Lander is a great venue when students get off campus. There are opportunities in town for outdoor recreation, cultural activities, sports, dining, and much more. In this gently bustling and attractive Western town (population ca. 7,000; altitude 5,357 feet), the presence of a four-year liberal arts college could not fail to attract considerable attention and to generate much excitement among the locals, as it has done throughout a state that had only one four-year university-level program (that of the University of Wyoming in Laramie) prior to WCC’s establishment. Some residents used to describe Lander as “a college town without a college.” We are glad to have resolved the dilemma.
Lander boasts 11 parks, 6 baseball fields, 5 soccer fields, 6 tennis courts, an olympic-sized swimming pool, an18-hole golf course, and a skating rink, not to mention several fitness centers.
Mention “Wyoming” and some people imagine remote, one-horse towns with a single saloon and a post office doubling as a bank. There are still places like that in the Old West, but Lander isn’t one of them. As the seat of Fremont County (a county almost 10,000 square miles in extent—about the size of the state of New Hampshire!), it employs a large number of county officials. It is famous as the international headquarters of the National Outdoor Leadership School, which operates out of three sizeable buildings in town, including the historic Noble Hotel. Major employers include the Wyoming Life Resource School, Lander Regional Hospital, the Fremont Motor Company, and Eagle Bronze, one of America’s foremost foundries. The county library is located here featuring a large addition that opened in 2009. An extensive Museum of the American West, with special attention to native and pioneer culture, features a brand new Pioneer Museum.
Lander boasts 11 parks, 6 baseball fields, 5 soccer fields, 6 tennis courts, an olympic-sized swimming pool, an 18-hole golf course
, and a skating rink, not to mention several fitness centers. Add the Arts Center
with its many classes and exhibits, the Fremont County Orchestra, and the Wyoming Shakespeare Festival Company
(all based in Lander), and we are talking about one vibrant community. Annual gatherings such as the Chokecherry Festival, the Pioneer Days and Rodeo, the Winter Fair, the Sled Dog Races, and the One Shot Antelope Hunt supply year-round entertainment.
Best of all, Lander is the gateway to the Wind River Range, with unparalleled opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, painting or photography, cross-country skiing, and so forth—an optimal “base camp” for expeditions into a vast, unspoiled wilderness area with thousands of lakes and streams amid majestic mountains. As Lander’s brochure for visitors proudly reports: “Within easy access of town, you can reach 600 lakes and reservoirs, 2,000 miles of rivers and streams, 53 peaks over 13,000 feet tall, and five million acres of public land. There are high desert plains where antelope and wild horses roam, and deep canyons lined by towering cliffs to climb. … Lander is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. … Wildlife flourish in these open spaces. There are more antelope than people in Fremont County and most days you’ll see a raptor—be it a golden eagle or a red-tailed hawk—soaring overhead.” An average of more than 300 sunny days a year coupled with a mild winter for this part of the country make Lander well suited for year-round outdoor activities, and the stirring sight of the Wind River Range, visible from anywhere in town, offers an appropriate setting for a curriculum based not only on the True and the Good but also on the Beautiful.
Yet there is no lack of comforts for the weary traveler or explorer. Main Street is dotted with hotels and restaurants that offer a range of styles and prices, including Mexican, Italian, Thai, Chinese, and that old standby, country cooking. There are several cafés and espresso bars, two used bookstores and one new bookstore, two supermarkets, and two discount stores (one of them very close to the interim campus). The nearby city of Riverton offers more shopping if one is searching for something that can’t be found in Lander.
The town stands about equidistant from three major commercial centers of the Western region: Salt Lake City (ca. 300 miles), Denver (ca. 360 miles), and Billings (ca. 290 miles).
No wonder the Lander area has won so many accolades: among the “Best Small Towns in America” (book of the same name); #6 of the “20 Dream Towns” (Outside Magazine, August 2004
); one of the “Top 25 Coolest Mountain Towns” (Men’s Journal)
; one of the “Top 10 Outdoor Adventures” (National Geographic Adventure Magazine
); nearby Sinks Canyon State Park
, one of the nation’s top 50 state parks (National Geographic Traveler
); and the list goes on. The crime rate is low and the area’s air quality is ranked one of the cleanest in the lower 48 states. Getting to Lander takes a little effort, but that is a large part of the reason this town has retained its character and charm. Daily service to Denver is available from the Riverton airport
, 26 miles from Lander. The town stands about equidistant from three major commercial centers of the Western region: Salt Lake City (ca. 300 miles), Denver (ca. 360 miles), and Billings (ca. 290 miles).
How did WCC end up in this exceptional place? In 2005, Fr. Robert Cook, WCC’s President, investigated just short of 50 potential sites across the 100,000 square miles of Wyoming. In the end, it was divine Providence that selected the site, in the form of a donation from Francie Mortenson-Perkins of the Broken Anvil lower ranch 15 miles south of Lander—a valley of 2,300 pristine acres, offering an unimpeded view of the area’s mountains and hills. This valley, so near to the “college town without a college,” proved the ideal spot for establishing a permanent campus.
Meanwhile, the Catholic parish in town, Holy Rosary Church, located on ample property along the southern side of town (see Interim Campus), generously offered WCC the use of its facilities as an interim campus until the first phase of the permanent campus is completed. Influential members of the local community formed a Cornerstone Committee that raised nearly $300,000 to welcome WCC and to help its planning efforts. Thanks to that contribution, the College was able to enlist a team of architects from Anderson Mason Dale in Colorado who designed the campus master plan with exquisite attention to the landscape—its rolling contours, striking rock formations, and natural colors. We will leave the last word to the co-founder and former Bishop of Cheyenne, David Ricken: “The campus site and the town of Lander are so perfect for our needs that you have to believe it’s Providential that we found them both together.”
(For more community information, visit the website of the Lander Chamber of Commerce.)