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The Burgess Junction Visitor Center is reopening with hopes to attract tourists to the Bighorns

A light blue building in a grassy field. Bluffs rise in the background.
Bighorn National Forest
The Burgess Junction Visitor Center in the Bighorn National Forest has been closed to visitors since 2012 with the exception of a brief reopening in 2019. Sheridan County Travel & Tourism will operate the facility under a lease agreement with the U.S. Forest Service this year between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The Burgess Junction Visitor Center in the Bighorn National Forest is reopening for the summer tourist season after being closed for several years. Located near the junction of U.S. Highways 14 and 14A in the Bighorn Mountains, it will be operated by Sheridan County Travel & Tourism under a lease agreement with the U.S. Forest Service.

“My goal is to have it open seven days a week, probably nine to five I would say,” said Shawn Parker, Executive Director of Sheridan County Travel & Tourism (SCTT). “We'll kind of build that out as we move forward. If this works for us and works for the Forest Service, and more importantly it works for the public, we’ll look to make this a success in year one and continue on in year two.”

The visitor center is owned by the Forest Service. They operated it through the 2011 summer season until its closure in 2012 due to a lack of staff and budgetary issues. It was reopened in 2019 under a concession contract with the nearby Arrowhead Lodge as an event space, though this was short-lived. It’s been shuttered since that time but is scheduled to be open from Memorial Day through Labor Day this year with staffing being provided by SCTT. A manager is currently being hired to manage the facility and part-time staff will provide the backbone of its workforce.

“There are some [tour bus] operators that have reached out and just anecdotally said that they reroute because there's nowhere to stop, so instead of being able to go directly over the mountains between Sheridan and Greybull and then Cody to get to Yellowstone, they're going up towards Billings or a different route because there's nowhere to stop, take a break, do some sightseeing,” Parker said.

Despite being closed for much of the last decade, Parker said the building is in good condition. SCTT plans on offering traditional visitor services, such as providing information to travelers, offering maps, hosting exhibits on the area, and acting as a rest stop in the remote area. They also plan on showing several promotional films as well, including SCTT’s “The Backyard,” “Craft is King,” and “The Women of Sheridan, Wyo” in the screening room.

If all goes well, SCTT plans to add more exhibits and interpretive offerings in future years.

“We want to have resources in there that make it a great place to stop for the public, so that goes to everything from merchandise for sale and then the exhibits and the interpretive signage and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “My hope is to break even. I'd love to be able to break even and not take a hit on this. We see it as an investment in our industry and in the community.”

Parker said he would like to have at least 125,000 visitors stop in this season, which he believes is an achievable number given that local lodges are popular destinations for tourists in the area. That could draw them into the visitor center. The Shell Falls Interpretive Site near Shell has remained open during the years that the Burgess Junction Visitor Center has been closed. Forest Service officials don’t believe this will impact visitation to the Shell Falls location.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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