Summer Festival a showcase for Antelope Butte

by nathan oster

A summer festival meant to showcase potential summer uses at Antelope Butte in the Big Horn Mountains was a tremendous success, according to organizers.

Mark Weitz, who heads the nonprofit Antelope Butte Foundation that put on the event, said 400 to 500 people attended, including many children.

Ten bands performed.

Twelve competitive events were held.

Four food vendors were on hand.

“All in a carpet of wildflowers at 8,400 feet,” said Weitz. “I visited with several people who skied the area when it was just a rope tow around 1960, and many, many more who learned to ski there and want their kids to learn to ski with them there as well.”

Weitz said organizers were “very pleased” with the event.

He said the Summer Festival concept grew out of a camping experience last summer.

“Most of us, we knew Antelope Butte as a ski area, a place you’d drive on a winter afternoon,” he said. “We were up there last summer, surrounded by wildflowers, just gorgeous, and it hit us: Why don’t we have an event?”

The area is a rich in opportunities for mountain biking, fishing and hiking.

Organizers were hopeful that the Summer Festival would be a success, but Weitz admits having some anxiety over it the day before the event. “We kept asking ourselves, ‘How many people do you think are going to show?’ We didn’t know. We were thinking 50, 100, 200.

“What we got was a resounding turnout. People loved it. A lot of them told us they had no idea how beautiful it was up there in the summer.”

Weitz said the ABF is planning another Summer Festival for 2015.

“Hopefully it becomes an annual event,” he said.

Meanwhile, his group continues to negotiate the purchase of the property with its current owner, the Bighorn National Forest. An appraisal — done at the foundation’s expense — was to occur this week. Weitz said once fair market value is established the ABF can enter into a purchase/sale agreement with the Bighorn National Forest.

On top of that, the ABF was recently designated as a 501c3, guaranteeing its tax exempt status.

“Those two things, I believe, will put us in a better position to start raising large dollars. Just as important, with the purchase agreement in place, hopefully by fall, that’ll allow us to get keys to the building.

“One thing we hear loud and clear, from individuals and contractors, is, ‘We want to contribute.’ Right now we have to tell them, ‘We’d sure like to put you to work, but we don’t have anything we can work on.’ With the agreement in place, we’ll be able to start asset building and begin with the refurbishments.”

The top priority in the short term will be repairing a leak on the roof of the solarium.

Weitz has no doubt it’ll happen.

In August, Weitz and the other members of his group will have logged three years of time and energy on reopening Antelope Butte.

Does he still believe it’s going to happen?

“More than ever,” he said. “We realized a year and a half ago that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Every step we make forward is a step in the right direction. People want to know how soon it’s going to reopen, but that’s not how these processes work.”

People who are interested in helping with the cause in any way are asked to contact the ABF through either its website or Facebook page. Two local residents, Doug Crouse and Barbara Burbridge, sit on the ABF board of directors.