Who in the world wants to go on a mountain excursion with a bunch of pack goats? Chances are you do, but you just might not know it yet. The father-and-son team of Shawn and Zach Dorr want to change that.
Pack goats contain multitudes. At any number of recent events in town, most recently the WyoGives block party at Big Lost Meadery, people could walk up to a small transportable pen set up by the Dorrs and pet the affectionate and attention-seeking goats like they were at a petting zoo.
The quirky animals are crowd-pleasers. They’re a curiosity, a conversation starter and people can’t seem to help themselves.
They also can be helpful allies in a tight spot. Zach Dorr can attest to that fact.
He took his wife on her first elk hunting trip about two years ago and brought along the goats.
“A cow called a couple of times, and a black bear comes running,” Zach said. “I mean, a big, male black bear.”
The four goats he’d brought along on the trip got defensive of their humans.
“They saw that bear coming and they just made this half-circle in between (us and the bear),” Zach said. “They get really stiff, and they put their heads really high. They tuck their chins so their horns get up high.”
The goats held firm.
“The bear just kept coming and coming and coming, and he got about 20 yards away. They started straight-leg walking, like marching, at him, trying to let him know,” Zach said. “Finally, I say, ‘Hey bear!’ It kind of stops, stutters and looks up and sees those goats power-walking at him, and he’s like, ‘What the heck?!’ And he takes off running.”
Now the Dorrs are offering those gruff-when-needed goats to customers who may like to experience not only the wonders of nature, but the companionship and entertainment of pack goats. The men, both experienced outdoorsmen, are starting a new guide service called Big Horn Mountain Pack Goats where they’ll lead people into the mountains and let the goats do all of the heavy lifting. It will not only make the wilderness more accessible for the non-outdoorsy, it also provides a one-of-a-kind experience with highly individualistic animals.
A really funny, ragtag herd
There’s Steve who gets a bum rap for being the lazy one.
Zig is kind of the trail boss. And his twin brother Zag, who was known as the barnyard bully for a while but has mellowed with age.
Hank’s the bully now.
There’s Donkey, who didn’t like to be touched for more than a year.
And there’s also Shrek, whose mother was named Fiona, like the love interest of the animated ogre Shrek, but that was just a happy accident. The Dorrs didn’t know that when they named him.
“Shrek is our herd protector,” Zach said. “That is what he does. It doesn’t matter if he sees another human that is 3 miles away on a different ridge, he’s like, ‘You’re supposed to be in the herd. I’m going to go get them.’”
Bill is a big boy that once upon a time was a prize-winning 4-H goat, but looks can be deceiving.
“He’s as wide as is tall,” Shawn said. “Put 50 pounds on his back and he can jump 4 feet in the air with it.”
That’s not out of the ordinary. The pack goats can carry about 25% of their body weight and still retain their goat-ness, running up downed trees and boulders to play “King of the Hill.”
Courtney Nicolson, a digital marketing manager for the Outdoor Channel and friend of the Dorrs, calls the goats “endlessly entertaining.”
“They definitely love peanut butter and jelly, and if you have one, they’ll steal it from you,” Nicolson said. “I’m standing there eating my peanut butter and jelly and looking off in the distance, and one of the goats is standing on his back legs and reaching his little lips out trying to nibble on it.”
The reality is that the goats offer much more than laughs. They’re legitimate tools to make the outdoors a little bit more accessible. Nicolson said it was a blessing to have them packing in her gear for a two-day hunt north of Buffalo.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the goats,” she said.
Steve Davin used to hunt out West and got to know the Dorrs through that shared passion. Davin, who now lives in Flippin, Arkansas, said Shawn told him about the goats with the idea of people just like him getting out into the wilderness.
“He said, ‘Hey, man, do you want to go, because you’ll be able to do this stuff now,’” Davin said. “I’m like, ‘Hell yeah, I’ll give it a go.’”
Davin loved the experience.
“After doing it once, it’s something I’d like to do every year, at least once a year,” he said.
The next time, Davin said he’d consider bringing his wife and maybe some grandkids.
“It was phenomenal,” Davin said. “The amount of work those goats do allows you to enjoy your trip. Because I’m older; hell, I’m damn-near 60 now, so it was real nice that I didn’t have to pack in a tent and pack in all the sleeping bags and all the food.”
It’s not just age working against Davin. He’s had a number of surgeries, and without the goats he’s unsure if he’d be able to make such trips.
“I wouldn’t trust myself to be able to make it,” he said.
He’s had total knee replacements on both legs and an even more recent back surgery.
“If it wasn’t for (the goats), I probably wouldn’t have been able to go,” Davin said. “I wouldn’t have trusted myself. I wouldn’t want to get out there and then they would have to figure out a way to pack my butt back.”
Between the wonders of the trip and the goats’ personalities, Davin loved every second of the week-long trip.
“I don’t know how else to explain it other than to say it was just fan-damn-tastic,” Davin said.
‘Goats are everyone-approved’
Make no mistake: Big Horn Mountain Pack Goats is a labor of love for the Dorrs. Both have full-time jobs, and this is something they’re hoping to squeeze into already busy schedules.
It seems like a perfect fit for their passions.
“I like to be out more,” Shawn said. “This just gives me a reason to be out. It’s just a good time. When you get people who’ve never been out, it’s just life-changing.”
For Zach, it’s the people.
“Just meeting new people and being like, ‘Hey, let’s go on an adventure; let’s go have some fun,’” he said. “You get to meet people, but meet people on a different level than if you just met them on vacation.”
The Dorrs have secured 16 permits in three areas of the Big Horn Mountains, which allow them to customize trips to fit specific needs of customers.
There are easy trips for those not in great shape. There are intermediate outings that start with a grueling incline but then ease up.
“We’ve got some areas that are going to be, like, 10 miles one way in, all the way up and over a boulder field to get into that area,” Shawn said of the really hard trips.
The duration of the trips also are highly customizable.
“If a couple wants to go out for a picnic, for a day hike, we’ll charge them $700, and we’ll take everything they need,” Shawn said. “We’ll take tarps to put up for shade, we’ll take picnic baskets, we’ll take all the food, we’ll supply everything. I’ll stay out there until sundown.”
Permit uses go quickly, Shawn said. A trip for a couple costs the Dorrs two of their permits. If the couple stayed overnight, it would cost four.
“After that, if we’re going to do an overnight trip, basically it’s $1,200 per night, that’s for two,” Shawn said. “Then any additional person on any trip is $250 per day.”
The customers are getting a lot for their money.
“We’re supplying a 12-man teepee, cots, air mattresses, all the food, camping gear, lanterns — everything you’d need,” Shawn said. “Basically, you’ll need to bring a sleeping bag and your toothbrush and your binoculars or camera.”
There have been numerous challenges to getting started, Shawn said. It’s not been a cheap endeavor.
“Liability insurance, permitting, liability waiver from a lawyer, with every business you have startup costs,” Shawn said.
Not to mention the costs of a dozen goats and caring for them, including feed, saddles and panniers and other equipment, none of which is cheap.
The price of the permits wasn’t the toughest part. They required jumping through a lot of hoops, because the U.S. Forest Service wasn’t sure it wanted pack goats in the Cloud Peak Wilderness.
Silas Davidson, a recreation specialist and wilderness manager for the U.S. Forest Service, said the challenges for permitting were two-fold.
The first was concerns about overcrowding. He said there are mandates in the Wilderness Act for the Forest Service to provide “opportunities for solitude and primitive types of recreation.” He said that opportunities for solitude don’t exist like they used to.
“We’ve cut back on the number of outfitter guides that we allow to operate in the wilderness,” Davidson said.
There also are restrictions on how much commercial activity is to be allowed in the wilderness, he said.
“The reason we do authorize outfitter guides to have a business or commercial enterprise in the wilderness is to help others realize the benefits of wilderness that wouldn’t otherwise be able to get in there to do it on their own,” Davidson said.
Davidson said it became important to find areas inside Cloud Peak Wilderness that had some capacity for more use.
The other concern Davidson mentioned was the goats’ impact on other species, namely wild sheep.
“There’s a bunch of research out there, some of it conflicting, depends on which research you look at, but there is potential for domestic goats to transmit diseases to wild sheep,” Davidson said. “So we were being pretty sensitive to that as well, so we were trying to find areas that we knew would not have potential for that kind of interaction.”
Ultimately, permits were issued and Davidson is interested to see how well the Dorrs do with their venture.
Davidson said he really appreciates outfitters who are trying to make the wilderness more accessible for folks who might otherwise struggle.
“We do want to promote as much access and cover as many types of people as we can to utilize the wilderness,” he said. “But it also needs to be its fundamental purpose of being this difficult, challenging thing that people get away from the easy parts of their lives and go challenge themselves and succeed in showing that they can do stuff on their own out there.”
In other words, it’s a delicate balance between access for all and concerns that the mountain will have lines like rides at Disney World.
The Dorrs hope to thread that same needle with the help of their goats. Their love of the wilderness is apparent from only a few minutes of talking to them, and they have no desire to contribute to cluttering up its slopes and depriving people of the joys of nature’s solitude.
But like the best evangelists, they cannot in good conscience keep the wonders of the wilderness to themselves. They will proselytize and seek to convert those who’ve never experienced those fundamental truths.
“There’s experiences we could show people that would blow most people’s minds,” Zach said, looking out over a field of his goats. “This is what we’ve always done. We’ve got the experience. We’ve got the knowledge. There’s some things that we can show people.”
Campbell County Health is officially affiliating with UCHealth.
After months of public discourse and years of behind-the-scenes prelude, the local health care system has found a partner, agreed on a contract and gained approval from the Campbell County Commission. Now CCH is on track to begin its affiliation Sept. 1.
The deal is done. But as hospital administrators and trustees have said, the hard work is just beginning.
Now that it’s going to happen, what’s next?
“I think from the get-go, there’s not going to be a lot of change that’s seen either from the public side or, generally, with our employees,” said CCH board Chairman Adrian Gerrits.
Now that trustees and CCH administrators have the affiliation approved, Gerrits said that much of the work in the weeks and months to come will fall on administration.
Although the deal is expected to become official soon, there is still housekeeping to take care of before the affiliation goes into effect.
Concurrent with the affiliation kicking in, CCH CEO Colleen Heeter will transition to being a UCHealth employee while continuing to run CCH and answer to the local board. Heeter took over as CEO on July 1, 2020, and just finished her first year as CEO.
In the upcoming weeks, the CCH trustees will have to finalize Heeter’s annual review, including determining her compensation and bonuses, she said in an email.
Two of the key incentives for CCH to affiliate — greater purchasing power and a reduced cost for the electronic medical records system Epic — will both take time to be realized.
With greater buying power through group purchasing, the affiliation is expected to bring CCH savings in the neighborhood of $700,000 each year. During the next month, CCH will be working with Colorado-based UCHealth to establish a group purchasing organization contract aligned with when the affiliation begins, Heeter said.
Still, it may take months for the expected savings to begin reflecting on the organization’s bottom line.
CCH Chief Financial Officer Mary Lou Tate said earlier this month that once affiliated, it could take another four to six months for the savings on supplies to start reflecting in a meaningful way.
“I think it’s going to be quite some time before the community really sees any major changes, other than if they watch the hospital board meetings and we report what our financials are,” Gerrits said. “Hopefully, (there’s) some very good change for the positive in our financials.”
Doctors and employees
As a general surgeon and trustee Dr. Sara Hartsaw said that many of the initial changes may be “invisible” to the community and even staff. But once the Epic health care system is implemented, she is hopeful for a significant change.
“It should make everybody who’s involved in patient care, it should make all of their jobs more fluid,” Hartsaw said.
The current system, Meditech, has been a source of frustration, wasted time and burnout for physicians and employees who have had to use it, she said. While she has not worked with Epic before, she expects it will, at minimum, improve the day-to-day record-keeping and save employees time.
“This is just the first step of a years-long process,” Hartsaw said. “We’ve all talked about Epic ad nauseam, and that’s going to be a couple of year process getting that set up, turned on … there’s going to be a lot of training and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Implementing Epic outright, without the partnership with UCHealth, would cost CCH $30 million or more. But through UCHealth, CCH has said it would cost about $9 million.
All of which is to say, the IT department will be shouldering its share of the work to get Epic up and running throughout the health care system.
Overhauling the entire electronic medical records system for the organization, once approved, will take time. As of now, CCH expects Epic to go live around December 2022, Tate said earlier this month.
However, the actual launch date will become more clear down the line.
Regardless, getting Epic installed will take at least a year. From there, staff and medical personnel will have to be trained on the new system.
“When we say ‘go live,’ it goes in stages,” Gerrits said. “We don’t just overnight flip the switch and everybody starts using Epic.”
The installation and use of Epic will likely be paid for on a five-year payment plan, with annual fees to continue using it, Tate said.
While CCH employees continue working behind the scenes over the next year or so, how will the patient experience be affected in that time?
While discussing the prospects of affiliation and the improved medical records system that would come with it, CCH officials have been careful to clarify that implementing Epic will not magically fix the organization’s billing issues.
Nor will it fix all of the organizations’ other problems, which have been highlighted over the past few months, between building its budget and proving its need to affiliate with the public.
“From the community’s perspective, you’re looking at a year-and-a-half to two (years) before they actually notice changes in how they interact with our patient portal, because there will be a new patient portal with Epic,” Gerrits said.
“Hopefully, the goal is to have them notice a change in the actual exam room with their doctor, because the doctor is spending five minutes instead of 20 minutes putting stuff into the computer, which is the bane of their existence, having to enter stuff instead of focus on the patient relationship,” he said.
When the commissioners first voted against the affiliation 3-to-2 in June, CCH officials regrouped for another appeal to the county.
In those weeks between votes, Gerrits said the hospital employees, board and community galvanized in their support for affiliation and were better able to articulate to the public why they considered affiliation with UCHealth to be so important.
“We all, as trustees, feel that this is crucial for the future of the hospital,” Gerrits said. “It was the culmination of a lot of hard work. To their credit, the best possible thing they could have done is voted it down the first time, because it really made us work a lot harder to prove to them and the community that this is the right thing to do.”
For those in the community who don’t familiarize themselves regularly with hospital finances, which is likely most people in the community, understanding all of the ins and outs of the affiliation can be complicated.
But to simplify it, Hartsaw compared finalizing the affiliation agreement to closing on a new house.
It’s a major decision, that involves lots of planning. Once it’s closed, there’s relief. Then reality sets in and there’s a lot more work to do, filling it with furniture, mowing the lawn, painting the sides and taking care of all of the details that couldn’t be addressed until it became official.
A hard part of the affiliation process is done, but the hard part is still ahead.
“We still need to do the things we’re doing now, we still need to take care of patients … we can’t just kick-back and pop open a cold beer and say we’re ready,” Hartsaw said. “It just doesn’t work that way, unfortunately.”
There is a lot of exciting energy research going on at the University of Wyoming that could eventually lead to new industries and drive economic development throughout the state.
That was the message Holly Krutka, executive director of the UW School of Energy Resources, had for the attendees at the Wyoming Mining Association’s annual convention, held at Cam-plex Energy Hall this week.
Krutka talked about the numerous projects the School of Energy Resources is working on, some of which will be tested at the Wyoming Innovation Center in the not-so-distant future.
The goal is to find “a pathway to use more coal for new products with no carbon footprint,” she said.
When it comes to adding value to coal, UW can’t look at small-scale operations because, “Wyoming coal mining is huge, our mines are large, our reserves are large,” she said.
One focus of the school is carbon engineering, or taking coal and turning it into different products. They’ve created char from Wyoming coal and have used it to make fertilizer and bricks, and now they’re working on figuring out what’s next, Krutka said.
Another process they’re researching is dry methane reforming, which takes methane and combines it with carbon dioxide to create a building block for hydrocarbon materials such as plastic, all without using water.
UW also has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory to study extracting rare earth elements from the fly ash from coal-fired power plants.
The school also was awarded money from the Department of Energy to work on two $1.875 million projects in the Powder River Basin and the Green River Basin “to basically build a robust cradle to grave rare earth element industry in Wyoming,” Krutka said.
Another exciting prospect for the Cowboy State is its potential as a source of hydrogen, Krutka said. That’s why the the School of Energy Resources is starting a hydrogen research center.
“It’s an energy carrier that when it combusts just creates water. It’s very important for heavy industry use in a de-carbonized world,” she said. “And it’s important to Wyoming because we have great energy resources that can be used to make hydrogen, including coal, gas, wind, solar and nuclear and more.”
Wyoming has the infrastructure to ship hydrogen to other states. It can transport it using natural gas pipelines, but work needs to be done on the best way to accomplish that, Krutka said. Hydrogen also can be converted into ammonia and shipped by train.
But if Wyoming is going to produce hydrogen from coal or natural gas, to be competitive it will need to store the CO2 somewhere, Krutka said.
Wyoming has natural gas reservoirs that can store helium, so there are hopes that those reservoirs can store hydrogen as well, she said, adding that this theory hasn’t been tested yet.
But if it’s successful, Wyoming would have “a low carbon seasonal energy storage option,” something that “batteries will never be able to do,” Krutka said.
Speaking of storage, Krutka touted the CarbonSAFE project, a commercial-scale CO2 storage site next to Dry Fork Station. Krutka said it’s a flagship project not just for UW but for the state as a whole. It began its third phase in November and is one of only five projects in the whole country. The project must demonstrate that it can hold a minimum of 2 million tons of CO2 per year and 50 million tons total.
Krutka said she believes the site can hold all the CO2 produced by Dry Fork Station for the rest of its lifespan.
And recently it was announced that a new nuclear power plant will be built in Wyoming. Although UW doesn’t have a nuclear engineering department, Krutka said the SER is willing to help in any way it can.
“Whatever we can do to help make that project successful, we’re ready to do,” she said.