NEWS BRIEFS for Thursday, July 2, 2020

State park campsites full for holiday weekend

GILLETTE (WNE) — If you've just realized this is a holiday weekend and it might be a nice time to pull together a last-minute camping trip to Keyhole State Park, you’ll have to reconsider.

Reservations for campsites at state parks are sold out, the Wyoming Department State Parks and Cultural Resources report.

Wade Henderson, Keyhole’s superintendent, said the Fourth of July is always the park’s busiest weekend and he expects that to be the case this year as well.

“We have just shy of 300 campsites, including both RV and tent sites, and we’re at capacity,” Henderson said.

Although some parks have had to close some campsites to comply with social distancing regulations during the coronavirus pandemic, Henderson said Keyhole has not.

“We evaluated ours and found we could keep people far enough apart for social-distancing purposes,” he said.

But all hope is not lost, as state parks remain open for day-use activities.

"Having full state parks is a great problem to have; however, it can come with challenges, especially during this pandemic," said director Darin Westby in a press release. "We implore that you help us keep the parks open by recreating responsibly as requested in our rules and the guidelines and protocols issued by the State Health Officer and the CDC.”


COVID-19 tracking app available in Wyoming

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A free mobile app designed to help with COVID-19 contact tracing will now be available in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday.

The Care19 Diary app, which was launched in North Dakota and South Dakota in April, keeps record of a person’s location for potential use in contact tracing if the user then tests positive for the coronavirus. The app only keeps track of location data, with users remaining otherwise anonymous, and histories can be deleted at any point.

“Here in Wyoming, the more citizens who choose to voluntarily participate, the more effective our fight against COVID-19 will be,” Gordon said in a prepared statement. “The information this app gathers can save lives. Embracing this technology is one more way we can show that we’re all in this together.”

The state entered a partnership with North Dakota-based ProudCrowd for the app, which is available on most cellphones. ProudCrowd CEO Tim Brookins, who also works for Microsoft, said in a statement he was excited to see the app expand into Wyoming.

The mobile app has drawn mixed reviews from users in the Dakotas, with many commenters on the Apple App Store and Google Play App Store complaining about its ability to log locations accurately. The Washington Post and other outlets have also reported on findings that show some data from the app has been shared with third-party companies in previous uses.


Cell phone data shows Jackson tourism rebounding

JACKSON (WNE) —What started out as a way to monitor travel patterns of Jackson visitors to see if the town was meeting their needs has now become an effective tool for tracking tourism trends during the pandemic.

Cellphone data service, a foot-traffic analytics firm in Los Altos, California, offers four years of historical data for analysis. The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board recently purchased a license to use that data for close to real-time analysis of the volume of visitors in Jackson Hole. 

Now that data is showing an unexpected rebound in visitors. For Brian Modena, marketing subcommittee chairman on the Travel and Tourism Board, the data is turning out to be key in guiding board decisions.

“I can see how many people were in Jackson on any given day from out of state over the last three years, plus this year,” Modena said.

Unlike specific cellphone apps developed for COVID-19 community spread tracking, uses area code data, giving the tourism board access to visitors’ locations before and after passing through Jackson, specific routes of travel, shopping tendencies, gender, household income and more.

Comparing the average of three years of tourist data collected before the pandemic with last week, overall traffic is up by 3%, he said. Modena said he was hesitant at first to share the data without another source of reference. However, after comparing hotel booking percentages with the percentage of visitors, the correlation was nearly 100%.


Legislative leaders postpone UW study

LARAMIE (WNE) — The Legislature’s Management Council voted last week to postpone a study of the University of Wyoming’s governance structure until at least 2021.

In February, the House and Senate voted to have the Legislative Service Office hire a “third party consultant” to examine UW’s governance structure and compare it to the “best practices of other land grant universities’ governance structures that could be adopted to maximize efficient operations.”

The study was proposed amid legislators expressing concerns about UW’s leadership; however, the Legislature did not assign funding in the winter for the study.

“I think, at the time, it may have been the idea to allow the LSO to use its flex authority to hire a consultant to conduct this governance study,” LSO director Matt Obrecht said last week. “We don’t have the flexibility in the budget that we did in March.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and depressed oil prices taking a toll on state revenues, Management Council voted last week to delay hiring a consultant for the study until the Legislature appropriates funds for the study.

Legislators said the study could proceed in 2021 if legislators approve funding in the 2021 supplemental budget session.

The vote for a governance study came in February as a last-minute amendment to the state’s budget bill, with the proposal’s backers expressing a vague lack of confidence in UW’s leadership, especially in the wake of former President Laurie Nichols’s 2019 ouster.


Wind River Roundup Rodeo canceled

RIVERTON (WNE) — The Wind River Roundup Rodeo that takes place every year during the Fremont County Fair has been cancelled for 2020 due to restrictions that have been put in place to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. 

“If you can’t fill the grandstands, you can’t pay for it, (and) the state won’t let you fill the grandstands,” rodeo committee chair Dennis Mazet said last week. 

Gatherings of more than 250 people are currently banned in Wyoming – a rule that also could impact the schedule of night events for the Fremont County Fair next month. 

“We just can’t put on an event with 250 people in the grandstands,” fair general manager Pat Hart said Thursday. “It doesn’t pay for the event. So we’re just on hold right now.” 

Meanwhile, she said, staff members at the fair will continue to accept entries for the annual exhibits, livestock sales, and other competitions that will take place as usual this summer, beginning with the horse show July 17-18 and including the Fremont County Fair kickoff parade at 10 a.m. July 25. Hart noted that fairgoers will be encouraged to wear masks, and officials will ensure social distancing measures are in place throughout the week of the event: July 25- Aug. 1.