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Laramie's Pilot Hill Project Moves Forward With Land Swap Option

Pilot Hill Project

Community organizers in Laramie have been working to raise over $10 million to buy 5,500 acres of privately-owned land, turning the mountainside property east of town known as Pilot Hill into a park. 

Now, the Wyoming State Board of Land Commissioners has agreed to move forward on an alternative option: a land swap for isolated state leases.

A land swap would mean that local ranchers would volunteer to purchase state leases located inside their ranches to raise the money to buy the privately-owned Pilot Hill property. This would turn those state leases into private land, and the private Pilot Hill land into state land. If the value of the state leases totals the over $10 million of the Pilot Hill property, the state could purchase it.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Lands Program Manager Leah Burgess said a land swap to acquire Pilot Hill is a case of, ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.’ She said it fulfills the state’s objectives because it puts more valuable land in its possession, benefits the community and makes the land easier to manage. But it also benefits ranchers who would volunteer to purchase state leases inside their property. 

“Sometimes it can be cumbersome to have a section of state-owned land within your ranch boundary. Many ranch owners would like to be able to acquire those state leases and then manage it contiguously with the rest of their operation,” Burgess said.

But Burgess said the land exchange wouldn’t cover the cost of building the Pilot Hill park’s infrastructure, such as bathrooms, roads or parking lots, or pay for its management. She said that leaves about $4.4 million to be covered through fundraising. 

“We do have a significant fundraising need,” she said. “And it’s even more pressing knowing, if this exchange happens, it could be a matter of months, and we want to be ready to go when we are able to acquire it.”

The organization has already raised $400,000. 

Burgess said, no decision has been made about which government agency would manage the Pilot Hill park, such as the state, the county or the city. But Burgess said, that shouldn’t be the focus right now.

“Certainly, there are committees focused on land management and plenty of discussion about that, but really we’re not going to have anything to manage if we don’t focus our efforts on acquiring the property,” she said. “Our opportunity is now. And this land transfer could be the way to make it happen. So full steam ahead.”

Public input on the land swap option will likely happen in October, and, once the analysis is complete, the land commissioners could make their decision as early as December.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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