Although Campbell County has no plans of turning the Centennial Section, home of the Red Rock Trails system, into a park, the area still open for people to use.
Campbell County Commissioners were receptive last week to a suggestion of designating the Red Rock Trails a recreational use area.
During a Parks and Recreation board meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Rick Mansur said that after talking with his staff about the large piece of land, “We’d like to see it stay as recreational use for the community.”
The Centennial Section would still be open for people to go hiking, running and biking, but they would do so at their own risk. Informational signs would be posted at both entrances to make people aware of it. That means if they’re hurt, the county can’t be held liable.
Mansur said it is similar to pieces of land in Sheridan and Billings, Montana.
Parks employees would take care of the trash pickup at the two entrances, but other than that, the department would leave the area alone.
The county commissioners supported the idea.
“It’s cool they’re going to let people continue to go out there,” said David Bauer, who, with the help of volunteers, put in 12 miles of trails at the property. “I guess I’m happy for that, but it’s kind of a bummer that it turned out the way it did.”
Since 2019, Bauer and his group, Energy Addicts, have worked to build trails on the 640-acre Centennial Section, a parcel of land north of Gillette that the county bought in 2012 for $1.63 million.
The county had leased the land to Energy Addicts. But in early May, Bauer ended the agreement because his group didn’t have enough money to cover the insurance. Energy Addicts does not plan on adding more trails in the future.
He wanted commissioners to turn the land into a park, but they were adamant that they do not want that to happen.
Commissioner Rusty Bell said he wouldn’t be opposed if a group came to the county wanting to make improvements to the land, much like Energy Addicts did.
“I want it to be used,” Bell said. “If someone’s going to do improvements out there, within the scope of what we’re doing, we don’t have any issues with that.”
Commissioner Bob Maul wondered about the rough stock horses that the Gillette College rodeo team has on the property.
“They have really not been an issue at all,” Mansur said. “A lot of times, you’re out there (and) you don’t even see the horses.”
If an organization wanted to hold an event at the Centennial Section, it would have to go through the Parks and Rec Department, much like how people can reserve softball fields, Mansur said.
The Energy Addicts had built a couple of bridges at the trails. Parks Superintendent Kevin Geer said one is only 3 feet long and can easily be taken out. The other is quite long and “is built fairly well,” Geer said.
“If we’re concerned about the liability we can remove it,” Geer said.
If the county maintains the land at all, then it would be liable for any injuries that happen out there, said Administrative Director Carol Seeger. She recommended taking the bridge out.
“If we do any type of maintenance, you are crossing over into that area (of liability). That’s the tightrope you’re walking,” she said.
Mansur said he doesn’t have a problem if someone wanted to put flags out on the longer trails to better mark the path.
“I don’t see anything wrong with that, because the more they ride it, pretty soon you’ll have that trail developed, then (they can) take those markers out,” he said.
Bauer said he’s “heartbroken over the whole deal.”
“I think it sucks. I put my heart, sweat, everything into that project for years,” he said.
But on the bright side, Gillette now has 12 more miles of trails than before Bauer started in 2019.
Zack Bissett paced back and forth in the lobby of the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office waiting for the results of his oral swab drug test to come back.
A participant in the 24/7 Sobriety Program, the oral swab has become part of his daily morning routine. He has to come in every morning, stick the swab in his mouth for three minutes, then wait about 10 minutes for the results to come back.
He’s been in the program for about three months and has to continue it until he’s accepted into residential treatment.
“It’s been all right,” he said of the constant monitoring. “For the most part, it keeps me grounded.”
Besides keeping him sober, the program also has made Bissett better learn how to manage his money so that he can pay for the daily testing, which costs $10 each time.
“I just wish it was a little cheaper. It’s kind of pricey,” he said. “At the same time, the money they’re charging for us to do these mouth swabs is money that we potentially could use to get drugs.”
In September 2017, Campbell County started the 24/7 Sobriety Program as a way to reduce the number of people in the local jail as well as keep people in the community by targeting repeat drunken driving offenders. It has since expanded to include drug testing.
Three and a half years, 894 participants and 78,000 portable breath tests later, the program has become an example for the rest of the state.
Rich Adriaens, director of the Wyoming Governor’s Council on Impaired Driving, said the 24/7 Program keeps people out of jail while helping them with their problems.
“Here’s an opportunity for people who probably have an addiction problem, or at least are leaning that way, to continue to work, earn money for their families and the community,” he said.
Judges order people to be on the program as part of their bond conditions. They have to remain on the program until the judge says otherwise.
Those who take the portable breath test have to show up to the Sheriff’s Office twice a day, about 12 hours apart, to be tested. If a test comes back positive, the person is looking at jail time.
The 24/7 Program originated in South Dakota. In 2014, then-Gov. Matt Mead signed the program into law, opening the door for Wyoming counties to implement it. In 2017, behind the efforts of Circuit Judge Paul Phillips and support from law enforcement and elected officials, Campbell County started the program, the second in the state after Sweetwater County.
Campbell County now is one of four Wyoming counties to have the program, along with Sheridan, Teton and Fremont counties, Adriaens said.
Sweetwater County, the first to have the 24/7 Program, shut it down during COVID and hasn’t yet started it up again. Albany County has committed to starting this summer, Adriaens said, and he hopes Laramie and Natrona counties will be next.
Campbell is the only county to do drug testing along with the portable breath tests for alcohol. It also was the only county to maintain the program during the pandemic, Matheny said.
“We thought it was still important for the program to continue through the pandemic just because this is what’s keeping them on the straight and narrow, keeping them from relapsing or backsliding into using,” he said about the program’s impact on those in it.
He talked with local judges and worked out a way to keep the program going while also keeping participants and staff safe.
“They’ve done an outstanding job. They’re the model program for the state,” Adriaens said.
Matheny said the program has saved the county thousands of dollars. Each person in the program is someone not in the jail, where it costs the county $126 a day to house an inmate.
With the 24/7 Program, participants pay $30 to enroll, and they have to pay for each test. Each portable breath test costs the participant $2. The drug patch is $45 and saliva test is $10.
“It’s one of the reasons we don’t have many people in our facility right now,” Matheny said.
There are now 115 people on the program and as of Friday afternoon, there were 120 people in the jail.
Matheny said that with all of the money that has come in from the program fees, “soon it’s going to be self-sufficient.”
Making it personal
Matheny said that because many similar programs shut down during the pandemic around the country, companies have considered making kiosks that would allow participants to get tested without human interaction.
But that short amount of face-to-face time is actually one of the reasons the program is successful, Matheny said.
The program’s technician “becomes a cheerleader for the person going through the program,” Matheny said. “They’re in your corner, pushing you, supporting you, giving you a pat on the back.”
The Campbell County program has four technicians who take turns giving the tests.
Sydney Garcia, a 24/7 Program technician, said she and the other technicians try to create a friendly atmosphere. They know why the participants are there, and “we don’t need to sit here in an awkward silence.”
Bissett said the welcoming feeling is huge.
“Having people like Sydney, they’re open, easy to talk to, it’s easy to work with them,” Bissett said. “It makes you actually want to come in and take the tests, because they’re kind and polite.”
Garcia said she believes in the program because it allows people “to follow through with their own lives, and allows them to take care of their own affairs.”
She tries to establish a good rapport with the participants, and she loves watching them succeed.
“It’s a great feeling to see them walk out of these doors, knowing they completed the program,” she said.
Bissett said being on the program has changed the way he goes about his day.
“I definitely think about what I’m doing throughout the day, passing my test,” he said.
He’s even cautious of the dietary and weightlifting supplements that he’s taking, because he doesn’t want them to interfere with his test.
A few minutes after Bissett left, Andrew Trapp completed a portable breath test. He was in and out in 15 seconds.
He’d been on the program for a week. A judge ordered him to do 24/7 after a domestic incident where alcohol was involved. Trapp said he’s already noticed a difference.
He hasn’t had a drink in more than a month. He’s gotten a new job and returned to school.
“It’s been pretty good,” Trapp said. “Now, my mind is way clearer with this program.”
Adriaens said he hopes the 24/7 Program will play a larger role going forward in the state’s fight against drunken and drugged driving.
“We can’t arrest our way out of a problem like this,” he said.
He said while the number of DUIs across the state has slowly decreased, the number of deaths from drunken driving has not followed the same trend.
“Some feel it’s a burden to blow into a PBT twice a day, and it may be, but it’s not as burdensome as a fatality,” he said about the portable breath test.
He has been going around the state to different groups and communities to promote the program.
“What I’m finding is that folks don’t have an understanding of what the program is and how successful it is,” he said.
It’s not meant to replace treatment, Adriaens said.
“That’s always a fear in communities that we’ve found a cheaper way to treat people,” he said.
Matheny said new programs are often met with skepticism.
“If you’re seasoned like me, and someone comes through your door and says, ‘You know what? You need to do this program at your place.’ You go, ‘Why? I think things are going just fine the way they are.’ People are reluctant to change,” he said.
As for the counties that already have the 24/7 Program, Adriaens said the next step is to follow Campbell County’s lead and start testing for drugs.
The state has seen an increase in drugged driving arrests, he said, and at the state Division of Criminal Investigation lab, “about 60% of our blood tests statewide are poly-use,” meaning the person had alcohol and at least one other substance in his or her system.
Matheny said he understands why counties are hesitant to expand their programs, especially with the state of the economy. Start-up costs and hiring additional personnel can be difficult hurdles to overcome.
But it’s worth it, he said.
“I say this a lot of times to the other sheriffs, ‘You’re missing out on this,’” he said. “I get, you don’t want to start something, but the positives outweigh the negatives in this, by far. It just takes a while.”
For the program to succeed in other counties, it’s vital to have support from all involved.
“We have the commissioners, the attorneys, the judges are all in support of this program,” Matheny said. “If they can do that in any other cities, then they’ll get there.”
When road construction season rolls around every year, Gillette city staff can count on people asking why some streets may be prioritized above others.
For example, the Gillette City Council will consider allocating $3.5 million in its fiscal year 2021-22 budget for the Foothills Boulevard alignment and drainage project next year. That work could consist of straightening out a steep and curvy stretch of Foothills between Ridgewood Drive and Highway 14-16.
But for some residents, there are other problem areas the city should address first, such as repairing pothole-filled parts of Boxelder Road.
The reality is, however, those decisions aren’t that simple.
“The city has, and will continue basing (its) project schedules on, priority and available funding,” said City Engineer Joe Schoen. “If there is a decrease in funding, then some projects may be rescheduled for a later time.”
The Boxelder dilemma
A drive down Boxelder Road between 4J Road and Highway 59 reveals stretches that are riddled with potholes and ruts, signs of a busy, well-used stretch of road.
A 2018 Wyoming Department of Transportation traffic count study showed that 14,048 vehicles traveled in each direction on Boxelder and 4J per day.
Down the street to the east, that number goes up. All westbound and eastbound traffic on both sides of Highway 59 at Boxelder Road saw 54,941 vehicles a day combined, according to the traffic count.
The amount of traffic likely skyrocketed this spring with the Lakeway Road Project, which has encouraged many people to drive on other east-west streets, including Boxelder, to get to their destinations. As a result, Boxelder is being used more daily, which will continue until the Lakeway work is completed in the fall.
But there is some form of relief coming.
The city has plans to do some repairs on Boxelder Road, especially between Highway 59 and 4J in the not-too-distant future to reduce some of the poor conditions and extend the life of the route by 10-15 years.
Schoen said that the Boxelder repairs, like the work on Foothills Boulevard, will be done next fiscal year, which begins July 1, and it’s considered to be a “high priority” project.
The city could not do the Lakeway Road project at the same time as Boxelder Road this year “due to having two major east-west collector streets in the same area under construction at the same time,” he said.
Construction work on Boxelder is slated to start late spring next year and last until the early fall.
“At this time, we are working to get a professional services agreement to the (City) Council for approval to begin the design process,” Schoen said. “We hope to take this to council either in June or July of this year.”
Each year the city reviews street conditions with a pavement maintenance management system software that identifies and priorities what streets, such as Boxelder Road, need immediate attention.
“As part of the street maintenance program there are many factors that are reviewed to help with the (prioritizing),” Schoen said. “Cracking, settlement, aged utilities, drainage concerns and potholes are all taken into consideration when choosing the right surface treatment to extend the service life of the pavement.”
“We try to use the right tool (surface treatment) at the right time to extend the serviceable life of the pavement for as long as we can.”
Over the next five years, the city hopes to complete some maintenance work in areas like Westover Road and Overdale Drive.
It also may look at performing more aggressive repairs such as a mill and overlay project on Foothills Boulevard.
Any road improvements that come before the National High School Finals Rodeo hits town in 2022 and 2023, and the International Pathfinder Camporee brings in tens of thousands of people to the community in 2024, would be welcomed news for residents.
“The city will do what is necessary to make sure any event in our city is a success,” Schoen said.