Display on coal dedicated at Gillette science center

On Feb. 1, the school district and Basin Electric dedicated “Pathfinders: Coal and the future of energy.”
Second graders get a look at "Pathfinders: Coal and the future of energy" at the Campbell County School District Science Center.

The coal industry means a lot to the community of Gillette, WY. Now, the school district’s science center has a display focused on the history of coal, its economic impact in the state and nation, and the technology being developed and in use now, to keep coal viable as a fuel source for generating electricity.

On Feb. 1, the school district and Basin Electric dedicated “Pathfinders: Coal and the future of energy” at the Campbell County School District Science Center. The exhibit gives visitors a look at the history of mining Powder River Basin coal, how coal powers the economy, how electricity is essential to everyday life, and how coal is a clean source of fuel to produce energy.

During the dedication, Dr. Boyd Brown, Campbell County School District superintendent, said Basin Electric has had a good relationship with Gillette since the development of Dry Fork Station, a coal-based power plant near Gillette.

“Basin Electric did a great job with the mancamp that their construction workforce used out by our Rawhide Elementary School. They made sure the camp was safe and clean, and fostered a relationship with the school through safety poster contests, and other educational partnerships,” Brown said. “The new exhibit is important for our students and the public. … I think it’s fitting this display focused on clean coal technology. If you go out and visit Dry Fork Station, you can eat off the floors, it is so clean. We have had officials visit the Dry Fork Station from Washington, D.C., and I think it’s an example of showing how coal is getting it right.”

Students and adults are already learning from the display. Jodi Crago-Wyllie, Science Center director, said 6,000-8,000 students tour the center every year.

“Often, I’ll get questions about what we do in Campbell County, if a visiting school or tourists come through. I would send them to the local museum or visitor’s center, but I thought it would be great if we could tell that story here,” she said. “This is the story of coal, from the ground to the house. … We’re a proud working community, we’re proud of what we do, and I want to share that with the world. I want the kids who come through here to be proud of where they come from; there’s a lot to be said about that. I think giving them the opportunity to learn about industry is a good thing.”

Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King said people who visit Gillette come with preconceived notions that the town will be dirty because of the coal industry.

“After seeing how we do things, some leave here wanting to come back or even move here,” she said. “All of them leave with a better understanding of how our industry cares for the environment. This exhibit is a wonderful new tool for our community to educate on the importance of coal to the energy mix of our nation, and how coal is mined and used responsibly. … And with the innovations that will come out of the Wyoming Integrated Test Center, it’s exciting for Gillette and Campbell county to be at Ground Zero for what is sure to be a game-changer for the coal industry.”

Basin Electric used materials that had previously been used in a display at the North Dakota Heritage Center’s Governor’s Gallery. Curt Pearson, Basin Electric director of media/community relations, said Pathfinders is an extension of the relationship the cooperative has built with Gillette since 2005.

“Commitment to community is one of our guiding principles as a cooperative. As we came to Gillette to build the Dry Fork Station years ago, we reached out to the city, county, the school district. We built those relationships then, and our policy to be a good neighbor has extended here,” he said. “It’s important that we contribute to our communities. A healthy, vibrant, growing Gillette is good for Basin Electric and our employees, too.”