By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com
(Riverton, Wyo.) – Wyoming’s Wind River Country will be hosting two international journalists in the coming weeks to boost awareness of Fremont County’s tourism assets. The Wind River Visitors Council was also told Thursday that a number of regional travel writers will also be arriving here for a ceremony celebrating completion of the highway reconstruction project over Togwotee Pass, U.S. Highways 26/287, the route known and promoted as the Togwotee Trail to Yellowstone.
“Denmark writer Benjamin Bergmann will be hosted Oct. 10 in Lander and on the 21st of this month, Belgian Public Radio’s Bert de Vroey will tour the Wind River Reservation guided by Molly Holt,” said WRVC’s Marketing contractor Paula McCormick of Lander. “Bergmann works with Danish TV station TV 2 for the popular Good Morning Denmark and Good Evening Denmark shows which have a combined viewership of 1.070 million.” The visitors council is hosting the two writers in connection with the Wyoming Office of Travel and Tourism, which organized the visits.
McCormick said a roster of regional travel writers is being invited this week to the Oct. 16th Togwotee Trail celebration, which is also expected to draw journalists from the Wyoming Division of Travel and Tourism.
Now that the Togwotee Pass road project is nearly done, with some finishing projects still to be completed, Wyoming Department of Transportation Public Involvement Specialist Cody Beers of Riverton said all promotional materials generated during the last seven years for the Togwotee Trail will be turned over to the Visitors Council. The materials are to be used for the Wind River Country’s future use on promotions and releases dealing with that route. Beers said a Memorandum of Understanding is now in development that will spell out the gift and acceptable uses for the material.
Beers said WYDOT had committed one percent of the total seven year-long project cost of $146 million to do marketing to lessen any economic impacts local businesses would have incurred during construction. “We actually spent more than that, about $2.1 million,” he said. “This project has consumed eight years of my life and my entire WYDOT career,” Beers told council members. “We are very proud of this project and what we were able to accomplish with it.”
The Togwotee Trail Ambassador Program, which was initiated with WYDOT marketing funds, “was a very effective grassroots campaign,” Beers said. “The Ambassadors provided local information to help tourists traveling along the route, and to entertain them when there were construction delays, and it was successful.”
Beers said that WYDOT is compiling an analysis of traffic volumes over the mountain highway from the past seven years, but he said he could report preliminary findings. “Over the life of this project, the traffic counts showed a steady up trend,” he said “The construction did not slow down but instead created more traffic.” Beers credited both the marketing campaign and the downturn in the economy as factors. “Over the past several years we have been seeing more regional and state visitors; folks who were taking shorter but more frequent trips.”
Riverton hotelier Sarah Kalbach, a WRVC board member, said when the project was first announced as covering seven years, “I was thinking this was going to be a disaster. We had just endured and survived a six month closure of Riverton’s Main Street for reconstruction and I feared the worst,” she said. “But it wasn’t, I think, due to the WYDOT efforts. We only had a few complaints.”
Beers said he would have the numbers by the Council’s November meeting.
The WYDOT official said the Togwotee celebration would have a decidedly Dubois flavor. “Fremont County School District #2 agreed to rent us a 54-passenger bus and driver to transport invited guests from town to the ceremony and they are sending their band, and a group of Dubois Boys Scouts will be the color guard for the ceremony,” he said. The celebration is set for Tuesday, Oct. 16th at the Togwottee overlook on the west side of the pass. “The Forest Service has completely rebuilt that overlook and it’s really nice,” he said.