Wyoming news briefs for June 9
Yellowstone Memorial Day visits up 50% from 2019
JACKSON — Yellowstone National Park hasn’t yet wrapped up its monthlong May visitation estimates, but the flagship park did publish figures about how many vehicles passed through its entry gates over Memorial Day weekend. Traffic shot up an astounding 50 percent compared to the same holiday weekend in 2019 — the most recent comparable year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While those numbers are eye-opening, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly has been predicting for months an upswing in visitors.
“This will be a record year,” Yellowstone’s superintendent said in May during the Charture Institute’s tourism-themed 22 in 21 conference.
Sholly’s best guess is that between 4.5 million and 4.7 million visitors will come to Yellowstone in 2021, which would be a 12-percent to 17-percent bump. Visitation estimates are derived from raw traffic counts, using an algorithm that factors the average number of people per vehicle.
Over the Friday-to-Monday holiday weekend, Yellowstone saw 43,416 vehicles pass through its five entrance stations. That’s up from 28,890 vehicles over the same holiday weekend in 2019. Traffic through the South Gate also surged. Some 7,470 motorists that weekend cruised by the entrance station that overlooks the Upper Snake River, up from 5,010 during the 2019 Memorial Day weekend — a 49-percent jump.
The data aligns with the record-smashing April in Yellowstone: An estimated 67,500 people came to the park to recreate, a 40-percent increase over April 2019.
Sweetwater Co. health officials continue to struggle with COVID
ROCK SPRINGS — Local health officials are concerned that many people are acting like COVID-19 is over, while the reality is that COVID cases continue to spread, especially in Sweetwater County.
Sweetwater County was leading the state of Wyoming with the highest rate of cases per capita as of Monday, June 7, when local health officials and community leaders hosted the monthly COVID-19 update meeting through Zoom.
Sweetwater County had 71 active cases as of Monday afternoon — second only to Laramie County with 77 cases. However, Laramie County’s larger population means the county still had “orange zone” moderate to high transmission levels with 150 cases per 100,000 people, as opposed to Sweetwater County’s “red zone” high transmission level of 302 cases per 100,000 people.
Sweetwater County also had a 9.9-percent positivity rate as of Monday, compared to the average 2.4-percent positivity rate for the state of Wyoming on the whole.
Kim White, the incident commander and director of emergency services for Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County, reported that the hospital has seen an increased number of COVID-19 patients lately. According to White, more COVID-positive patients have come through the ER recently, with as many as eight in one day, and more people have been coming to the hospital’s swabbing station for testing.
The hospital also had two COVID-related deaths recently, according to White, with one of the patients being under 50 years old.
Man accused of Gillette area fraud pleads guilty
GILLETTE — A 52-year-old Colorado man accused of defrauding investors in the Gillette area and around the country has pleaded guilty to two related counts.
Robert “Bob” William Mitchell of Centennial, Colorado, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud, according to Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray.
The mail fraud was in connection with a scheme to defraud investors in a Wyoming natural gas production venture. According to court records, Mitchell solicited investments he claimed would be used to create a publicly traded natural gas production company in Wyoming.
Instead of developing any company or safeguarding the investors’ money as promised, Mitchell used the money to pay his personal expenses and to finance the scheme. Mitchell stole more than $1.3 million from about three dozen investors, most of whom lived in and around Gillette, Murray said.
The conspiracy to commit securities fraud was in relation to the common stock of NuTech Energy Resources Inc. According to court records, Mitchell conspired to artificially inflate the market price of NuTech common stock by manipulative trading and by releasing to the public false and misleading information about NuTech’s business prospects, Murray said.
Mitchell then sold his worthless NuTech shares to unwitting investors in the public market. The indictment also charges three other men with crimes arising from the alleged conspiracy. Their jury trial will begin Sept. 20 in Cheyenne.