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WNRF highlights conservation at WSF

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The Wyoming State Fair (WSF) is home to two conservation programs directed by the Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation (WNRF) – the Pathway to Water Quality project and the Living Legacy Tree Program. These programs bring education to the fair, while also incorporating meaningful conservation practices.  

The Pathway to Water Quality project was completed in 2013, and was intended to capture runoff from the WSF and divert it to a wetland area to be filtered prior to entering the North Platte River. The project partners and volunteers have invested nearly $500,000 in enhancing the fairgrounds and protecting water quality, while providing an educational opportunity to the more than 40,000 fairground users.

Pathway to Water Quality

The Pathway to Water Quality project was designed to promote cost effective and proactive water quality management practices at the WSF. Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) Watershed Coordinator Cathy Rosenthal, who worked on the planning team, says before the project existed, there was a natural drainage area receiving runoff from the horse barn area – any rain hitting the pavement would run into this area. 

“It looked a bit like a wetland,” she says. “The area seemed like it could be a neat, educational, natural resource space on the fairgrounds.”

Partners, including the WNRF, WACD, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, Converse County Conservation District, Wyoming State Forestry, WSF and others, came together to discuss the idea of the project and utilizing the natural space. The initial project area grew into a larger area as partners realized there were other potential areas of runoff at the WSF needing to be diverted. A catchment system was implemented to drain runoff towards the receiving wetland area.

“WNRF initiated this project to conserve and unify the area, prevent runoff from hitting the river and prevent pollution,” says WNRF Executive Director Kelli Little. 

Contractors were hired to build a walkway and a drain tile system running parallel to the river all the way down to the wetland area. The project is centralized around a pathway to guide fairgoers and others to water quality exhibits and demonstration sites.

The project showcases a variety of innovative conservation approaches and technologies and can be used as an outdoor classroom to educate on water quality and effective stewardship. The drainage area was reconstructed and planted with wetland-type species, grass species, shrubs and trees as part of the Living Legacy Tree Program, says Little. 

“Along the path running parallel to the river, with the help of the Converse County Conservation District, we put up signs explaining the species along the path in natural grass plots and natural flowers,” she says. “WNRF tried to turn it into a bit of a natural resource project coinciding with the state fair.”

Living Legacy
Tree Program

Little says the Living Legacy Tree Program on the fairgrounds is another WNRF and WSF partnership providing tree dedications.

“The Living Legacy Tree Program planting phase is completed,” she says. “However, the trees we’ve planted need upkeep and care, so we are working with WSF to facilitate the inventory, replacement of trees and care. Those are things we will be very intimately involved in with the WSF for years to come.”


Both projects have evolved over the years and maintenance is required, says Rosenthal.

“We are having conversations with WSF about what maintenance and upkeep is needed, and which organization will facilitate those tasks,” she says.

“Kelli has been having conversations with WSF about what the future of these projects looks like because it has changed a bit over the past 10 years,” she adds. “Over time, the upkeep on these projects has been difficult.” 

The WACD and WNRF have had leadership transitions within the past few years, with Little taking the reins of both organizations earlier this year.  

“I have tried to get my feet under me and really try to understand all of the projects the association and foundation have going on,” says Little. “They’re very worthwhile and beneficial projects for Wyoming and it’s something we need to make a targeted effort to improve and keep things looking nice for the people of Wyoming. That’s my goal moving forward.”

Future outlook

Little says the conservation programs at the WSF are a bit outdated and “feeling rundown.”

“It is my goal moving forward to partner with WSF and other stakeholders to bring these projects back to their former glory,” she says.

She says the projects may need to be changed or updated to reach their full potential on the fairgrounds. 

“The WSF has a master plan, so we are hopeful we can work with them to incorporate these projects into their master planning so there’s a plan for the future with maintenance and upkeep of these projects.”  

Rosenthal will be moving on from the association shortly, so Little will be looking to hire two new people. 

“We will have an entire fresh team this fall or early winter going forward,” she says. “It’s a good opportunity for us to reenvision what we want to do with the projects, not only here at the WSF, but all of our projects, goals and programs moving forward.”

Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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