(Fort Washakie, Wyo.) – The Wind River Inter Tribal Council on January 10th passed a resolution to rename the 17 Mile Road as the “Big John Smith Highway”, in honor of the long time Tribal Transportation Director.

The honor afforded to the late Smith, who passed on Dec. 31, 2016, was announced at a memorial service, cedaring, paint ceremony, feast and giveaway at Blue Sky Hall at Ethete Sunday afternoon.

Howard Brown III, who was Smith’s top assistant, and who was recently named to replace Smith as head of the Transportation Department, made the announcement to family, friends, colleagues and others who attended the event to extended applause.

Once named the most dangerous highway in Wyoming, through the untiring efforts of Smith, a unique collaboration of County, State, Federal and Tribal entities came together in a 15-year-long effort to fund reconstruction of the road over a period of some six project years at a total cost of over $48-million. Since the highway was reconstructed, total vehicle crashes on the road have been reduced from a high of 65 to only 18. Injury crashes fell from 25 to 7.

During Sunday’s event, Smith’s neice, Melissa Brown, noted that Big John’s efforts generated over $100-million in road projects on the Reservation resulting in an economic benefit to the Shoshone and Arapaho people of over $500-million.

Among Smith’s many projects that he championed was the replacement of the Johnstown Valley Bridge on the Blue Sky Highway, the improvement of the Ethete Road from Hines Corner to the Blue Sky Hall, the acceleration and de-acceleration lanes on Highway 789 at the Wind River Hotel and Casino and on U.S. 287 at the Shoshone Rose Hotel and Casino, among others. One project about to begin that he also championed is the reconstruction of the Blue Sky Highway from Highway 287 to Ethete. The project will eliminate some 45 degree turns, widen the road and provide safer shoulders.

A feature of the 17-Mile Road project was the establishment of a interpretive pullout with exhibits explaining the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. That event is now memorialized with the Sand Creek Memorial Highway, stretching some 600 miles from Eads, Colorado to Ethete.

Attending and recalling fond memories of Big John were Tribal Transportation Directors from tribes in Montana, Utah and South Dakota, along with Federal Highway Officials and Wyoming Department of Transportation Representatives. Cody Beers, the WYDOT District 5 Public Relations Director related his many work experiences with Big John, who became a close friend during the process of the two working together.

Memorial Song for Big John Smith at memorial service January 14, 2018 at Blue Sky Hall in Ethete. Photo h/t Ernie Over