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The South Pass magnet

Mar 9, 2017 By Steven R. Peck

The BLM identifies it as a top prospect for more tourism development, with good reason

In a travel-and-tourism assessment of the South Pass area, a Bureau of Land Management project manager described the region as "a bewildering mass of roads."

That's not exactly a bumper sticker slogan.

"Visit Historic South Pass -- A Bewildering Mass of Roads."

Hardly something that says "come visit" to the average traveler.

That can be fixed, however, or at least improved. Doing so is part of the BLM's very good idea of getting more tourism value from the South Pass zone.

Most of us who live here appreciate and often make use of the attractions of the southern Wind River range, but it could be beneficial if more people from outside our region did the same.

The region's attractions are both man-made and natural, both historic and scenic. The colorful old ghost town that is the South Pass City State Historic Site is the centerpiece. Ongoing developments at the adjacent Carissa gold mine have added significant appeal to the destination. Atlantic City will never become Jackson - and let's not be sorry for that - but it, too, has appeal that the casual visitor who pops in and out of South Pass City for couple of hours might appreciate knowing about, particularly at lunch or dinner time.

The area also happens to be one of the great and underappreciated scenic places in Wyoming. A fall color tour of our state definitely needs to include a drive to the top of the Rockies and back along U.S. Highway 28 in mid-September. Some of the easiest access to the east side of the Wind Rivers comes via the Louis Lake turnoff and Loop Road. There is a lodge there that more people might want to know about.

The area is a showcase for wildlife of the feathered, furry and finned varieties. It has hiking and biking to challenge outdoor recreationists of all levels. For the more adventurous, there are places to climb. The area can be hunted, fished, snowmobiled, four-wheeled and photographed.

South Pass City is one of the interesting historical places, but by no means the only one. Don't forget, the Oregon Trail is nearby, and the historic role in the westward expansion occupied by South Pass is storied. It's worth telling and retelling.

BLM research shows that most of the people who visit and use the area for pleasurable purposes are locals. While we never want to lose local control, flavor and sensibilities, it's quite possible that some added, coordinated planning, perhaps including a few more organized events, amplified with a dose of region-specific publicity, could help the area become something more than a drive-by, or a stop-and-read, or a two-hour walk-through.

That's what the BLM is thinking about. Early planning talks of more hike-and-bike development, better signs, a dedicated online presence, better handicap accessibility, and continuing improvements to the Continental Divide Trail, along with a more comprehensible traffic plan for people enticed to leave the highway.

A well-planned, promoted, perhaps even guided, for those who prefer it, day trip, with a room and a couple of meals on either end of it, is the type of economic development that doesn't require attracting a big factory or call center, but brings in retail spending, lodging taxes for promotion, and that optional one penny per dollar we are using to improve our infrastructure.

The BLM is a federal agency, but it has some very local interest in mind in this idea. Our South Pass region has it all -- great history, great local color, great setting, great geographical proximity, and great scenery. What an opportunity. Let's work with the BLM in making the most of it.

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