Time to launch Cheyenne’s Railroad heritage to expand tourism revenues

There are millions of people who have a railroad connected hobby. Many professionals and hobbiests love photographing all things trains. Trainspotters try to view and catalog all of a certain type of rolling stock. Line or track ‘bashers’ endeavor to cover as much of a specific railway network as possible. Some enthusiasts love to research railroad history. Others enjoy railway modelling. We have a large group, the Sherman Hill Railroad Club in Cheyenne, who celebrate with Cheyenne Railroad Heritage Days each year. This event continues to grow with attendees from all over the world.

Because of the historic significance and romance of the railroad, even those of us who are not into any of those hobbies will take the time to check out railroad displays, events and activities.

Mayor Patrick Collins is working with Union Pacific officials in an effort to create a connection from the Depot to the nearby roundhouse on the south side of some of the tracks. That roundhouse houses and maintains UP’s small fleet of rare, operational, historic steam engines. Access to the roundhouse has been discussed in the past, but never gained traction for various reasons. Such an attraction will bring in tons of railfans.

There was a time around 1990 when some of this was discussed in Downtown Development Authority meetings and beyond. It was shortly after the $2 million dollars was secured from the state to fix up the Depot building donated by UP. Politcal heavyweights Al Weiderspahn and Win Hickey were on the DDA board at the time. It was even suggested then that perhaps the vacant Hynds Building could be converted into a new Wyoming State Museum. The museum was outgrowing it’s space. The concept was the combination of the Depot Museum, Depot Square, and roundhouse access with the state museum on the opposite corner would really revitalize downtown Cheyenne.

Unfortunately the Hynds renovation and conversion project proved to be too costly, and politicos from other areas of Wyoming felt Cheyenne had already received enough state funding for projects. There was also some sentiment among legislators at the time, that if the state museum was to be moved, other Wyoming communities should get a chance at the project.

As our local leaders now look to move projects like these forward, perhaps it is time to revisit the museum idea for the Hynds Building. After all, it is still vacant all these years later.

In the new agreement with Visit Cheyenne, the city has committed just $120,000 as public seed money for the project. The return in lodging tax and sales tax revenue could be enormous over the long haul (pun intended). The city has also committed to help Visit Cheyenne with grant writing, assistance from the city Engineering Department, and perhaps future access to some sales tax revenues. The city will also manage the completed project.

This partnership is a great start, and there are many hurdles to clear before the idea becomes reality. But the current mayor, city council, and county commissioners have shown a real willingness to find ways to move projects forward. We are fortunate to have leaders here who are willing to work well together to get things done.

When you combine this proposed railroad tourism expansion with the ‘Live the Legend’ western, cowboy image of Cheyenne, the growth in visitors and the potential money they would bring is substantial. Cheyenne Frontier Days is our premier destination event of the summer and generates tons of money in the Cheyenne economy. Further development of Cheyenne’s railroad heritage with attractions and activities will spread our reputation as a tourism destination year round.