Evanston’s missed opportunities


I’ve mentioned before that I’m a junkie for America’s national parks. I travel regularly to visit National Park Service (NPS) units, both those new to my family and our old favorites. Our very favorites of the old favorites include those near Moab, Utah — Arches and Canyonlands — as well as our favorite Wyoming park, Grand Teton. 

I invariably find myself meeting folks from all over the world on these trips, sharing tips on places to see and things to do for those visiting and finding themselves awestruck by the scenic beauty of the area I’m proud to call my home. 

I also lived in Moab for a period of time, waiting tables in a pizza place when I was much younger, where I became very accustomed to chatting with travelers also looking for suggestions and tips. 

Due to my passion for all things related to our national parks, I subscribe to several publications, both print and online, whose only purpose is to provide travelers with information on little-known hikes, great restaurants to try, places to stay, etc. 

Several times in recent weeks, I’ve found myself struck by the titles of some of the emails I get from these national parks publications, including things like “16 Things to Do Between Yellowstone and Utah’s Mighty Five” and “Great Diners in Wyoming and Utah.”

I’ve learned that many travelers — both from around the world and from the U.S. itself — plan a trip to the west as a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. They regularly start at the Grand Canyon in Arizona and travel northward through Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches, and then end their trips in either Grand Teton and Yellowstone or continue even further north to Glacier National Park at the country’s border with Canada, or vice versa. 

As anyone who’s driven from Utah to Yellowstone knows, that route goes right through our little city. 

Imagine my disappointment then when there is virtually zero mention of Evanston anywhere in these national park traveler guides. Actually, I personally have never seen one single mention. 

Out of curiosity, I paid a visit to the Travel Wyoming website the other night. For those who don’t know, Travel Wyoming offers an abundance of information for anyone looking to visit the state, including sending out free travel guides. 

After clicking on Evanston under the list of cities, I was again disappointed to see the Events page completely blank, while the Places to Stay and Things to Do tabs linked to a few Trip Advisor reviews but offered little other information. 

What a missed opportunity. 

In speaking with world travelers while on my adventures, I routinely get asked things like, “What do the locals do?” Visitors often want to see what authentic life is like in the West and not the over-commercialized version offered up in many tourist meccas. 

I believe our community is really missing the boat when it comes to capturing some of these tourists who invariably have to travel through Evanston while on their huge adventure. 

As a matter of fact, Evanston is almost exactly the halfway point between Yellowstone and the Moab parks. There are tourist dollars to be captured by encouraging folks to stop here and get a taste of the “real West,” particularly during community events like Cowboy Days and the Uinta County Fair and for things like the races at Wyoming Downs and the Evanston Rodeo Series. 

I will admit that I don’t know the logistics of getting some community information on the Travel Wyoming website, but, judging by the information available on other cities, I’m sure it’s completely do-able. 

Even the sparse information available there on Evanston’s Roundhouse contained mostly just a link to the City of Evanston website for more information, which also doesn’t offer up a lot. Meanwhile, a link to a several-minute YouTube video on the history of the Union Pacific Railroad is entirely about Cheyenne with not a single mention of Evanston and our lovingly renovated Depot and Railyard Complex. 

In this time when we seem to constantly hear about economic development and growth, along with concerns about downtown and Evanston’s Main Street, it seems to me we should be taking every opportunity to promote our fair city. 

The Bear River Greenway and Bear River State Park offer abundant wildlife viewing opportunities as well as opportunities to cool off near or in the Bear River. 

We certainly have our chain franchise restaurants for travelers who want that, but we also have a number of other options. 

Bon Rico offers steaks as big as a roast that can surely only be found in the West, while Suds Bros. serves up local brews in a great atmosphere and R&R Station has unique fare like my personal favorite, the parmesan-crusted grilled cheese (with turkey). We have multiple other small restaurants operated by local people that have something for everyone. 

For a small town, we have hugely talented folks performing live on stage with Sagebrush Theatre and other community organizations, while Arts, Inc., brings in performers from literally all over the world. Looking at the community calendar for the summer, there is some type of community event nearly every single weekend. 

While Jackson and even Cody may have museums and abundant stores, they also have a whole lot of “tourist traps” that you won’t find here, and our Uinta County Museum and Joss House can surely keep visitors occupied for hours. (On a side note, Evanston folks who haven’t visited our museum should really do so.) 

Traveling just a bit outside of Evanston itself allows visitors to take in historic Fort Bridger or the Piedmont Kilns. 

In my years of visiting NPS units, I can attest to the fact that attendance is growing exponentially, as are the problems that accompany that growth. Parks are overcrowded and tourist towns surrounding them similarly so. People are starting to actively seek out options and destinations that may not be national parks but nevertheless offer unique recreational and vacation opportunities. 

I guess I’m puzzled as to why we’re not promoting ourselves on sites like Travel Wyoming and trying to capture tourist dollars. 

I’m an Evanston native and I (for the most part) love this little city. I’m extremely proud of our historic preservation and what we have to offer. I was thrilled to see the crowds of people in town when the Big Boy came through to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad. I literally saw people downtown taking pictures of our street signs. 

I wish we were taking advantage of other opportunities to show it off. I wish visitors from the world over could regularly see what I see, bringing in much-needed dollars and economic growth in the process. 

I wish, even just once, to see something about Evanston mentioned in the national park guides offering up suggestions for things to do en route from Utah to Wyoming. 

Travelers are looking for suggestions. We should be providing them.

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