State park provides venue for rendezvous, local events
Evanston – In addition to providing a year-round outdoor space for the citizens of Evanston to enjoy, the Bear River State Park, located just southeast of town, also hosts the Bear River Rendezvous each year on the weekend before Labor Day.
The state park sits on 334 acres within city limits and was opened in the early 1990s. It includes nature trails, picnic areas and shelters and opportunities for fishing, tubing and floating the river as well as captive bison and elk.
Bison have resided on the ranch since it opened, beginning with yearlings brought down seasonally from Hot Spring State Park in Thermopolis. “Once they got staffing here full time they decided to establish a herd here, and it’s been here ever since,” says Park Director Wade Henderson.
The herd is composed of 10 adult animals – eight cows and two bulls – and eight calves this year.
“The bison calves we ship around Oct. 1 to Hot Springs State Park, where they keep them until around Christmas, when they do a sealed bid auction on them. That money goes back into the bison program used by both state parks for things like feed, vet bills and fencing needs,” says Henderson.
The original pair of bull elk was brought to Evanston from Kendrick Park in Sheridan. “They were released April 1, 1995,” says Henderson, noting that one died in August 2007 and is now mounted in the Travel Center. “We replaced him last January with two young bull elk that were a year last spring. The old one that’s left is seven by seven this year.”
“The wildlife serve as a viewing herd for the public,” says Henderson, adding the park also hosts wild elk in the winter along with moose and mule deer that migrate downriver from the south.
“We had a really wet June, with rain 23 out of 30 days,” says Henderson, noting the park doesn’t usually do much irrigating except in the captive animal pastures. “We don’t have a really good water right, and we don’t rely a lot on the water because it’s not a focal feature of the park. When the water drops our visitation actually goes up because more people come to play in the river.”
The captive herds occupy 75 acres of the park, with the rest accessible to the public and wildlife.
“We have a lot of local support, with about 200,000 visits every year and the bulk of those being repeat visits from local people,” says Henderson.
Along with the usual groups of family and class reunions, weddings and parties, the state park hosts the annual Rendezvous.
“The Rendezvous is held on the south end the park in an open meadow where there’s no visible development or modern structures, so it’s a perfect place to hold it,” says Henderson. “We get a lot of people coming to this rendezvous that travel over to the Fort Bridger rendezvous the next weekend on Labor Day.”
Henderson says those who travel that circuit favor the Bear River Rendezvous because of its small size. “It’s a little more personable than some of the bigger ones, with a laid-back atmosphere and 25 to 50 traders,” he says.
The traders sell pre-1840s merchandise, including beads, furs, clothing and buckskins. There are also competitions such as a Fry Pan Toss, Hawk and Knife Throw, Mountain Man Walk and shooting contests as well as the Bear River Ball.
“Several hundred people come to it throughout each day, and it’s a decent-sized event,” says Henderson.
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.