The Laramie Community gathered in the Lincoln Community Center Thursday night to discuss the Pilot Hill Land Purchase.

Officials from the Pilot Hill Purchase Committee, University of Wyoming Ruckelshaus Institute, Laramie Rivers Conservation District, Wyoming State Parks Office and more were there to present the public with information about the purchase and to answer their questions.

Tony Hoch, Director of the Laramie River Conservation District, kicked off the meeting with an overview of why Albany County is purchasing this land, about 5,500 acres east of town.

Hoch said the Pilot Hill Land parcel sits directly on a portion of the recharge zone to the Casper Aquifer, which supplies 60 percent of Albany County’s drinking water. Hoch said the portion of the aquifer under the Pilot Hill parcel is particularly close to the surface and very exposed and purchasing the land would enable the county to protect the area from development and contamination.

Hoch said purchasing the area would also allow the county to create a natural land preserve to an area that offers crucial winter wildlife habitat.

Melanie Arnett, Data Coordinator for the Wyoming Natural Diversity database and Pilot Hill Purchase Committee member, said the purchase would have a significant impact on Laramie’s economy.

Arnett said outdoor recreation and trails help influence decisions by businesses to relocate.

“I’d like to point out that access to outdoor recreation opportunities like this would also help us recruit businesses to town, which would add to our economic development,” Arnett said.

Arnett said the committee looked at similar trail systems to see what kind of economic impacts outdoor recreation had in those areas.  Arnett said Boise, Idaho started a trail system outside the city in the 1980’s, and it has contributed $5 million additional tax dollars to their local economy per year and $2.5 million to their county. Arnett said Fruita, Colorado also has enjoyed a 25 percent revenue spike in the spring and summer months due to outdoor recreation, particularly mountain biking, at the recreation areas in their area.

The committee said that while the price of the land was lowered from $14 million to $10.5 million, the total cost of the Pilot Hill project would total $15 million. That number includes the money needed to purchase the land, along with $3 million for a land endowment and $1.5 million for the creation of initial infrastructure on the land, such as access roads and restroom facilities.

To raise that amount, the Pilot Hill Finance committee is looking into many funding sources such as private foundations, as well as federal and state grants, in-kind donations as well as individual contributions and pledges. The committee is also exploring funding the purchase through a conservation easement and sales tax.

For residents who want to provide help beyond monetary donations, the committee said spreading the word through social media and word of mouth, as well as participating in public forums and taking the Pilot Hill purchase survey, which will be available at PilotHill.org shortly.