Riverwalk. We enjoyed the downtown farmer’s market on Saturday and while we wished we had more time to spend exploring the city, we continued our run east. 

Laramie, WY through Grand Island, NE

Our first stop in Laramie was the University of Wyoming. We met with Chad Baldwin, Director of Institutional Communications, and learned about how the University interacts with the community at large. Students participate in Laramie Community Service day (a joint venture with the city) and many employees donate part of their income to the Albany County United Way. Adam met with Mayor Dave Paulekas, City Manager Janine Jordan, and Assistant City Manager David Derragon and learned about the vibrant dynamic arising from the University as well as new city developments, such as a new tech business park. Ashley met with Dr. Ana Houseal, the Outreach Science Educator at the Science and Mathematics Teaching Center at the University. It was fascinating to discuss pedagogy, politics, and running – Dr. Houseal is an avid runner herself and is a member of the Girls Heart Rockets relay team! After an interview with reporter Eve Newman of the Laramie Boomerang, we were photographed for a feature in the newspaper while running out of town (see the associated article here).

We ran along our only section of Interstate to date (it was a bit unpleasant and we were thankful for the brevity of the stretch), through Medicine Bow National Forest, and camped at Curt Gowdy Park before arriving at the capitol building in Cheyenne. We were very fortunate to be able to meet with Governor Matt Mead and his Chief and Deputy Chief of Staff. Governor Mead described ongoing efforts to improve infrastructure and create a ‘unified network’ consisting of a 100GB backbone across the state (which, for those tech geeks reading, includes a transition from IPv4 to IPv6). We also discussed issues that had been repeated across the state, including finding a balance between energy, environment and economy (‘you can’t eat the scenery’, as the Governor quite aptly remarked), monetarily supporting local governments and businesses, and continuing to fund education. In Cheyenne, we were graciously hosted by Mary and Erin Johnson, who provided a bit of ‘home’ and a lot of laughs.

It was exciting to reach Nebraska, our fourth state! We managed to dodge some heavy rain before arriving in Sidney, a town of about 7,000 residents with an almost double daytime population. Sidney lies at the intersection of 3 major railroads and 4 highways and, somewhat uniquely, has more jobs than residents. We met with City Manager Gary Person, who provided great insight into the community. In the 1940’s and 50’s, the town experienced economic growth from a wartime ammunition depot, missile base, and oil and gas production facilities. However, the next 45 years saw economic and population decline, degrading water, sewage and power systems, and a generally pessimistic attitude. As Mr. Person explained (to us as well as in his 2014 testimony to the U.S. Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth and Energy Innovation), the Sidney community decided to take action and rebuild. The voters approved measures to improve public infrastructure and revitalization, the Cabela’s family continued to base their Fortune 500 company in town, and energy and farming innovations were implemented. 

After our terrific discussion with Mr. Person, we met with Principal Chris Arent at Sidney High School. One neat student project is a house flipping (the students remodel a nearby house in disrepair), with the goal of creating a self-sustaining initiative. We also learned about the Rural Health Opportunity Program, which covers education costs for students willing to invest 5 years as a doctor in a rural community. While Sidney continues to grow, core classes are capped at 19 students, math courses are team-taught, and Principal Arent hopes to have a 1-to-1 student-to-computer ratio in the near future.  

In Ogallala, we met with City Manager Aaron Smith, who told us about the town’s efforts to diversify agriculture (and ‘agrobusiness’), improve transportation, and use its GB backbone to attract new businesses. After saying goodbye to Richard, we continued running east and reached Paxton in time to watch the Ducks football game at Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse and Lounge. What a unique place! We spoke with our waitress, Sam, about the bar's founder Ole, his penchant for hunting, and learned a great story about a group of blind young adults being able to touch the dozens of mounted animals—perhaps their first and only time 'seeing' a zebra, moose, and many other animals!

North Platte is well known for its enormous Union Pacific railyard, which is also home to the Golden Spike museum. After attending a local business event, we were given a tour of the facility by Dan Mauk, President and CEO of the North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corporation. Mr. Mauk told us a bit of the history of the area (including the WWII Canteen, where women voluntarily fed and cared for soldiers during the war) as well as the impact of the Union Pacific railroad. While the railroad provides over 2,000 well-paid jobs and is a major economic driver of the community, these jobs are difficult on families and can prevent sustained community involvement. However, North Platte continues to work towards new growth, including agricultural research (in partnership with the University of Nebraska) and education. 

We had a brief but highly enjoyable time in Kearney; not only were we treated to a surprise meal thanks to some kind strangers at the Thunderhead Brewing Company, but the next morning Adam met Kathleen Moore, a Portland native who recently opened the Chapman Swifts Coffee company, named after Adam’s grade school in Portland, OR. We next met with Nicki Stoltenberg, Assistant to the City Administrator, at Grand Island City Hall. She told us about the city’s paid community resource officer program and the recent successful implementation of a mail-in election ballot program. She also strongly encouraged us to visit the Career Pathways Institute. In its second full year, CPI offers career track courses and college preparation for high school juniors and seniors. The facility was very impressive, and we enjoyed chatting with a few students during our tour given by CPI Coordinator Daniel Phillips. It will be interesting to watch the progress and growth of this remarkable program, which gives students a fresh and professional perspective on their possible future careers!

Idaho Community Success Stories

Caldwell, ID:

In Caldwell, ID, Fire Chief Mark Wendelsdorf spoke about the revitalization of a daylighted stream that was previously running through a culvert under and through town.   This act created a public space that encouraged downtown pedestrian use and boosted businesses via increased foot traffic.

Caldwell, ID is also employing technology to increase efficiency.  The Fire station is using foam and injected air in water for fighting fires.  This change costs an extra $8 for every 100 gallons, but requires less water and extinguishes fires more quickly, saving resources in the end.  The town’s emergency responders are also working towards converting and combining their dispatch system from radio to computer for fire, police, or EMS/hospitals based on qualified unit, location, and other relevant information.

Downtown Caldwell, ID

Boise, ID:

In Boise, we met with South Junior High School science teacher Aaron McKinnon.  South Junior High has students from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and Mr. McKinnon works to make science accessible and fun for all students. For example, early in his teaching career he searched through secondary and college-level science textbooks to identify important themes and subsequently developed interactive lessons for his own junior high classes. He also spoke of the benefit of student uniforms in schools, which help avoid income discrepancy and pop-culture distractions.

Teachers at South Junior High are actively encouraged to improve their techniques and knowledge.  The school instituted a ‘look to learn’ program where several times per year, teachers spend 3-5 minutes observing other teachers classrooms while in action.  Observing teachers are permitted to interact with students and ask them questions but not talk to or interrupt the teacher.  This helps to improve teaching through observation and allows teachers to share advice/data with one another and adjust teaching styles accordingly.  The entire Boise, ID, school district also employs a district wide professional development training for teachers.  One day per week after school every teacher attends a training to continue their professional development.

With South Junior High School science teacher Aaron McKinnon

In the past two years, the City of Boise responded to a high rate of suicides by funding and establishing a suicide prevention hotline program.  This program is relatively inexpensive to run and is thought to have already saved dozens of lives as suicide rates have dropped.  The City is also seeing development spike in their emerging downtown due to private investments from corporations like Simplot and public investments in transportation and entertainment and business districts.

With Police Chief Mike Masterson & County Sheriff at Boise United Way flapjack feed

City Council member TJ Thompson wrote a recently passed initiative to help improve children’s health by creating a rating scale for state-run child care facilities.  The amount of TV time, physical activity, and quality of food would be rated and listed on a website available to parents so they can choose the best facility for their children. The cost to develop the program, about $500,000, is to be paid by the city.  City Council Member Elaine Clegg also spoke about Boise’s 36 active neighborhood associations, which show great success at engaging communities and individuals.

With Boise City Council Members TJ Thompson and Elaine Clegg

Boise Schools Superintendent Dr. Don Coberly spoke to us about a number of school and city partnerships and student led initiatives.. Within the schools, the ‘One Stone Group’ is a student led initiative that turned an old fire station into a reading lab.  Another group called OATHS works to acquire books for needy kids and renovate public facilities.  The school and city parks and recreation department actively coordinate their work so that the gyms and facilities are open to the public for use.

The Mayor of Boise actively recruits students for every city committee.  This encourages a different perspective for an otherwise higher average age committee and engages youth into city affairs.  The Mayor also presents annual youth awards for exemplary accomplishments.  Also in the civic arena, the School Board and Mayor meet quarterly to coordinate public bond measures in order to prevent overburdening voters in the ballot box.

We have seen a number of programs that have school resource officers, but the Boise School District along with the Boise Police claim credit for the first program in country to have one in every secondary school.  This program helps parents feel safer abut their children and gives young students a positive perspective of the police in their community.  Students are encouraged to look toward the future through a program called STRIVE.  This before and after school program, in 25-30 communities across the nation, has businesses working to prepare students for the workforce and for college.  Other business-student programs include the Treasure Valley Education Partnership and Idaho Business for Education.

With Boise Schools Superintendent Dr. Don Coberly

Arco, ID:

Virginia Parsons, City Clerk and Treasurer spoke of Arco’s unique history as the first atomic powered city, and two recent accomplishments for which the community was proud.  In the face of economic distress and lack of business development, the city, county, private non-profit organizations and USDA Rural Development cooperatively built and operate the Arco/Butte Business Incubation Center that is home to seven business ventures.

After the failure of the city's long deteriorated water infrastructure caused a day without water in Arco, the community, with encouragement and matching funds from the USDA Rural Development program, then passed their first water bond measure and is constructing new wells, reservoir and new waterlines.

Arco, ID

Idaho Falls, ID:

Idaho Falls and its surrounding towns are known for their history of energy research and development, including the first nuclear power station (EBR-1) that created usable electricity. The region has always been ground zero for alternative energy research such as nuclear, wind, hydro, etc.  Idaho Falls even operates its own hydroelectric power station. Mayor Rebecca Casper convened the National Intermountain Energy Summit in August 2014.  The summit brought together leaders from across the country to leverage “the energy resources of the Intermountain West for sustainable power.”

With Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper

Swan Valley, ID:

A unique collaboration of private ranchers, sportsmen and conservationists, non-profit organizations, state and federal government are reconnecting and restoring historic spawning grounds of the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout in Garden Creek through to the Snake River.