Wide open space is more than a concept in Lander, Wyo.
Photo By Charles Willgren
Each year, MOTHER EARTH NEWS selects a handful of communities to highlight in our annual Great Places feature. Check out the other towns featured in our 2013 installment of 9 Great Places You've (Maybe) Never Heard of.
Lander, Wyoming. Given its location in the northern Rocky Mountains, next to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho’s Wind River Reservation, the only way not to see spectacular scenery in Lander would be to lock yourself in a windowless room. Sitting on your porch watching afternoon thunderheads boil over the purple-mountain horizon is one of the simple joys of Lander life.
Geographically the ninth-largest U.S. state, Wyoming is also the least populated — home to more cattle and antelope than people. If hunting, hiking, fishing, cross-country skiing, mountain biking and world-class rock climbing fit your description of the good life, Lander may seem like a slice of heaven to you.
“It’s a recreationist’s paradise,” says Bruce Palmer, who, as director of admissions and marketing for the internationally renowned National Outdoor Leadership School, knows great recreation when he sees it. He and his wife relocated to Lander from Cleveland in 1990 and have never regretted the move.
For Rita Peterson and her husband, Mark, living in Lander provides the perfect opportunity to combine life in a community with a satisfying degree of living off the land. The quality she especially appreciates is that their lifestyle doesn’t isolate the couple from their community — self-sufficiency is just a way of life in Lander. “You can go out and cut your own wood, hunt, fish, put up your food — it’s all here,” Peterson says. “It’s just what people do.”
Originally a ranching community, Lander still has a vivid Wild West vibe. It’s home to Wyoming Catholic College, as well as to the Wyoming office of The Nature Conservancy, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Wyoming Trout Unlimited, and other organizations devoted to preserving habitat and a healthy environment. Lander also attracts vigorous retirees who utterly reject the idea of spending their “third act” sitting in a rocking chair.
The town is easy to traverse by walking or bicycling — though when the winter temperatures dip and snow deepens, even the hardiest residents may want some covered transportation.
The extractive industries — oil, gas and coal — and large agricultural operations have always been a prominent segment of Wyoming’s economy. Palmer says those industries are still a part of the mix, which can create tension with more environmentally conscious residents. Conflict also sometimes occurs between the recreationists and the “hook-and-bullet crowd,” but these two groups generally find ways to come together on issues of access and protection of habitat.
Lander features more diverse attitudes and politics than much of the rest of this conservative state, Palmer says. Regardless of politics, civic engagement remains robust.
“Participation is a way of life in Lander,” he says. “If your kid is going to be on a Little League team, you’ll probably need to coach. There’s a high degree of ownership in the life of the community.”
Stats: Lander, Wyoming
Climate: 11.4” annual avg. precip.; January avg. high: 32 degrees Fahrenheit; July avg. high: 87 degrees F
Median household income: $46,281
Median home price: $225,000
K.C. Compton is senior editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publications, The Herb Companion and GRIT. A huge fan of the food chain, from molecules to meals on the table, K.C. is passionate about the idea that most of what we need to be healthy can be found in the garden. Find her on Google+.