By Shawn Parker
Nestled among the pines between North and South Piney Creeks, the bedroom community of Story has long been a popular retreat for locals and visitors alike. Less than 30 miles separate Story from downtown Sheridan, but this little community tucked into a crook of the mountains can often feel like a world away. Story is characterized by abundant wildlife, incredible Bighorn views, and an air of the Wyoming uncharted. The outdoors play a major role in life in Story. Piney Creek is quickly gaining a reputation as one of Wyoming’s finest rock-climbing destinations, while fishing and hunting have been popular here for generations.
History abounds here. Story is home to the Wagon Box Fight monument and is near Ft. Phil Kearny and the site of the Battle of the Hundred in the Hands, important Indian War battlefields.
Overnight accommodations include the Story Pines Inn, Wagon Box Inn, and the Waldorf A’Story Guest Haus. Additional attractions and amenities include Centennial Park, Thorne-Rider Youth Camp, Camp Story, and Our Lady of the Pines Parish.
Story was first platted by a horse trader named Marshall Wolf, who planned to give the town his own name; when he discovered that Wolf was already taken, he named the town after Charles B. Story, a rancher who was instrumental in getting a post office established – the first building in what had until then been a town made up of only tent structures.
That was, of course, more than one lifetime ago – today, Story is truly a playground for the wild at heart. Our adventure in Story began at a tidy cabin tucked away in the woods, a special hunt of Wyoming owned by Bert Kuntz, former Special Forces Green Beret-turned entrepreneur who now owns Bison Union in downtown Sheridan. Bert shared with us what makes Story such a unique place; and how we might find our own slice of heaven hidden among the pines. Bert set us loose with a mission that would define our time in his backyard: learn to love and appreciate the land, and live off it, if we were able. Challenge ourselves by doing something adventurous that pushes us out of our comfort zones. And finally, find solitude in the spectacular Bighorn Mountains.
Our first stop was the Story Fish Hatchery, the community’s main attraction, from a visitor perspective. According to the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, the Story Fish Hatchery invites you to explore one of the ten fish hatcheries and fish rearing stations in the state. Located in the scenic ponderosa pine forest at the base of the Bighorn Mountains, the hatchery provides visitors with a unique opportunity to observe fish and local wildlife.
The original hatchery buildings were built in 1909 to serve the needs of northern Wyoming. Throughout the years, Story Hatchery has undergone significant renovations to keep up with new technology in fish culture and is the oldest continuously operating hatchery in the state. Today the hatchery grounds consist of several areas of interest. First, there is the large redwood-sided hatchery building that contains the visitor center, restrooms, and a trough room where smaller fish and the golden trout brood stock are held (a brood stock is an adult fish breeding group). In front of this building are raceways that hold the brown trout brood stock. Behind the hatchery building sit the vacuum degassing buildings, brood building and settling ponds. The tan and green brood building houses three different brood stocks (Eagle Lake rainbow, brook and lake trout) and includes a spawning area and large, modern egg incubation room.
IMPORTANT: Please note that the Story Fish Hatchery closed to the public shortly after we filmed this episode. The rising number of COVID-19 cases in Sheridan County necessitated the closure, as staff at the Fish Hatchery are required to be on site daily in order to feed and care for the fish, and cannot risk an outbreak among staff. Wyoming Game & Fish hopes to reopen the hatchery to the public in the spring.
After exploring the Fish Hatchery, we called upon our friends with Bighorn Mountain Guides to take us way, way out of our comfort zone, and up into the mountains. Bighorn Mountain Guides is permitted to guide at various climbing, hiking, and mountaineering locations within the Bighorn Mountains under an agreement with the US Forest Service. All guides are certified through the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) and have extensive knowledge and training with technical rock climbing. Bighorn Mountain Guides is owned by Nick Flores, a local athlete of significant renown. Nick began his climbing career in 2010 and is one of the few athletes ever to complete the unofficial Blacktooth-to-Blacktooth challenge. Nick has spent more 5 years as a board member on the Bighorn Climbers’ Coalition and has been a public school teacher for 8 years. Additionally, Nick serves as a member of the Sheridan Area Search and Rescue team.
After climbing around with the Bighorn Mountain Guides crew, we went out in search of solitude. There’s plenty of public land near Story, and great access to a number of excellent trails on the Bighorn National Forest, including the Penrose Trail, the Stockwell Trail, South Piney Trail, and many more.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Story is a short, 30-mile drive from Sheridan. While the quickest way to get there is via the interstate and the Meade Creek Road exit, we recommend taking the scenic route along US 87. This adds only 3 minutes to the trip but serves up incredible views of the Bighorn Mountains the entire way.
Story Fish Hatchery:
NOTE THAT THE HATCHERY IS CURRENTLY CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC. THE INFORMATION BELOW IS FOR FUTURE REFERENCE WHEN OPERATIONS CONTINUE AS NORMAL.
Info via wgfd.wyo.gov
Hours of operation: The Story Fish Hatchery grounds are open from 8 a.m. – 5p.m. daily; the Lake Trout Brood Stock Pond area, Visitor Center and restrooms are open 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. daily. The Hatchery is closed to public visitation on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Parking: Please park in the designated parking area to your right as you come in the front gate, this is a change from the past. When arriving or leaving, please watch for children!! Handicap visitors may park in the designated Handicap Parking area along the front of hatchery building. Other access can be granted to handicap visitors, please contact a worker before proceeding.
Make the most of your visit: Story Hatchery’s newly remodeled visitor center is a must-see first stop on your visit to Story Hatchery; here you will find updated information about the fish, the facility and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Informative signs are also now found at all important outdoor locations. Please note that children must be attended at all times and that all pets must be on leash.
Feeding the fish: Fish may be fed pellets from the fish food machines located inside the Lake Trout Brood Stock Pond area fence, the cost is .25 for a handful of feed. We do not provide change machines, so please plan ahead. Feed only these fish, all other fish are too small to eat this size food. Feeding of other items such as bread or other human food, dog food or rocks is unhealthy for the fish and is not permitted at any time. For health and safety reasons, we ask that you do not let children or pets wade or swim in the pond.
Certain areas are closed to the public: In order to maintain fish health and public safety, certain areas of the Story Hatchery grounds are closed to the public. This includes the vacuum degassing buildings, all areas of the brood building and a portion of the trough room inside the hatchery building.
Visiting in the summer: Story Hatchery has much to offer the summer visitor! Because of the pleasant weather and frequent wildlife sightings, this is our most visited time of year. Deer, marmots and several species of migratory birds are often found around the hatchery grounds. There is a picnic area and park/playground operated by the Sheridan County Parks and Recreation District located directly outside of the gate. Two U.S. Forest Service ORV, horse, and hiking trailheads are located within one half mile. Other popular local attractions include several geo-cache sites, Lake DeSmet, Fort Phil Kearney and the Wagon Box Fight and Fetterman Massacre sites. Several local Story businesses offer lodging, food and drink and gift-type items.
A fall or spring visit: If your main goal is to view wildlife, the spring and fall are the best times to visit. Deer, marmots, the occasional moose and bear, wild turkeys and many different bird species pass through during these times. Please note that the weather may change quickly and be on the lookout for icy walking conditions. Also be aware that, due to spawning activities, the Lake Trout Brood Stock Pond area may be temporarily closed from mid- September to mid- October.
Winter Visitation: Because of Story’s elevation and nearness to the Bighorn Mountains, winter generally arrives in mid-November and stays until mid- April. Although temperatures may be quite cold and the weather unpredictable, this can be an excellent time of year to see wildlife such as deer, wild turkeys, bald eagles and waterfowl. Story receives approximately 12 feet of snow annually so the workers spend much time plowing snow. Please use caution and watch for snow falling from roofs and working snow removal equipment when visiting this time of year.
ENJOY NATURAL PLACES RESPONSIBILITY
Sheridan County Travel & Tourism, the Wyoming Office of Tourism, the US Forest Service, The Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Sheridan County, and all our local communities hope you have a wonderful experience when you explore Wyoming. We want to encourage you to WY Responsibly, and wish to share these great tips. For more information, please visit https://travelwyoming.com/wy-responsibly
Wyoming’s wide-open spaces make for epic camping and hiking. But before you set out, here are a few things to know.
Avoid overcrowding: Outdoor recreation is more popular than ever right now, causing overcrowding in some of Wyoming’s most beautiful areas. What do you do if you show up to a trail and the parking lot is packed? Instead of joining the crowd, know what other options are around. Be ready to seek different trails and lesser-known experiences. We have dozens of suggestions on our website.
Keep it clean: Almost half of Wyoming’s 98,000 square miles is publicly owned, including many undeveloped areas that have no bathrooms or garbage facilities. It is up to all of us to do our part in keeping these spaces clean. Take all trash with you when you leave, don’t burn glass and metal in your campfire and bury human waste at least 100 feet from water sources.
Be fire aware: Help prevent human-caused fires by following basic best practices. Respect fire bans in place, choose a campsite with a pre-existing fire ring whenever possible and never leave your fire unattended. Make sure you have plenty of water available to put out your fire; you’ll need to completely extinguish it at night and before you leave camp. And remember, there are strict guidelines on fires in the Cloud Peak Wilderness.
Stick to the trails: Ride, hike or drive only on designated trails to help reduce impacts and protect wildlife. Planning to do some off-roading? The state of Wyoming requires a permit to use trails and roads that are part of Wyoming’s State ORV program. You can find more information on trail etiquette in Wyoming here.
Respect Local History: Tread lightly and take only photographs with you when you leave. You will find ancient historic and ceremonial sites, Indian Wars Battle Sites, and many other iconic locations on your travels our here. Sites like the Medicine Wheel are still in use by native peoples; pictograph and rock art sites are extremely fragile, and should not be touched, defaced, or otherwise disturbed. We appreciate all of the wonderful folks who come to Wyoming to explore responsibly.
Note that professional filming is not allowed within the Cloud Peak Wilderness, and therefore, all the filming for The Backyard takes place outside of the wilderness boundary. Filming in the Bighorn National Forest is performed under a permit with the United States Forest Service. Please remember to practice good leave no trace principals, and leave the wilderness, as well as the forest, in the same condition you found it, so that those who come next may experience it the same way you did.
Click here for more information on wilderness regulations via the US Forest Service.
WHEN TO GO:
Sheridan County is a bustling community year-round, with many events, activities and attractions operating 12 months of the year.
Sheridan Fulmer Public Library:
The Wyoming Room in the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library at 335 W. Alger Street, Sheridan, Wyo. was created in 1986. In 1994, the library expanded its facility by 3,400 square feet to house extensive historical collections. Researchers and other library patrons can browse through books, genealogical sources, maps, audio and film recordings, obituaries, and other items. The Wyoming Room is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (307) 674-8585, visit the library’s website at https://www.sheridanwyolibrary.org/location-hours/
We recommend Ken Keffer’s Hiking Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains, an outstanding guide to area hikes. We also recommend the National Geographic Trails Illustrated maps. Both are available from local bookshops, outfitters, and outdoor shops in Sheridan County.
Consider gearing up at one of our local shops or outfitters to keep Sheridan County’s outdoor industry thriving. Local outposts include Rocky Mountain Discount Sports, The Sports Stop, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Shipton’s, Tractor Supply Co., and Big Horn Trading.
WHERE TO STAY:
Sheridan County has accommodations of every type to suit your Wyoming adventure dreams. Check out our online directory for information on hotels, motels, guest ranches, camp sites, RV parks, and more.
For our full album of photos from this trip, visit our archive here.
For all of our short films, videos, and other film-related content, follow us on YouTube by clicking here.
STAY SAFE AND HEALTHY:
Currently, Sheridan County and the State of Wyoming are seeing a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. In an effort to better protect residents from COVID-19, Sheridan County Public Health Officer Dr. Ian Hunter has issued a Public Health Order requiring that all adults within Sheridan County, Wyoming wear facial coverings in certain places open to the public, with some exceptions.
Click here to view Public Health Order 2020-4.
The health order will go into effect on Wednesday, November 18 and remain in effect through December 4, 2020. This public health order has also been signed by Wyoming State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, who has approved orders in 12 Wyoming counties.
Observe Forest Service regulations when exploring the Bighorn National Forest. Bars and restaurants currently have limited seating indoors. Click here for up-to-date COVID-19 information and resources.