Cody Chamber drops support for Spring Into Yellowstone wildlife festival

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Ruffin Prevost / Yellowstone Gate

Destin Harrell, a wildlife biologist with the Bureau of Land Management, second from left, helps bird-watchers find sage grouse during a May 2013 Spring Into Yellowstone excursion east of Cody, Wyo.

CODY, WYO. — After four seasons, the future is uncertain for a spring wildlife festival that was created to build early season tourism traffic, and focus on Cody as a travel destination for nature lovers who wanted a sneak peek of Yellowstone National Park before the summer crowds.

The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce will no longer take a leading role in organizing Spring Into Yellowstone, executive director Tina Hoebelheinrich said, but it will assist in a transition to any credible group that wants to take over the nonprofit event.

Disappointing attendance numbers, limited staff resources and rainy, unpredictable spring weather all played a role in the Chamber’s decision, she said.

“It was not an easy decision,” Hoebelheinrich said. “Spring Into Yellowstone was an amazing way to showcase our ecosystem and the beauty that is Park County and Cody.”

Launched in 2013, the annual mid-May wildlife, birding and nature festival struggled to attract a critical mass of attendees, which included a mix of locals and regional visitors. The idea behind the event was to promote Cody as a tourist destination in its own right, separate from Yellowstone, while celebrating the seasonal opening of the park’s East Entrance.

The multi-day festival featured field trips, a film festival, guided hikes, photography workshops and a diverse roster of other events led by local experts from state and federal land management agencies, along with other partner organizations.

Partners and attendees generally offered positive feedback about Spring Into Yellowstone, Hoebelheinrich, but the festival generated only modest revenue and attracted between 70-120 attendees each year. When factoring in staff time, the event was a net loss for the Chamber, and “didn’t work from a cost-benefit analysis,” she said.

A volunteer committee had worked to stage the complex and wide-ranging event each year. But so far, no group that had a hand in organizing Spring Into Yellowstone has expressed an interest in taking it over, Hoebelheinrich said.

“It’s sad to see something you’ve worked on so hard for four years just kind of wither away and die, but I understand that it’s a tough time of year” for attracting tourists, said Bonnie Lawrence Smith, an event volunteer and curatorial assistant for the Draper Natural History Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Smith said the Center of the West lacked the resources to host the event.

That’s also the case for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said said Jenny DeSarro, Wyoming Conservation Associate for that group.

“The concept is great, and that’s why we put a lot of time into it,” said DeSarro, who also was a volunteer organizer. “But it’s just not reaching enough people for the amount of time spent on it.”

Some volunteers have discussed the idea of reviving the festival in a streamlined form, focusing on just a few events over a single day. Attracting local visitors for such a one-day festival might offer a base for eventually building a larger program, but no details are in place yet for such a plan.

Hoebelheinrich said the chamber would work with anyone interested in taking over as the lead organizer for Spring Into Yellowstone, and would share information, branding and other resources to help move the festival to a new home.

Disclosure: This story’s author, Ruffin Prevost, was an unpaid volunteer for Spring Into Yellowstone.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].

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