Summer Festival a first step for ABF

by nathan oster

“Every journey starts with a single step.”

Long attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius, the saying fits perfectly in describing last weekend’s Antelope Butte Summer Festival in the Big Horn Mountains.

Whether it was a runner breaking away from the finish line, a biker climbing into the saddle of his mount, or supporters of the long-closed ski area dreaming of powdered slopes as they embarked on a fundraising campaign, it was a weekend of first steps just about everyone.

“Completely and utterly satisfied,” is how Mark Weitz, chairman of the nonprofit Antelope Butte Foundation, described the Summer Festival, which featured live music on Friday night and throughout the day Saturday, biking and running competitions Saturday and the “world famous” bike toss Saturday night.

An estimated 750 people attended the festival at some point during the weekend. “You never really know how many people will show up,” said Weitz. “I think what we got far exceeded our expectations.”

The festival came at a crucial moment for the Antelope Butte Foundation and its efforts to reopen the ski area.

On Friday June 19, the ABF and the United States Forest Service (USFS) signed a Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA) to purchase the existing ski area infrastructure and improvements.

ABF purchased the improvements on the property – the lifts, lodge and outbuildings – for $275,000, the value determined by an independent appraisal in November 2014. ABF’s first payment of 20 percent of the purchase price will be due within 45 days. Two more payments of 40 percent each will be due in March and November of 2016.

“This is go time now,” said Weitz on Saturday. “Once we signed that paperwork, it’s like signing a mortgage. All the work we’ve done to this point was to get us into a position to enter into that agreement. We have to be able to make that first payment.

Jamie Schectman, executive director of the ABF, put it this way: “Building on the success of our Summer Festival, ABF is now entering into the public fundraising portion of the fundraising campaign. Our goal is to raise $305,000, which will be used to complete the purchase of the ski area plus the required assurance bond. Meanwhile we will be seeking larger donors to help with the bigger expenses such as the lodge redevelopment, rehabilitation of the lifts and the equipment necessary to reopen. Our first payment is due in 45 days and now is when we are asking members of the community to consider a tax deductible donation and help up achieve our goal of reopening Antelope Butte.”

They had a lot of help kicking off the campaign.

Members of the Crow Nation, including drummers, dancers and a medicine man among others, offered a mountain blessing to open Saturday’s festivities.

Butch Jellis and Truman Ropes Good, who spoke on behalf of the Crow Nation, described their long history and spiritual connection to the mountains. As part of the ceremony, they prayed for the success of the business venture and the revitalization of the ski area.

“This is Crow country,” said Ropes Good, adding that his dream is that his people from the Crow Nation will one day ski and snowboard alongside people of every race and nationality at Antelope Butte.

Weitz called the Crow Nation’s visit and blessing ceremony “a moving experience” and one of the highlights of the weekend for him. At one point in the weekend, a rainbow appeared, rising up from the lodge. While rain was a constant threat, it mostly stayed away, as did the bugs, according to Weitz.

What the weekend also did, Weitz said, is showcase the area’s widespread, four-season, multi-generational appeal. The Foundation’s vision for Antelope Butte goes far beyond skiing and snowboarding. It is also seen as a perfect location for summer recreation as well — be it hiking, biking or even music festivals.

“Right before we had the world-famous bike toss, there were 30 kids in the creek, splashing and playing. It was idyllic … exactly what we would like for that recreation area up there to one day become.”

For many, it was also a competition. More than 100 people participated in either a running or a biking event during Saturday’s festivities. There was the Butte Grind 4-, 8-, 15- and 31-mile runs, as well as a trail duathalon and the Butte Buster 8- and 22-mile bike races.

While no locals earned a medal, several placed among the top 20 finishers in their respective events. Dave Walton was 19th and Teresa Boyer 20th in the 4-mile run. Brent Casey took fifth in the trail duathlon. In the 8-mile bike, Justin Wisehart took 14th, Jessica Hunt was 16th, former Greybull resident Jeremy Walton was 17th and Cheryl Hunt was 21st. And in the 22-mile bike, Ryan Cauffman, formerly of Burlington but now of Alpine, Utah, took fifth. Greybull native Arlan Howe was sixth. Mark Wiles of Burlington was 12th, followed by Todd Stoelk of Shell in 14th and Ralph Petty of Shell in 16th.