A grand opening event will take place Saturday celebrating a new nonprofit organization in Fremont County.
Warm Valley LLC is dedicated to providing housing, education and other services on the Wind River Reservation.
It was created by University of Wyoming students Johnna Arthur and Scott McClurkin, who met while taking American Indians in Contemporary Society.
As part of his final class assignment, McClurkin – a builder from Jackson Hole – proposed that the Tribes of the Wind River could utilize Douglas fir from the nearby mountains to “create a base for their community” on the reservation.
“Timber was to become the new buffalo,” he said, outlining plans for a mill, a lumber yard, and a trade school as part of the project.
When she heard about McClurkin’s proposal, Arthur – a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe – said she thought it was a “brilliant idea,” and she asked him if he would create a drawing of an A-frame house that could be built using local timber.
The project has evolved from there to include UW professors in the civil and architectural engineering and construction management department, who are helping finalize plans for the houses – the first of which will be located south of Riverton across from the Wind River Casino.
“The houses are going to be very modern and cutting edge,” McClurkin said, describing solar panels, water collection systems, and other “ecological provisions,” including “Indigenous landscaping.”
Arthur said they would also like to use granite from the local mountains in the design.
Arthur and McClurkin plan to work with local builders to construct the first “pilot house” this year using timber purchased from a mill in Idaho.
Arthur said she would like to start on a second home in the fall, then build four more next year – hopefully with local students.
“Our dream is to get the Tribe a trades college and put it at St. Stephens,” Arthur said, noting that the school is the site of “historical trauma” for local residents.
“I want to heal my community.”
Citing the mental health study she conducted on the reservation last summer as part of UW’s McNair Scholars Program, Arthur said she would like to incorporate mental health services as part of the Warm Valley development, as well as GED classes and courses on home maintenance, gardening and other “basic life skills.”
“What I want to do is to create that community, (that) safe environment, and then also let everybody get educated as well,” she said.
The program would be open to anyone in need, she added, from elders to youth to people living on “the streets.”
Saturday’s grand opening event is scheduled to begin with a blessing at 3 p.m. at the building site, which is about a quarter mile east of the Wind River Casino off of Wyoming Highway 789.
The blessing will be followed by a meal at 4 p.m. at the Black Coal Senior Citizen Center in Arapahoe.