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A History of Powell, Wyoming

John Wesley PowellPowell, Wyoming is named for John Wesley Powell. Many considered J. W. Powell an adventurer, however he always maintained he was not; nor did he see himself as an explorer. J. W. Powell always held up that he was a scientist, motivated by a thirst for knowledge and a firm belief that science was meant to further the progress of humankind.

John Wesley Powell did, however, explore rivers throughout the Rocky Mountain Region. Those explorations led to the formulation of some of the fundamental principles of geology. Powell went on to develop an understanding of the natural conditions that control society in the arid lands of the Western United States and he developed guidelines for the orderly development of the region.

The development of the City of Powell began when workers came to the area to create a flood irrigation system in the valley now known as Powell Valley. Homesteading began and agriculture became the driving economic force for Powell with the availability of the irrigation water for farm lands. The Shoshone Project oversees irrigation for approximately 88,406 acres surrounding Powell. The water supply for Shoshone Project is obtained from surface runoff, mainly snow melt, above Buffalo Bill Reservoir. Buffalo Bill Dam, situated in a steep narrow canyon between Cedar Mountain and Rattlesnake Mountain, impounds flood waters of the Shoshone River and thereby provides regulation of stream flow for irrigation, flood control, sediment retention, power generation, recreation and fish and wildlife propagation.

The soils of the irrigable area are divided into two broad categories: (1) residual soils underlain with shale and sandstone containing moderate to excessive amounts of soluble salts which are located in Irrigation canal, Park County, Wyomingthe northeastern par of the Shoshone Project; and (2) modified alluvial soils underlain by gravel deposits which are predominant in the remainder of the project.

Annual consumption use of irrigation water in the driest years is approximately 2.5 acre-feet per acre. The historical diversion requirement to meet these demands for water has been about 7.6 acre-feet per acres annually for full irrigation supply.

Agricultural products from the Shoshone Irrigation Project are widely distributed, and include: beans, peas, oats, barley, wheat, sugar beets, corn for silage, alfalfa, other forage, and seeds are the principle crops grown under irrigation in the area.

Recreational activities have become an added benefit of the irrigation system created to support and supply water.  Both Big Horn Lake, northeast of Powell, and the Buffalo Bill Reservoir abound with recreational opportunities.  Area creeks and rivers that feed the reservoirs teem with fish, and make fishing a popular year-round sport.

Situated at the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park, Buffalo Bill Reservoir is located on the eastern slope of the Absaroka Mountain Range and is bounded by spectacular Rattlesnake Mountain and Cedar Mountain. The Shoshone River has carved a narrow and precipitous gorge nearly 3,000 feet deep through granite. The combination of canyon scenery, mountain backdrop, and reservoir activities attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

Water related activities constitute the basic recreation attraction. Fishing is popular in the reservoir. Deer, elk, game birds, and waterfowl abound within the Shoshone Project area.

More information about the Shoshone Irrigation Project, and information on purchasing irrigated property is available from:

Shoshone Irrigation District
337 E. 1st St.
Powell, WY 82435
Ph: 307-754-5741

Agriculture Tours, including tours of the irrigation systems, are available through the Chamber of Commerce. Please contact the Chamber of Commerce office for more information.