The Pilot Hill Project – Laramie’s Community-Driven Land Conservation Effort
By Melanie Arnett,
Pilot Hill Project Coordinator
and Wyoming Pathways Board Member
The Pilot Hill Project in SE Wyoming was initiated in the fall of 2017 when a private landowner offered Albany County an opportunity to purchase 5,500 acres of land connecting the City of Laramie to the Pole Mountain area under the condition that the land be managed in a manner consistent with a county or state park. Albany County was given one year to raise the funds, but due to the overwhelming support and progress over the past year, the purchase option has been extended to March 19, 2019.
Lacking funds to make the purchase in the fall of 2017, the Albany County Commissioners assembled an impressive group to oversee community fundraising efforts: Senator Chris Rothfuss; Justice Marilyn Kite, UW Trustee Kermit Brown, Commissioner Terri Jones, Representative Bill Haley, Conservation District Director Tony Hoch, City Councilman Bryan Shuster, and Christie Roberts, a local engineer. This “Oversight Committee” engaged dozens of volunteers to participate on committees tasked with public relations, land management, and fundraising for the project. Wyoming Pathways board member, Melanie Arnett, was hired as the Project Coordinator in January 2018. Sarah Brown Mathews was engaged as a Development Consultant in May 2018.
In April the committee members convinced the landowner and the State Lands and Investment Board to consider the possibility of a land swap to help lower the amount of money the community would need to raise to purchase the land. Both were amenable to the idea and appraisals of potential exchange parcels are currently underway. Public hearings are expected to begin in December 2018 or January 2019. If all goes well the exchange could be completed by early 2019.
In addition to purchasing the land, the committees are tasked with securing a management plan and fund for management. Throughout out the spring and summer an intensive community awareness/fundraising campaign took place, leveraging summer events such as Laramie’s annual Jubilee Day’s celebrations, weekly Farmer’s Markets, and giving presentations to citizens and key professional organizations, clubs and service groups such as Rotary Club, Laramie Engineers and Trout Unlimited etc. Over 1400 individuals attended the 30 plus presentations that were conducted in and around the Laramie Community and hundreds of hours were volunteered at community events and gatherings.
Several business partners have hosted fundraising events such as the TriHydro Employee Match Fundraiser, Pedal House Bike Shop’s Pints for Pledges party, the NU2U Street Dance and Costume Party for Pilot Hill and Coal Creek TAP’s Pints & Pretzels fundraiser and auction. Private gatherings were hosted to engage targeted audiences such as the Leadership Laramie and Leadership Wyoming alumni, and local bankers and financial advisors.
These efforts coupled with direct asks and proposals have resulted in over 600 pledges and donations totaling over $715,000 to date. If you are interested in contributing, following the project on Facebook or signing up for the email list please do!
Moving forward this fall, the project is starting the academic year with a “UW Challenge” campaign that has been launched by the UW Faculty Senate. This friendly competition encourages faculty, staff, students and alumni to collaboratively provide the support needed for at least an acre from each UW unit, department and various groups and clubs. The UW Trustees have also formed a task force to consider options for support. Additional private community gatherings and small campaigns are planned as well as a series of presentations to introduce the project to the Cheyenne business community and leadership groups.
Here are some recent articles related to the Pilot Hill Project:
You can also download a PDF of Melanie’s Pecha Kucha presentation from the 2018 Wyoming Bike Walk Trails Summit that highlights the Pilot Hill Project and other trail projects underway in and around Laramie.