The Northern Wyoming Community College District has sold its mountain campus, a historic ranch called Spear-O-Wigwam, to two local families.
Spear-O-Wigwam was founded in 1923 by Willis Spear, a cattle rancher and state senator, as an outdoor retreat in the Bighorn Mountains. It operated under a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service, and over the years, it had been passed down through families and sold to new owners.
The district purchased it in 2011 to be used as campus in the mountains southwest of Sheridan. During that time, it operated under an educational use permit. "The College operated the Spear-O Mountain Campus for nine seasons, offering academic opportunities ranging from environmental science to writing camps to outdoor recreation," according to the district.
On Monday, the district sold the rights to the lease to members of the Sessions and Symons families. District President Walter Tribley said the decision to sell was difficult, but there will be benefits to the district.
"It's a matter of the amount of resources that we were investing for how many students or how people in our district were taking advantage of the services we were providing and what other uses we might make with the same investment of dollars," he said.
The new owners purchased the property for $800,000. The district originally purchased the property for $650,000. Tribley said the district made significant improvements to the property over its time as stewards.
"One of things I'm most proud of, the team took care to preserve the history of it...They were really aware of the importance of that property for all the people of the region," he said.
Spear-O-Wigwam Ranch was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
The outdoor retreat's most notable guest was Ernest Hemingway, who worked on his novel A Farewell to Arms during a visit to Spear-O in 1928.
Kevin Sessions, one of the new owners, said his family has always loved the Bighorn Mountains, and when they noticed the property was for sale, they started checking it out. He said the Forest Service was open to the idea of reopening the land for more visitors.
"We didn't push it. Things just came together and fell into place in a way we felt really comfortable and the more we thought about it and met, we could see where we'd have opportunities to expand and get people away from the daily grind and see the beauty," he said.
The families want Spear-O to return to its mountain retreat roots, Sessions said.
"You'll be able to access the cabins and be able to see what's available and reserve the days and the nights. And [there will be] packages of certain activities you can use on the mountain with hiking or horse riding or even canoeing," he said.
Sessions said they've already received interest from local groups as a location to host their activities. He said the cabins and lodge will be able to be reserved for events like family reunions, business retreats and other trainings.
Curt Symons, one of the owners, said they want the land to be used and preserved.
"I want it to benefit younger generations. It's going to be hard to use your cellphone and you can go up there and relax or fish. It gets back to nature. And that's what I want, and I want it to stay that way," Symons said.
Sessions said he's proud Spear-O will remain a locally owned property.
"It's great that it gets to stay here in Sheridan County and it's not some out of stater coming in and trying to run some sort of outfitting lodge out of it," he said.
The public will still have access to Spear-O when the Hemingway Society hosts its 2020 International Hemingway Conference in Sheridan and Cooke City, MT. Sessions said attendees will be able to visit the retreat and see important places around the property.
Sessions said they'll be working on spring cleaning once the snow melts and get things up and running for the summer.
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