The Powder River Basin Resource Council (Powder River), in partnership with researchers at the University of Wyoming Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, has unveiled Wyoming Voices, a pilot project looking at how storytelling may support communities in transition. Through this process, eight participants from Southwest Wyoming not only told their personal stories of loving and living in the region, but also had the opportunity to learn from each other. From this diverse group of people whose backgrounds and work experiences all differ comes a deeper story of the area that is more complex than just the economic forces bearing down on the region.
“I found that sharing my experiences living in Southwest Wyoming, and particularly the Kemmerer area, gave me an outlet to share what drew me here,” said Bill Price, a storyteller who lives in Kemmerer. “But more importantly, I learned more than I would have believed by listening to others’ experiences. Listening to the others in the group gave us all a strong bond. Reliving the emotion and thrill of my experiences brought back some wonderful feelings. I look forward to hearing other voices that will give me a chance to see Southwest Wyoming through their eyes. Participating in this project gave me chance to prove to myself that staying here was the right choice.”
Southwest Wyoming has become an epicenter in the nation’s energy transition away from coal. This is illustrated by the upcoming retirement dates for units at both the Jim Bridger and Naughton coal plants, in Rock Springs and Kemmerer, respectively. These closures, and the mining jobs connected to them, will result in job losses and lost local tax revenue, but there has been little movement at the state level to help plan for the coming transition in a way that includes people on the ground in these impacted communities.
The storytelling project aims to elevate local voices in the ongoing conversation about how these communities can thrive as the transition moves along. The stories can help drive change as well as identify what community members themselves see as priorities and opportunities in their communities. Though each video is only a few minutes long, they show the depth and breadth of people’s lived experiences in the region, why they value the region, and why they stay despite economic uncertainty.
“A person traveling through southwestern Wyoming once told my grandfather, ‘Anyone who would live here has never lived anywhere else,’” said Roger Varley, a storyteller from Point of Rocks in Sweetwater County. “As for me, I never take for granted that the beauty of this place escapes most people. Whether it’s a howling blizzard, a battering dust storm, or just a plain old hot dry day, I can’t NOT see the beauty. I may not be able to make someone else see what I see, but if they listen, they will know my passion for it. That is why telling my story is important,”
StoryCenter, a non-profit organization that specializes in digital storytelling, facilitated the process to help each person create their stories and share their unique perspective. The Equality State Research Network at the University of Wyoming provided funding. Powder River and Haub School researchers are continuing community-based research around these stories through 2022. Powder River’s YouTube Channel and the organization’s website host the eight unique stories: http://www.powderriverbasin.org/what-we-do/coal. For more information on the video series, contact Powder River at 307-672-5809 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.