Chamber hopes aviation museum gives economy a lift

by nathan oster

Hoping to better tap into the flow of tourist dollars, the Greybull Area Chamber of Commerce is making progress in its efforts to open an aviation museum at the South Big Horn County Airport.

Selena Brown, who volunteers for the chamber, said she and other chamber officials are working with the Wyoming Department of Transportation to get the required paperwork filled out and lining up contractors and volunteers to make improvements to the proposed site of the museum, which will be alongside the rest area.

Brown pointed out that the aviation museum was a priority identified by the community during last year’s assessment, and that once it’s in place, it’ll give visitors another good reason to stop in the Greybull area, rather than just passing through.

Tourism is big business — and tapping into all the dollars that pass through the community each summer is the challenge facing not only the Greybull chamber, but all chambers around the state.

The potential is staggering. A report prepared last year for the Wyoming Office of Tourism found that travel spending by all domestic and international visitors in Wyoming was approximately $3.1 billion in 2012. Broken down even further, that comes to about $8.5 million in spending each day.

With its rich aviation history and the old planes highly visible right along U.S. Highway 14, Greybull is positioned for success, according to Carl Meyer, who manages the South Big Horn County Airport.

“The interest is constant,” he said. “This time of year, you can’t be standing out at the airport for any length of time without some out-of-state car pulling up and asking you questions about the airplanes.   It’s almost a continuous conversation with the tourists.”

The landscape on airport hill is of course dotted with planes of varying ages and designs — and to see them now, tourists must do so from behind a chain-link fence that separates the planes and airport property from the rest area.

For the airport museum, five planes will initially be showcased, according to Meyer.

Two are C-119s that he described as “fairly unique.” From the Korean War and early Vietnam War era, they are relatively common in airplane museums around the country, according to Meyer.

The same cannot be said for the two PB4Ys that will be in the initial exhibit.

According to Meyer, there are only seven or eight in existence — and two of them will be on the museum grounds. They were primarily used to fly recon missions and as patrol bombers during the World War II era.

The fifth plane is a Beech 18 that is both common and popular among aviation enthusiasts.

Meyer said the county has assisted on the aviation museum’s launch by bearing the cost of moving the crafts to their more high profile location and in the cleanup of the grounds and the finalizing of a lease agreement.

But the Greybull Area Chamber of Commerce has taken the lead, seeing it as a significant step in boosting economic development. According to Brown, a trailer will soon be moved into position, hooked up with electricity and filled with aviation exhibits.

A sidewalk will be poured to direct visitors to that trailer, which will serve as an extrance point to the museum. The chamber plans to charge each visitor “some kind of nominal fee,” just to offset the anticipated expenses of operating and maintaining the museum.

“Down the road, we hope to expand the museum,” said Brown.

She said tourists and other visitors will be able to walk freely around the airplanes and — and if a platform can be built — possibly even peer into the cockpit of one of the planes. “We’re going to try to have information about each plane displayed,” said Brown.

The chamber is looking for volunteer help for various tasks associated with the museum’s launch, including the construction of the aforementioned platform. If you’d like to contribute, contact the chamber office, 765-2100.

“Almost daily, we get phone calls about those planes,” said Brown. “And we get them from everywhere —Cody, back East, Colorado, different parts of Wyoming. People just love them … they want more information about them.”