Festival showcases Antelope Butte

Organizers of the Summer Festival held over the weekend at Antelope Butte are calling the event “a rousing success” — and not just because with an estimated 1,500 people attending, the turnout topped last year’s event.

“Just as important,” said Mark Weitz, of the Antelope Butte Foundation, “is how many new people got turned onto the area. Not just the geographic area, but also house useful Antelope Butte can be in the summertime and year-round.”

Still, the numbers looked good overall. The number of bikers and runners climbed to 220, up about 40 from the 180 counted last year. Among the top local placers were Justin Wright, who placed first in the Butte Grind 4-mile run in 30 minutes, 11 seconds. Misty Henderson, with a 38:06, was 10th.

Richard McDonald of Greybull placed fourth in the Butte Grind 8-mile run, finishing in 1 hour, 13.48 minutes.

Melody Brown was 19th in the Butte Buster 8-mile bike race.

Spectators enjoy a leisurely Saturday afternoon and the smooth tones of Speakeasy during the Antelope Butte Summer Festival in the Big Horn Mountains.
Nathan Oster photo

Her son Matt Brown took ninth in the Trail Duathlon, with a time of 1:43.44.

While there was racing for the competitive types, the focus of the weekend was on rest and relaxation. Several bands took turns on the stage Friday night and Saturday, offering a mix of musical styles for the attendees seated in camp chairs or perched on rocks. A pancake breakfast fundraiser on Sunday morning capped the weekend.

As much as anything else, it was “a reason for folks to get up to the mountain and have fun.”

It’s been a long climb for supporters of the project. “I like to say that when we got the patient, we had to do resuscitation, just to get the heart pumping again,” he said.

From a fundraising standpoint, “we still have a long ways to go. But in terms of momentum, it’s further along than that.”

When asked to compare it to a football field, in terms of where things stand at the moment, Weitz said, “We’re on our own 25 yard line, but you have to understand, we were backed up to our own goal line. It took us quite awhile to get out to the 2, then to pick up a first down. Now we have some real momentum behind us, we’re out of the other team’s red zone and able to throw a pass and try for a couple of nice plays.”

In the last six weeks, some significant donations have rolled in. One was for a $100,000 match, another made Thursday was for $22,000, and a third came in Friday for $10,000. “In the previous two years, any one of those would have been awesome…and we got them in the span of a few short weeks,” said Weitz.

To date about $305,000 has been spent — $275,000 for the purchase of the former ski area from the U.S. Forest Service and another $30,000 for mold renovation. “It was a very unexciting use of funds, but necessary because it got us a fixer-upper,” he said.

While one of the first questions most people ask is when the lifts will be ready to go, Weitz said, “It’s the lodge before lifts,” when it comes to priorities. “While many of us want it to happen, it’ll be more beneficial to us if we focus on getting the lodge open first. It will open before the lifts run, not the other way around.”

By doing so, Antelope Butte can be put to public use far sooner for things like “biking events, falconry, music festivals, educational programs, weddings and Wounded Warrior events,” to name just a few.

A new entrance has been added within the past month and the lodge’s interior has been gutted. The solarium on the backside of the existing lodge will be removed, replaced with a new design that addresses water drainage concerns while maintaining the spectacular views of the ski runs.

By Nathan Oster