Friday, January 02, 2015

What makes Cheyenne Cheyenne?

One of the best things to happen to Wyoming communities in 2014 is a resurgence of downtown redevelopment. Wyoming Main Street gets some credit for that. But the energy to get the job done comes from within the community. That's the way it should be, don't you think?

Rock Springs, Gillette, Rawlins -- all communities that refurbished downtowns in the past year. They rebuilt streets and sidewalks, added new lighting and purchased public art. Rock Springs and Rawlins provided funds for businesses to redo their storefronts. All of these places added business to their central core, the traditional heart of their cities.

What do I-80 travelers think about when they buzz through Rawlins? Who would want to live there -- it's so desolate? Sure, on a bitter January day, Rawlins can look at bit intimidating. Sure, the state's hulking gray prison lurks just behind the bluffs to the south. The rock escarpments that ring the town may look a bit foreboding to coasters. And that 60 mph west wind that strips the enamel from your teeth? Not much to say but keep your mouth shut. I suppose that's good advice anytime.

But there's so much to see and do. The intriguing historic prison is downtown and the site for some entertaining candlelight tours during Halloween season. The old prison even appeared on an episode of "Ghost Adventures" in which Zak & Co. discovered that the exploration of a quirky local home was almost as exciting as the haunted prison. We acknowledge that the show is filled with P.T. Barnum hoopla -- but it also showcases some great historic tidbits. And how many nationally-televised shows get to Rawlins?

Rawlins recently revamped their downtown streetscape and added two beautiful hawk sculptures by Boulder's Joshua Wiener. Next time, get off the interstate and do some exploring -- and maybe some dining and shopping.

It's the people who make the place -- and those creative ventures that people undertake. Art, music, writing, sculpting, cooking, ghost adventuring, etc. You just have to ask yourself: what makes my community tick?

What makes Cheyenne Cheyenne? That's the question we're asking locally. Everyone knows about our Old West heritage. Every July, we stage a big party with that theme at its center. But Cheyenne also is about transportation -- railroads, highways and air travel. That last one may be a bit of a surprise, as our tiny airport is outshone by so many others in the region. But our town has a storied history when it comes to flying. The Carl Spaatz Flying Circus, Eddie Rickenbacker's crack-up, Lindbergh and the Army Airmail Service, the advent of United Airlines, etc. -- you can look it up.

Dinosaurs walked here -- and I'm not just talking about Republican legislators. Native Americans were the first human inhabitants and Cheyenne, as its name suggests, is rich in pre-white-settlement history. Buffalo soldiers? We had them at Fort D.A. Russell.

We are enriched by the arts. An article in Sunday's WTE celebrated a banner year in music for Cheyenne. Arts Cheyenne will engage in an "arts blitz" in 2015 to build interest for a downtown Artspace project that will rehab an old building and turn it into live-work spaces for artists and -- possibly -- offices for arts groups and visual arts and performing spaces. The Children's Museum project is really taking off.

This is what Cheyenne needs -- thinking and acting locally. For too long we have thrown up our hands and ceded arts and culture and music and beer to Fort Collins. For good reason -- FoCo almost invented the craft beer scene in the Rocky Mountain West. It also has a thriving arts scene. But it wasn't always that way. When I was a grad student there in the late 1980s, nobody called it FoCo but they did call it an aggie town or cowtown -- a sleepy place which young people deserted on weekends to go to Denver and Boulder and the mountains. Meanwhile, bored kids from Cheyenne were traveling to Fort Collins because that's where things were happening. Weird.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:
Collin Ingram, a musician himself, says he's been in Fort Collins for the past three years and, in that time, has seen the music scene grow and expects that to continue.  
The next big step, however, is the community determining the value it wants to place on the music scene in Fort Collins, Ingram said.  
"We need to decide if the scene is going to be a cool thing that happens here — with bands and a couple festivals every year — or if we're going to kind of move toward the scene being a quintessential part of what makes Fort Collins Fort Collins … the same way beer makes Fort Collins Fort Collins, or the way CSU makes Fort Collins Fort Collins."
What makes Cheyenne Cheyenne? You decide.

And what makes Wyoming Wyoming? Volunteerism and generosity. Neighbors helping neighbors.

News comes about a devastating Dec. 30-31 fire in Dubois that destroyed several historic downtown buildings. Needs of Dubois is handling contributions for relief efforts. Send checks to NOD, PO Box 865, Dubois, WY 82513, and please note "Dubois Fire" in the memo of the check. You can also contribute online at Almost $10,000 had been raised by noon on Jan. 2.

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