Ann Sanchez of the Laramie County Conservation District, far left, along with stakeholders from Cheyenne LEADS and other members of the Laramie County Conservation District, broke ground on the conservation district’s new headquarters in the Cheyenne Business Parkway on Thursday, April 8, 2021. The plot of land was donated by Cheyenne LEADS, and, in exchange, the conservation district will manage an outdoor recreation area at the business park. Rhianna Gelhart/For the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – In an effort to expand outdoor education and create a recreation area at the Cheyenne Business Parkway, stakeholders from the Laramie County Conservation District and Cheyenne LEADS broke ground on the conservation district’s new headquarters at 1923 Whitney Road.

The project has been a dream of the conservation district for about 15 years, and their conversations with Cheyenne LEADS have gone on for about the past decade. Now, the headquarters will be built on about three acres donated by Cheyenne LEADS, and, in exchange, the conservation district will create and care for a natural area, with trails and a pond on the business parkway.

“It’s a big step in giving back to the community,” Conservation District Manager Shaun Kirkwood said. “With owning our own property and our own building through work with LEADS, we’re able to take the money that we would spend on rent in the space that we have right now, and be able to put that money back in the community for natural resources and for the natural area that we’re going to manage and take care of.”

Construction on the new headquarters is expected to be complete by early 2022, though the conservation district will carry out some work on the natural area they’re tasked with managing and taking care of before that completion date. Overall, the goal is to create four trails with signage, where students of all ages can get out into Wyoming’s wide open spaces and learn about the scenery that surrounds them.

The new building will also include an indoor classroom so student education initiatives can continue through harsh winters, since that is one of the conservation district’s major goals. Already, conservation staffers go into Laramie County’s schools to teach, but this new development allows the classroom to actually be the great outdoors.

“The big, long-term focus is to try to be able to have the schools come out here, so the kiddos can learn firsthand and get dirty, rather than being in the classroom. Classrooms can only take you so far, but on the ground, getting dirty with nature and with natural resources – that’s our main focus,” Kirkwood said.

Additionally, the manicured trails in the natural area will be open to the public and will help serve Cheyenne LEADS’ goals as an economic development organization.

The Cheyenne Business Parkway, in east Cheyenne off Interstate 80, encompasses 900 acres, with about 200 acres still available for new developments. Businesses currently on the parkway include Lowe’s Regional Distribution Center, Sierra Trading Post, Magpul Industries, Lunavi and, most recently, TBC Manufacturing, which is a family-owned business that moved up from Colorado.

As Cheyenne LEADS CEO Betsey Hale said, such businesses are interested in recreational offerings for their employees when choosing a new location. A slew of trails and outdoor recreation opportunities make an area more attractive for site selectors.

“They’re always talking to us about: ‘What are the amenities in these locations? What are the things that people can do here? Where are the places that they can come on their days off and just sit out and enjoy?’” Hale said. “So we hope that we will see more partnerships like this, not only here on the Cheyenne Business Parkway, but also on our North Range Business Park and maybe eventually out of the Cheyenne Logistics Hub.”

It took many years of dedication and collaboration to get this project off the ground, as Kirkwood said the conservation district has been saving up its money from its mill levy for a decade now. Even with the donated land, the building costs sit at about $2.1 million.

With that, Kirkwood said he’s thankful for their partners in the community who share the same goals.

“It’s a good feeling that there’s that dedication to natural resources and the community as a whole, and you can get this many like-minded people together in one area to throw a little soil into the air for a project that we’ve been planning for so many years,” he said. “It makes you feel warm inside.”

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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