Forest Service returning to Greybull

by nathan oster

The U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday that it is moving forward with the construction of a new building in Greybull that will become the new home of the Medicine Wheel/Paintrock Ranger District office.

Forest Service operations in Big Horn County have been headquartered in Lovell since the merger of the Medicine Wheel and Paintrock districts in 1996.  Prior to that, Greybull had been home to the Paintrock operations.

But even after the 1996 merger, Greybull remained the home of the Wyoming Interagency Hot Shot crew.

Now, apparently, it’s getting the main office back, too.

According to a USFS release, the selection of Greybull was the result of a competitive bidding process which stipulated that two locations — Greybull and Lovell — be considered for the new facility. The selection, continued the release, was based on the lowest price for the technical specifications required by the agency.

Twenty-eight employees — including 18 now working in Lovell — will work from the new office, which will be located on a 3-acre piece of land on the south edge of town, just beyond the Murdoch Oil facilities which lie on the east side of U.S. Highway 16-20.

The property, which is owned by Overland Enterprises, is currently considered to be part of the county.  Mayor Bob Graham said Tuesday that the town is exploring the possibility of annexing it, and has talked to Paul Murdoch, owner of Murdoch Oil, since his property lies between town limits and the site eyed by the USFS.

“But whether it’s annexed or not, considered part of the town or the county, it’s going to happen,” said Graham.

Included in the USFS’s projected total of 28 permanent employees are 10 Hot Shots who have been stationed in Greybull.  They, too, will office in the new facility.  The Forest Service plans to retain ownership of the Hot Shots’ current building, located at 1220 N. Eighth Street in Greybull.  Dave Hogan, the district ranger, said “it’ll be utilized differently — probably more as a work center.  The key point is, all of the permanent Forest Service employees will be under one roof.”

The new Greybull facility, which is scheduled for completion in March of 2015, will be approximately 8,500 square feet. The Medicine Wheel/Paintrock Ranger District office in Lovell, which is smaller by comparison, will remain open until the new office is completed.

In an interview Tuesday, Hogan said the selection of the Greybull site is the culmination of several years of discussions.  Through that process, the USFS received mutiple offers.  The one it ultimately chose, to build in Greybull, was “the most affordable and technically acceptable” for the Forest Service, said Hogan.

Hogan said that in addition to that, the Forest Service views the move to Greybull as a way to get all of its permanent employees under one roof.  Being in Greybull, USFS personnel will also be more centrally located within the ranger district, which stretches from Hyattville to the Montana line, and have better winter access to the Big Horn Mountains via U.S. Highway 14.  U.S. Highway 14A, which connects Lovell to the Big Horns, closes during the winter months.

Mayor Bob Graham said a company based in Golden, Colo., got the bid to construct the facility in Greybull.  When completed, it will be leased to the Forest Service.

There are still obstacles to overcome, but Graham said he doubts that any of them would hold up the project.  For the town, the challenge is going to be annexing the property, considering no part of it is directly connected to the town.  If it were annexed, the town could be the provider of utilities such as water, sewer and sanitation.

Town Attorney Scott McColloch is involved in Overland Enterprises, which owns the land in question, and for that reason, Mayor Graham stated that Kent Richins, a Worland-based attorney, has been retained to guide the town through the annexation process.

Graham said he and other town officials have been in talks with the Forest Service for more than a year, and that the announcement that Greybull had been chosen as the site of the building couldn’t have come at a better time.

Graham was a town employee when the ranger districts merged in 1996.

“I just remember it was a huge disappointment for everyone in our community,” he said.

Now the Forest Service is coming back.

“Obviously, it’s a huge boost for our town,” said Graham. “I mentioned at the assessment meeting the other night that we’ve been looking for that one spark that would create some drive, some incentive, some sense that good things are going to happen in our community. I think this could be that spark, the thing that gets people to say, ‘Wow, maybe Greybull is moving forward, maybe it is going to grow.’

“To a place like Cheyenne, adding 15 to 20 jobs might not be that big of a deal. But for a town our size, it’s huge.”