Consideration for Pathfinder Camporee continues, residents raise concerns over local impact

The Council Chambers at City Hall where the Primary Election Forums are held.
The Council Chambers at City Hall. (County 17)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — The Gillette City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution supporting multiple versions of a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the 2024 Pathfinder Camporee despite logistical concerns raised by local residents.

The camporee is a major, six-day, international religious festival put on by the Seventh Day Adventist Church that plans on bringing 55,000 people to the community of Gillette in 2024 for six nights. The event, comprised largely of minors, will be closed to the public as attendees camp out at every available spot at the Cam-Plex.

The event will also require the construction of an amphitheater at Cam-Plex Park where a portable stage can be set up for a performance on the story of Moses and Miriam; it will also push of the dates for the Campbell County Fair by one week.

The resolution approves one of two versions of the MOU, one amended and passed by the Campbell County Commission on Aug. 16 and the other passed by the Campbell County Public Land Board earlier this month.

The land board’s version of the MOU caps the costs of building an amphitheater at Cam-Plex Park at $1.7 million with a provision that the city and county each pay up to $300,000 to cover any additional costs like fiber or sewer.

The MOU amended and passed by the commission reduced the amphitheater construction cap to $1.5 million and eliminated the $600,000 additional cost provision.

With the approved resolution, the council is prepared to pass either version of the MOU, depending on which is supported by both the commission and the land board.

The decision to pass the resolution came after multiple residents raised concerns about the impact, short-term and long-term, that the 2024 Pathfinder Camporee would have on the local community and its amenities.

Shanna Ferguson expressed concerns concerning the construction plans at Cam-Plex Park, behind Campbell County Fire Station #7, which she said would be a permanent disfigurement to the ecosystem at the park, and over the investment costs.

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“I believe that burdening the city and county residents with a bill of over $1.5 million is too much to ask, especially with the load of inflation we are experiencing currently and not forecasted to end anytime soon,” she said.

The event may bring in $25 million into the community, she acknowledged; however, the sheer number of people that would come to the community is five times higher than the number of people that were in town for the National High School Finals Rodeo.

Ferguson said the rodeo was already a tight fit and expressed concerns over the city and county’s ability to maintain their current levels of service under the load of 55,000 additional people.

“Already, the good folks at Pathfinder are warning resident to stock up on groceries beforehand; we haven’t even fully recovered supply issues after two years from the pandemic shortages, not to mention businesses being able to find and hire enough staff to fill openings,” Ferguson said, adding that this event is not the right one for Gillette and is not at the right time.

Patty Norstegaard had other concerns over the fair being moved one week and whether her daughter, who would be a senior at the time of the camporee and is active in 4-H, would be able to show her animals that year.

“Why should I have to call Johnson County for her to be able to show when I pay taxes in Campbell County?” Norstegaard asked. “I don’t think that’s fair at all and I’m not the only one.”

Ranae Keuck, Cam-Plex interim director, said that 4-H students would still be able to show animals at the fair and that moving the dates by one week would put it in line with when the fair has been held in previous years.

Doug Hinshaw spoke out against the construction of an amphitheater at Cam-Plex Park, which he described as one of the few oases available to the citizens of Gillette and Campbell County to enjoy and that he uses every day.

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“That park should not be torn apart for something like this,” Hinshaw said.

Councilwoman Tricia Simonson, who was the only member of the council to vote against the resolution, added her own concerns to the pot.

The $1.5-1.7 million for the amphitheater, and not even a permanent one that could be used by the residents of Gillette, would cover the costs of the groundwork alone, she said, and asked if the city would pay for maintaining that groundwork in the years between camporee events.

She also asked for clarification on the additional costs outside the amphitheater such what facilities the camporee will need to use, their transportation plan, and whether the current levels of emergency responders are adequate to maintain their levels of service with an influx of 55,000 people.

“I am all for events,” Simonson said. “I would love to put Gillette continuously on the map, but we need to make sure our citizens are informed and that we are responsible, good stewards with taxpayer dollars.

Councilman Tim Carsrud said that Ferguson’s letter is the first negative thing he’s heard about the camporee coming to Gillette and has spoken with residents who are excited for what it will bring to the community.

He said that the people of Gillette will be happy once the dust settles and will appreciate that it came to Gillette.

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Jessica Seders, executive director of the Campbell County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, acknowledged that there is an ongoing staffing shortage in Gillette and that it is difficult.

On the other, the community also talks about diversification, and the camporee is the best example of that that could have been brought forward to the leaders of Gillette and Campbell County.

“Is the answer to throw our hands up and say we’re not going to do it because of staffing?” Seders asked. “We can figure it out, we have done much bigger things than this before. But I hate for us to give it up because it’s going to be hard. Almost everything that we do in Gillette is hard, but we do it.”