Powwow may become a victim of county budget
By David Louis
RAWLINS — The aftermath of Carbon County’s 2016-17 budget tsunami may take another unintended victim — next year’s High Plains Powwow.
Hosted by the Carbon County Museum, the powwow’s cost of $25,000 is way out of reach, said museum Director Kelly Bohanan.
“The issue for me is we have two massive projects going on: Hugus-Ferguson and Merrill Hill. And then we have the High Pains Powwow. Next year will be the Powwow’s fifth year, and if this event isn’t 100 percent funded by outside sources, we can’t host it,” Bohanan said.
“It’s not in our budget. It’s that simple. If we don’t have a grant or series of grants, it’s just not going to happen, which is really unfortunate.”
Primarily funded by the county, the 2016-17 budget of $130,000 isn’t enough to cover payroll for the museum’s four full-time employees and one part time staff member, forcing the museum to dip into reserves, a practice that has become all too necessary during the past few years, Bohanan said.
Another museum-planned event on the budgetary chopping block could be capturing tourist dollars coming in from next year’s August solar eclipse.
“Wyoming is a top destination for eclipse chasers,” Bohanan said.
“We had a solar eclipse here in 2011 that was fantastically successful. In fact, it shocked us. We knew it was going to be big when we had to double our order of solar eclipse glasses from 1,500 to 3,000.
“By the day of the event, we had given some out to some of our school kids throughout our county, and then they were all gone. We simply ran out. In fact some people had to resort to sharing glasses. So we know this eclipse event will draw people into Rawlins.”
Throughout the region where there will be 100 percent viewing of the eclipse, hotels are already sold out.
Although viewing in Rawlins is estimated at 93 percent, it’s good enough, Bohanan said, for some visitors to stay and spend locally and the town is close enough for others to book a hotel room and commute to the primo viewing locations.
“What we want to do is develop a national marketing campaign that would let people know we have hotels and we are very close,” she said. “Either way, we get the tourist dollars and they get the experience.”
Even with an aggressive marketing campaign the anticipated $10,000 to cover advertising and purchasing enough solar eclipse glasses is also beyond reach.
“The question again is can we find an outside funding sources to pay for this,” Bohanan said. “This is not in our budget, and if we can’t pay for it, it’s not going to happen.”
Although there is a cost benefit to both events — with the Powwow a powerhouse of revenues that historically generate nearly $50,000 during the one-day event — there are considerations to the larger picture and the museum’s long-term projects such as the Hugus-Ferguson building, which will require a “ton” of money and a lot of “attention” to complete.
The museum’s other long-term project, an interpretive trail map of the county on Merrill Hill, a property adjacent to Rawlins Spring, is anticipated for completion within the next two years.
Merrill Hill, viewable from Interstate 80 but with no direct access, is an ideal location for the placement of oversize metal cutouts that best represents each community’s identity.
“Not only will there be interpretation for what each community selected, but on top of that the interpretation will talk about each town and their amenities like the Little Snake River Museum,” Bohanan said.
“I believe this will generate a lot of interest for visitors to get off the interstate, but signage would be vital in order to get people to exit. Even if we can pull 5 percent of the traffic off the interstate each day, that could be a bonanza for our restaurants and gas stations.”
Still, there are financial realities the museum director knows she will face.
“For me I’ve done a lot of soul searching about this,” she said.
“The priority has to be the Ferguson building and Merrill Hill. Unfortunately, I’m at a point in time that I have to pick and choose what we can do and cannot do. This is the worst budget I’ve ever seen and I’m told it isn’t the worst yet to come.”