Randy Tucker: Ephemeralization

Most communities in Fremont County have unique identities, a few of their own design, but most from a more practical frame of mind.

Shoshoni hails itself as the “Walleye Capitol of Wyoming,” but in reality the tiny town serves as a rest stop on the way to somewhere else. Many weary travelers, especially tourists from eastern states that have never experienced the open expanse from Casper to the west express open relief when they see the lights of Shoshoni four miles ahead after clearing the final row of buttes east of town.

Dubois is simply the “High Country” a name that fits the energetic mountain town perfectly.

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In Pavillion, there is no clear name for the hamlet I grew up near, but it’s identity is clear, this is an agricultural community, a place of horses, cows, hay and grain.

Lander experimented with themes to describe the community for decades, but after the iron mine closed (yes, Lander was once a mining town) the town took on the characteristics of the scenery surrounding it. Lander became an eclectic mix of ranchers, farmers, Native Americans and newly arrived “Nolsies” (people brought here by the National Outdoor Leadership School ‘NOLS’)

You don’t have to go far to test this theory. Stop in to the Gannet Grill or have a cold one at the adjoining Lander Bar and you’ll spot mud encrusted Ford pickups with blue healer dogs sleeping in back next to Volvos in the parking lot. The guy with the man bun at the bar is comfortable with the three ranch hands that just came in after a day of working calves. Lander is that type of community.

That leaves Riverton, the biggest town in the county, “The Rendezvous City” as the sign below the airport facing west tells us. But is it? Yes, we had rendezvous in the area back in the 1830s, but there were far more near Pinedale, a town that was once part of Fremont County.

In light of all the struggles community groups have in acquiring the basic amenities that other towns take for granted, I would suggest we change the sign from “Rendezvous City” to “Ephemeralization.”

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Ephemeralization is a word invented by architect Buckminster Fuller in 1938. Fuller’s definition of the word is as follows, “doing more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing.”

If you’re into science, think of it as reverse entropy. Instead of slowing gradually to complete impassivity as entropy implies, it is the opposite, gradually increasing inertia with no driving force.

That is the essence of Riverton when it comes to meeting the offerings that similar sized communities take for granted.

You don’t have to look far to see this process. The recent announcement of a $37 million USDA loan to build a full functioning hospital in Riverton is a prime example. We once had a great hospital, full of local physicians, nurses and technicians that provided quality service, but gradually that went away, leaving residents with the choice of driving to Lander or Thermopolis, or taking a harrowing helicopter ride to Casper or single engine aircraft flight to Denver for medical care.

To bring back what once was, it took a collective effort of local citizens with a common dream. Doing more with less is an exhausting process when it comes to medical care. A process that elected officials at all levels either ignored, or were impotent to solve.

That’s the serious side of ephemeralization. On a less “life and death” level, the process exemplifies youth athletics in Riverton.

The Riverton Indoor Hockey Association (RIHA), along with Little League, American Legion and the Riverton Junior Football League are all examples of volunteer groups putting together quality programs for our youth, programs that are publically funded with vastly superior facilities in other communities.

The Recreation Department money allocated to Fremont County communities is always welcome, but woefully inadequate when compared with what is offered in Cody, Rock Springs, Casper or even much smaller communities like Newcastle and Buffalo.

The RIHA is the only youth hockey association in Wyoming still relying on the weather to hold a season. The facility on Smith Road in Riverton works well during cold winters, but this season, the kids were only able to skate safely for less than two months.

Meanwhile, their competition practices all year round with refrigerated ice inside comfortable indoor facilities. Maybe this makes the local kids tougher and more competitive, as evidenced by their many state championships.

Riverton High School hasn’t been exempt from the insidious effects of ephemeralization. The RHS campus is finally getting an auditorium, something the school has tried to acquire for generations. It now places the Wolverines on a similar level to every other Class 3-A and 4-A school in the state.

Traveling to the state basketball tournament each year is a not so subtle reminder that Wyoming politics are far from fair and impartial.

While Fremont County School District 25 argued with the School Facilities Commission in Cheyenne for amenities to the new football field and track between the high school and middle school such as lights and grandstands an $80 million indoor practice facility was constructed at Natrona County.

Was something amiss? You bet it was, we didn’t have a head football coach in the state legislature who was able to get this for our use as Casper did.

The list goes on when it comes to youth facilities in Riverton. We have acres and acres of grass in our parks, but no Recreation Center.

Ephemeralization was a way of life in the rural west for a long time. Head coach Leroy Sinner won a pair of state track championships on a 330 yard track. A mile was five-and-a-third laps on the narrow oval at the old Wind River High School at Morton. Run a flight of 180 meter low hurdles and you had a full curve, with a pair of straight away sections no matter how you configured it. Maybe that’s why Coach Sinner’s teams were so competitive, the boys and girls at Wind River knew how to run the curve since it came up so much more frequently in practice.

When I started coaching in Lusk we didn’t have a track, but the drills I learned from Coach Sinner worked well in Niobrara County too. Hills, road work, sprints on the grass, timed workouts on half flights of hurdles, all those compensated for not having a track, something every other school in the league had.

I found the same situation at Shoshoni when I arrived in the fall of 1985. Head coach Harold Bailey had a friend run a bulldozer out in the sagebrush north of town to carve out a sandy 400 meter track. It wasn’t perfect, but it had corners and was close to a quarter mile. Never mind the rattlesnakes, dust and high winds, the Wranglers learned to compete on this primitive facility.

Once again, the ephemeralization process arrived with very competitive teams. As a middle school track coach without a track, the drills I learned from Coach Sinner came back to use.

The message here is a mixed one. Yes, doing more with less makes us resilient, but turning a blind eye to the needs of a community is the worst form of government. The right mix lies somewhere between.

Until then, does anyone want to start a fundraiser to change the sign west of town from “Rendezvous City” to “Ephemeralization?”

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