FORT LARAMIE – Mayor Joyce Evans and Councilmembers Laura Curtsinger and Mike Doan joined a band of National Park Service (NPS) employees on the east side of the Fort Laramie Community Center Tuesday morning after the National Park Service delivered a circa 1880s Studebaker water wagon for the town to display at their newly established park area.
“The association purchased the wagon for the park around five or six years ago,” NPS Cultural Resource Manager Chris Mather explained. “Water wagons were used at the post between 1870 and 1880 to move water around for livestock or supply.”
A rancher out of Centennial contacted the fort some time ago and asked if they would be interested in purchasing the water wagon, which they had used to water cattle before parking the wagon. The association ended up purchasing the wagon and then was going to donate it to the park.
“We didn’t have a place to exhibit it,” Mather said. “It has been in limbo for the last better part of a decade.”
The town had another wagon they had acquired some time ago, so the association decided to donate the water wagon to compliment the wagon the town already possessed.
Katja Cook, business manager for the Fort Laramie Historical Association (FLHA), told the Guide she had grown up in the area, left for a while and had recently returned. After returning, she became employed by FLHA as the business manager for FLHA’s bookstore/gift shop on the Fort Laramie National Historic Site (NHS).
“COVID, last year, really hurt the association,” Cook said.
Cook explained how she was working to try to build the bookstore’s splendor back to where it was before the COVID pandemic.
Cook explained how the Fort Laramie NHS had partnered with the town of Fort Laramie to help better utilize some of their assets they weren’t actively using.
“They have a great amount of historic artifacts and things like that,” she said. “This was an extra they didn’t know what to do with. It came about that they decided to go ahead and present this (the water wagon) to the town of Fort Laramie for everybody’s enjoyment at the community center.”
Cook said the wagon was donated by the NHS and FLHA aided in arranging the transportation of the water wagon to Fort Laramie and also provided funds to purchase linseed oil to help protect and preserve the condition of the wagon.
Mayor Evans and Councilmember Curtsinger came together in early spring after the geodome was fully constructed and pondered what they could do to bring more attention to the community center and geodome to draw inquisitive people, both locals and guests, to the location.
“We decided that we needed to complete the area around the greenhouse in order to make it more interesting to people from out of town and more friendly and comfortable to people in town.” Evans said. “We decided since we had the one historic wagon from the fort, we wanted to use that area to bring people up to this place, and what better way to do it than to plant some interesting plants.”
Evans’ and Curtsinger’s vision for the area is plant native plants, such as sagebrush and Indian Paintbrush, around the wagons to create both an interpretive location for people to learn about native vegetation and also to provide visitors with a glimpse of what a pioneer would have seen as they traversed the area for the first time.
“We had a lot of help from a lot of people, and we were able to get a state forestry grant,” Evans said. “They granted us $10,000 to complete this project, so we have done all of the structural changes.”
Local businessman Jim Hageman offered to donate some rocks from the area for the project, so Evans and Curtsinger visited Hageman’s business and were able hand pick rocks to display in the park area.
In addition to Hageman’s contribution, the Lingle-Fort Laramie Lions Club agreed to donate time to the effort by applying linseed oil to the water wagon and working over the wagon to protect it from the elements and preserve it for as long as possible.
The town placed pea gravel around the rocks, sidewalk and cement pads to provide a safe environment for families and guests who visit the area.
Plant experts Bob and Jane Dorn of Lingle agreed to assist the town of Fort Laramie with the introduction of native plants to the setting of the park and to also provide guidance on the planting and care of the native plants in the park.
In addition to the plants themselves, Evans hopes to have signs displayed to show the history of the plants, their medicinal and cultural uses and other information.
“We will try to have a little history, a little ethnobotany, a little plain botany and basically, a place where people can come, sit, relax, contemplate, enjoy and do whatever they want,” Evans said.
Evans and Curtsinger have high hopes for what they wish to do with the area and the park. They hope to use the park to attract more families to the area and more specifically, the town of Fort Laramie.
“It’s all about the families,” Evans said. “We want young families that will raise their families here.”
“We just want to make this entire area really gorgeous,” Curtsinger said. “And make it so our people, our tourists or our residents, want to spend time in it.”
It comes as no surprise that a project like this can be costly and time-intensive, but Evans, Curtsinger and a major portion of the community have made the dream a reality. The impact on the town’s budget is minuscule due to volunteers, donations and neighbors helping neighbors.
Evans explained the only way the town’s budget was affected was caused by the labor put forth by the town’s maintenance employees and the use of town equipment.
Evans said Curtsinger and her had filed for numerous grants to make the project become a reality, and almost all of the time spent writing the grants was done off the clock and by their own hand.
Out of the total cost of the project, around $3,500 was expended by the town to accomplish the completion of the project according to Evans. She explained that included everything put in by the town, labor hours of the staff, insurance for the staff, equipment usage, etc.
Evans and Curtsinger expressed their earnest gratitude for all of the volunteers and businesses who have come together as a community to aid them in carrying out the execution of this project. They hope the town as a whole will take pride in what they have been able to accomplish and will stand with them as they move forward on the project.
Stay tuned to the Lingle Guide for updates on the progression of this project.