As spring brings life to the valley, an enchanting new creation is unfolding beside the highway, just east of the rodeo grounds. What makes the place seem even more magical is that it used to be a toxic waste site.
It’s difficult to imagine what might have been toxic about the sawmill that gave life to this community, until it closed in 1988. But an EPA document describing the “brownfields” cleanup project says the site was contaminated with petroleum byproducts including benzene and diesel fuels.
Ten years after the mill closed, a local family bought the site and donated it to the Nature Conservancy, stipulating that it should be used for the “health and enjoyment of the citizens of the greater Dubois community and its future generations.” After the town gained numerous grants, the cleanup began five years ago.
The medical clinic, fitness center, and assisted living facility on the site clearly qualify in the health category, but as mere buildings they would not inspire the words “enchanting” and “magical.” As the dog and I enjoy the eastern end of the river walk, I’ve seen something emerging that will clearly deserve that description.
The good folks of Dubois Anglers and Wildlife Group (DAWGS) are busy completing Pete’s Pond, the dream of Pete Petera, a former director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department who retired to Dubois. I knew the bright-eyed gentleman all too briefly before he passed away, too early to see the project begin.
Pete wanted a place where children could enjoy fishing safely. The need for this becomes clear as I follow this part of the river walk in late May, watching the surging water breach its banks and crash past, frothing and muddy.
DAWGS long ago made the river accessible for handicapped anglers along this riverwalk. Now, on the landward side of the walk, they’re busy with backhoes creating not just a pond, but a whole new park. There’s a small stream at the inlet, and islands in the center of the pond.
What astonishes me is the sylvan aspect of the scene, where a few years ago this was hard-packed tan dirt overgrown with weeds and sage, the kind of desolate landscape so many people think of when they hear the word “Wyoming.”
It’s a pleasure to think that this is what future travelers will see first as they pass into Dubois headed toward Yellowstone and Jackson. After that long desert drive from Rawlins or Casper, they will be enticed as they reach Dubois to stop and enjoy birds and gently lapping water, lined by trees and bordering the river.
It doesn’t yet look as green as it will, because it’s only early spring here, and the work is still under way. But I can already hear the laughter of the children.
Somewhere over there under the water is a ball that the dog lost in the weeds last summer. He’s certainly forgotten about it. I’m very pleased to make the sacrifice.
© Lois Wingerson, 2018
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