A small town hopes its history and other attractions can increase visitation
The Town of Clearmont is a long way from anywhere. Located in rural southeast Sheridan County, on U.S Highway 14/16, it's 40 miles from Sheridan and about 30 from Buffalo. With a population of approximately 150 residents, it's a quiet, largely agricultural community located in the Clear Creek Valley.
Clearmont once used to host restaurants, several local businesses, a hotel, a train station, a mercantile store, and more back in the day. But as the decades have passed, many of the local businesses have long since closed. There are now no restaurants, no hotel, very few businesses, of which one of the remaining few is the Clear Creek Stop, which hosts the only two gas pumps in town and has a small assortment of basic food items. One of the biggest employers and source of community pride is the local school, of which there are approximately 95 students K-12, currently making it the smallest school district in Wyoming by enrollment.
"In the time that I've [been] here, it really has kind of been stagnant," said Clearmont Mayor Greg Rohrer, who has worked and lived in the community for 17 years.
Rohrer is finishing up his first four-year term this June. Rohrer would like to increase the services and businesses available to those in the community. This includes catering to the needs of young and old alike.
"So, there's a lot of things that I'd like to see happen to bring Sheridan here, or even finding a way like a bus or something to transport those that don't drive anymore or can't drive to doctors appointments and stuff," he said. "Also looking at the youth, one of the things I wanted to do when I first started was put in a splash pad."
Unfortunately, a pipe that carries water to the town from a tank on a nearby hill burst. Repair costs took up a lot of the funds that were slated to be used for the splash pad.
The Clearmont Historical Group is also involved to try and get more traffic to come through town. Once located along the major route that connected Gillette and points east to Buffalo and Sheridan, Clearmont saw a significant decline in traffic once Interstate 90 provided a faster, more direct route across northeast Wyoming.
One of the aspirations is to have the highway designated as a historic byway. At one time, the road was known as the Black to Yellow Byway, due to the highway connecting the Black Hills and Yellowstone National Park.
"With that being designated as a byway, a historical byway, it'll attract more of the tourists instead of the interstate," said Ira Roadifer, Clearmont Historical Group member. "The Sheridan Community Land Trust is going to work on that for us and help us get that done."
Roadifer said that the designation process could take approximately a year and that signage would have to be installed, though the costs of who would pay for what was not yet known.
Beginning in the mid-2000s, the Colonial Radio Theater, based in Austin, Texas, has featured Clearmont as the fixture of its fictional Old West-era program titled "Powder River."
"This summer, people came by and that was their destination-to see the Powder River," said Roadifer. "So, I think we can use that as an item or a subject to go with."
Emphasizing the history of Clearmont and the surrounding Clear Creek Valley is a major point of emphasis in the hopes of attracting visitors.
The Doc Huson Home [located southwest of Clearmont on the Highway 14/16], three abandoned Sheridan Flouring Mills silos [one of which is in town], the Ucross Foundation Art Gallery, and the Ranch at Ucross are some of the attractions that are just a few minutes drive from Clearmont.
But as optimistic Roadifer and Mayor Rohrer are, the mayor admits there are limits to what a town the size of Clearmont can realistically support.
"One of the things they would always tell me was 'You should open up a restaurant here,' and I'm thinking 'You're going to eat there three times a day?' because there's just not enough residential clientele," said Rohrer.
That's partly due to housing. Though the number of teachers and staff at the school is smaller than in other districts, Rohrer said about half commute from Buffalo or Sheridan. Rohrer knows this routine well.
"When I first started here, I lived in Buffalo and I traveled back and forth," he said of a trip he made for 11 years. "There's some lots that could be developed if the owners would do that. We've looked at opportunities of where we could annex, just everything is surrounded by ranches and farms, people who aren't interested right now in selling or developing."
Other Clearmont residents work outside of the community but appreciate what it offers. Even during the pandemic, when other parts of Sheridan County had an influx of new residents, Clearmont's population didn't increase.
For residents of Clearmont, life in southeast Sheridan County is more than just being a dot on a map on a road that often gets little traffic. They're hoping others might see it that way, too.