8 – Lander, WY

Episode 8: Where People Take Good Care of the Environment with Louisa Hunkerstorm

Louisa Hunkerstorm describes a Great America where people take really good care of the land, water, air and environment.

She is an educator who currently works at Central Wyoming College. In the past, she has worked as an outdoor educator and in other teaching and learning settings. She is a proud Wyomingite, a parent of two little kids, cross-country skier, and a lover of literature and beautiful places.

Louisa grew up in Wyoming on a farm, 30 minutes away from school and other amenities. She used her imagination and spent lots of wonderful time playing out in nature. This experience of growing up with a deep connection to the land lead her to a career in outdoor education. After many travels and adventures she returned to Lander to share her knowledge and raise her own family.

 The book by Rick Bass that Louisa mentions in this episode is “The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness.”

Louisa works at Central Wyoming College

Lander, WY: THE GREAT AMERICA OF 1983-2007

Lander, Wyoming, experienced a heyday from the mid-1980s to the 2000s, as the city recovered from the economic blow of a mine closure to become an internationally known center of the emerging outdoor recreation industry. The city of less than 8000 residents is an example of a successful shift from extractive industry to ecotourism and tells a story of the American West in transition.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Lander served as a railroad hub for ranching, farming and mining in the region. By the 1960s, nearby iron mines dominated the economy and local affairs. This came to an end in 1983, when the last of the mines closed as the American steel industry collapsed nationwide. The streets of Lander were soon lined with for-sale signs as families went elsewhere to find employment.

But the foundations of a new economy were already in place. Already a destination for tourists for hunting opportunities and dude ranches in the Wind River Country, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), which specialized in outdoor skills and eventually, environmental education, was established in 1965. It moved into a permanent headquarters in downtown Lander in 1971, and expanded rapidly through the 1970s and 80s as outdoor recreation came into its own as an industry nationally. By the 1980s, Lander became a focus for what would come to be called ecotourism as other outdoor programs and environmentally-oriented nonprofits like the Nature Conservancy would establish themselves there. In the 1990s and the 2000s, Lander achieved a reputation as a “college town without a college” for a youth-oriented culture and an active arts scene which belied its relatively small population, even becoming home to a well-regarded record label and an NPR affiliate. 

Lander, however, faces a problem common to other towns dependent on a tourism economy, namely housing. While after the closure of the mine, there was plenty of housing available, this would not last as NOLS and the tour companies expanded. The community has been hard-pressed to house the seasonal workers the tourist industry needs, and the shortage of affordable housing has increasingly made attracting permanent employees a challenge. This would become a perennial issue as local leaders continue to struggle to address this need.

Lander’s status as a “college town without a college” ended in 2007, when Wyoming Catholic College was founded there, attracted by the unique cultural vibe of the place. The city remains a center for outdoor recreation and the spectacular scenery of central Wyoming assures its future vitality as a community. However, recent efforts by state and county officials to attract investors to re-open the iron mine, something which has been met with a certain ambivalence in Lander, show that there are still those in leadership who have not accepted the new economy. This will doubtless be a source of tension in the future.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

4 thoughts on “8 – Lander, WY

  1. This podcast was a trip down memory lane, I watched Louisa grow up!
    Her voice makes me smile about the past, delight in the present, and feel hopeful for the future.
    Her optimism is a bright star in the sky!
    Thank you for caring Louisa!


    1. Thanks Carolyn, Louisa was a great guest. It was an honor to have her on the show. I am so glad you enjoyed the episode.
      -Laura Milkins


      1. Laura-
        What a wonderful project, it must be inspiring to hear a chorus of voices around the country sharing great stories – glad to have access!
        Best Regards,


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