When I was growing up in Thermopolis, I spent my time fishing, hunting, and running wild in the Owl Creek Range. When we weren’t doing any of that, we were either in the canyon, floating the river, cliff jumping, racing BMX bikes, or climbing.

  Fast forward to 2020: I’m a father of three now, and I own a full-service roofing business. After a stint away from home, my wife and I moved our family back to Thermopolis. Besides family ties, outdoor recreation is the reason we moved home and it’s why we have chosen to stay. Thermopolis is a little rough around the edges, but it’s a great destination located in the middle of everything one could want. Hunting and angling opportunities ten minutes from town, hot springs, amazing geology, dinosaurs, a caring community, and a new hospital. Cody, Lander, and Ten Sleep are all day-trip destinations for our family. Over the recent holidays, we went ice climbing in Cody on a Saturday, rock climbing in Sinks Canyon on Tuesday, and then skiing in Jackson on Friday.

  Recently, I decided that just enjoying the outdoors wasn’t enough — I wanted to help our community embrace, develop, and promote outdoor recreation in Thermopolis. In 2018, I co-founded the Hot City Outdoor Alliance. The Alliance works to develop and support outdoor recreation projects and programs that enhance the economy, community, and environment of Hot Springs County for the benefit of current and future generations.

  Hot City was created to fill a real need in our community. There’s so much potential here for outdoor recreation to make our community stronger and more vibrant. Although we’re relatively new, we have already found success, and have a great deal of community support. This year we cut a trail on the T-Hill with the help of Hot Springs State Park, installed a Frisbee golf park, created a community ice skating rink, and held an outdoor day. These activities have all been received with open arms in our community, and we have seen several other non-profits step up alongside us to make these projects a reality.

  And now that we have some momentum, we’re able to turn our attention to the bigger picture needs of the community. We’ve held numerous “windshield sessions” driving partners around in our trucks, and held dinners and meetings with our agency and nonprofit stakeholders, talking about the future of Thermop and the potential opportunities ahead of us. We’re in the process of developing a comprehensive and sustainable trail plan that includes the downtown and creates trails for equestrians, hikers, and bikers. Long-term, we also want to start a bike share program, and work with agencies to open up new areas for recreation. 

We have a lot of big picture goals to work toward over the next 15 years, and all of them will help create a dynamic shift in our economy, leadership, and general health of our community. Imagine a doctor on the job market has three offers on her desk, and she finds that Thermopolis not only has a new hospital, but has numerous types of recreation and a warm community — she might like to move here. If her partner has always dreamed of running a small business and sees an available, “healthy” workforce, it might just seal the deal. That’s good for the community, good for the region, and good for Wyoming.

  Wyomingites have always embraced extractive resources as the engine of our economy, but it’s time to find new paths forward. That goes for both small communities and the state as a whole. Outdoor recreation promotes a clean economy, creates communities invested in a positive lifestyle, advances forward-thinking, community-minded leaders, and empowers others to get involved.

What we in Thermopolis hope to show our state is how this kind of community-building work can be accomplished through outdoor recreation, so others can duplicate our efforts in their own communities. In order to make change, you just need to step outside your comfort zone and take some risks. You’ll be surprised at how many others are willing to step up and lead with you.

Wade is a husband, father, and owner of Atlas Roofing, as well as a marginal climber of rocks. He is a founder of the Hot City Outdoor Alliance, and a graduate of the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s 2018 conservation leadership training.