THE CODE OF THE WEST
THE CODE OF THE WEST was first chronicled by the famous western writer, Zane Grey. The adventurous men and women who came to this part of the country during the westward expansion of the United States were bound by an unwritten code of conduct. The values of integrity and self-reliance guided their decisions, actions and interactions. In keeping with that spirit, we offer this information to help those escaping to the west following in the footsteps of those rugged individuals by living outside the city limits.
It is important for you to know that life in the country is different from life in the city. County governments are not able to provide the same level of service that town/city governments provide. To that end, we are providing you with the following information to help you make an informed educated decision to purchase western land.
Property taxes paid to the county does not always cover the cost of the services provided to rural residents. In general, those living in the cities/towns subsidize the lifestyle of those who live in the country by making up the shortfall between the cost of services and the revenues received from the rural dwellers.
This information is by no means exhaustive. There are other issues that you may encounter that we have not addressed. We encourage you to be diligent in your education of Wyoming or western life, with full awareness of the very different way of life folks here live your dream of escaping to the west can be an enjoyable life of western reality.
We offer these comments in the genuine western style in hopes this can help you enjoy your decision to reside here. It is not intended to dissuade you, only to inform you of the cost of living in our Western Paradise by the Code of the West.
The fact that you can drive to your property does not necessarily guarantee that you, your guests and emergency service vehicles can achieve that same level of access at all times. Please consider the following:
1. Emergency response times cannot be guaranteed. Under some extreme conditions, you may find that emergency response is extremely slow and expensive.
2. There can be problems with the legal aspects of access, especially if you gain access across property belonging to others. It is wise to ask your Realtor about access and just whom owns the road. Also seek legal advice and understand the easements that may be necessary when these types of questions arise.
3. You can experience problems with the maintenance and cost of maintenance of your road. Many rural properties are served by private and public roads which are maintained by private road associations. There are even some county roads that are not maintained by the county – no grading or snow plowing. Some public roads are not maintained by anyone, some are barely two-tracks. Make sure you know what type of maintenance to expect and who will provide that maintenance.
4. Extreme weather conditions can destroy roads. It is wise to determine whether or not your road was property engineered and constructed.
5. Many large construction vehicles cannot navigate small, narrow roads. If you plan to build, it is prudent to check out construction access.
6. School buses travel only on maintained county roads that have been designated as school bus routes by the school district. You may need to drive your children to the nearest county road so they can get to school.
7. In extreme weather, even county maintained roads can become impassable. You may need a four wheel drive vehicle with chains for all four wheels to travel during those episodes, which could last for several days.
8. Natural disasters, especially floods, can destroy roads. The county will repair and maintain some county roads; however, subdivision roads and private roads are the responsibility of the landowners who use the roads. A dry creek bed or meandering stream can become a raging torrent and wash out roads, bridges and
culverts. Residents served by private roads with private bridges can be hit with substantial repair/replacement costs for reconstruction after floods.
9. Unpaved roads generate dust. Dust is still a fact of life for most rural residents. Unpaved roads are highly unlikely to be paved in any foreseeable future. County Road and Bridge Department is your resource for information.
10. Unpaved roads are not always smooth and are often slippery when wet and naturally muddy. You will experience an increase in vehicle maintenance cost when you regularly travel on these types of roads.
11. Mail delivery is not available in all areas of the country. Ask the postmaster to describe the system for your area. Newspapers are the same.
12. Standard parcel and overnight package delivery can be a problem most folks in Wyoming. Few carriers deliver overnight.
13. It may be more expensive and time consuming to build a rural residence due to delivery fees. IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Wyoming does not test or license home builders, contractors, re-modelers, etc. They may have little to no experience and you have no protections from poor or inadequate practices. SEEK professionals previously or currently licensed in a jurisdiction requiring competency and can provide experience at least to the level of your project.
14. Trespassing. “Good fences make good neighbors”. Unfortunately, trespassing is becoming an increasingly larger problem. Wyomingites do not take well to finding you out wandering on their property, driving on their roads, walking your dog on their property.There is no automatic right to hunt, fish, hike, jog or bike one someone else’s property. PERMISSION is required. Just because there is not a “No Trespassing” sign posted does not mean “come on in”. A road does not imply public access. Know who owns the property you are on, know the ownership of that road, respect the rights of cattlemen and property owners. It is NOT OK to trespass.
Water, sewer, electric, telephone and other services may be unavailable or may not operate at urban standards. Repairs can often take much longer that in towns or cities. Please review options from the non-exhaustive list below.
1. Telephone communications can be a problem, especially in the mountain areas and vast undeveloped areas of Wyoming. This includes cellular phones, on and off network. This also includes services for internet access.
2. If sewer service is available to your property, it may be expensive to hook into the system.
3. If sewer service is not available, you will need an approved septic system or other treatment process. The type of soil you have available for a leach field will be very important in determining cost and function.
4. If you access to a supply of treated domestic water, the tap fees can be expensive. Your monthly costs can be higher than you are accustomed.
5. If you do not have access to a supply of treated domestic water, you will need to know what other options are available. The most common is a water well. Permits are granted by the state engineer and the cost can be considerable for drilling and pumping. Quality can not be guaranteed from season to season. Some areas well drilling is cost prohibitive or simply no water to be found. Talk to your REALTOR.
6. Not all wells can be used for watering of landscape or livestock. Permits can be restrictive. Costs for chemically potable water can be excessive. Ask you REALTOR about such uses in the area.
7. Electric service is not available in every area in Wyoming. Determine proximity of power and the cost to extend from existing if purchasing vacant land.
8. It may be necessary to cross other property owners to extend electric service, be sure easements for such are available and at what cost.
9. Electric service is usually divided into a fee to hook up (and related construction costs) and monthly charge for service and energy consumed. These charges vary from power company to power company.
10. Power outages can occur in outlaying areas with more frequency than in more developed areas. This can cause loss of your supply to water from your well, food in refrigerators and freezers, cause problems with computers and electronics.
11. Do not take trash removal for granted. There may not be rural pickup, if there is the cost may be high, you may elect to haul to the dump yourself. It is illegal to create your own trash dump, even on your own land.
There are many issues that can affect your property. It is important to research these items before your purchase. DUE DILIGENCE, talk to your REALTOR.
1. Not all lots are buildable. Not all counties issue building permits, find out prior to purchase.
2. Easements may be required for roads and utilities that cross your land. There may be easements NOT of record.
3. Unified or Severed Estate, know which way you are purchasing.
4. A plat of your property without survey and pins recently placed or verified by a licensed surveyor cannot reflect accuracy.
5. Fences have historically been placed for ease and rarely reflect property lines.
6. Land divisions, small or large tract, subdivisions and planned developments may have CCR’s (covenants, conditions and restrictions) which will limit your use of your property. Many have included inability to have horses (clearly not a Wyomingite developer). Make sure you can live with these rules. Lack of these can create a whole new list of problems, be sure you can live with that too.
7. Home Owner Associations (HOA’s) are sometime required in subdivisions to manage and care for common elements within the development. Dysfunctional associations or poor CCR’s can cause problems and can even involve you in expensive CIVIL litigation.
8. HOA Dues are many times required. The by-laws specify use of these funds.
9. Surrounding properties will probably not remain as they are indefinitely, unless you purchase them. Find out how they are zoned, how they are “broke” currently and ownership.
10. An irrigation ditch running across your property does not necessarily give you water rights. It is likely however, the owners of the ditch have the right to come on your property to maintain the ditch. Water rights do not automatically transfer.
11. Water rights in Wyoming are priority date based.
12. Consider flowing water as a potential hazard especially to young children.
Residents of Wyoming usually experience more problems when the elements and earth turn unfriendly. Some thoughts to ponder. . .
1. The physical characteristics of your property can be positive and negative. Trees are wonderful, but can be a fire risk. A home built at the top of a forested draw should be considered as dangerous as building in a flash flood area. Utilize defensible perimeters. Exercise extreme caution burning outdoors. If you start a forest fire, you are responsible for paying for the cost of extinguishing that fire.
2. Steep slopes can slide in unusually wet weather. Large rocks on the move can present great danger.
3. Expansive soils, such as Bentonite, can buckle concrete foundations and twist steel I-beams. Subsidence can overnight create a vast depression sixty feet in diameter and 30 or 40 feet deep with no sign of the surface vegetation in the hole.
4. North facing slopes or canyons rarely see direct sunlight in the winter. North side snow accumulations may not melt throughout the winter.
5. Topography can tell you where the water will go when snow melts or with heavy precipitation. Filling in ravines and attempts to divert drainage can be devastating.
6. A dry gully can be a river.
7. A gentle river can be white water rapids.
8. All that snow on the peaks ends up in the rivers. Spring run-off can cause rivers to flow outside of the banks overnight.
9. Mother Nature will provide you with some wonderful neighbors. Animals like deer can cause moderate property damage as well as personal harm to you, remember they ARE wild. As more and more folks escape to the west our homes encroach on the traditional habitats of our wildlife like coyotes, bobcats, deer, elk, moose, buffalo, antelope, bears, gray wolf, grizzley, prairie dogs and others. We can live together with concessions on both parts. Aggressive predators, the grizzly and the introduced Canadian grey wolf, are not socially managed and the only natural enemy they have is humans. Without control of grizzly bears and wolves, their numbers will continue to grow dangerously encroaching on our living habitat. Keep in mind HUMANS are BELOW the food chain of these aggressive hunters and they are protected from control. They have also wreaked havoc on our livestock and big game populations, such as the majestic elk, moose and deer populations (as have mountain lions).
10. Snowfall can be devastating to structures due to heavy accumulations during short periods. Make certain your contractor/inspector addresses loads on roofs in existing and new construction. Spring blizzards can drop two feet or more of heavy snow in 24 hours.
The people who tamed this wild land brought water to the barren, arid slopes of the Rockies through an ingenious system of water diversion. This water has allowed agriculture and ranching to become an important part of our environment. Owning rural land means knowing how to care for it. Some things you should know…
1. Ranchers often work around the clock. It is possible that the adjoining agriculture uses can disturb your peace and quiet.
2. Land preparation and other operations can cause dust, especially during windy and dry weather.
3. Ranchers occasionally burn their ditches to keep them clean of debris, weeds, and obstructions. This burning creates smoke you may find objectionable.
4. Chemicals are used often in growing crops and controlling noxious weeds.
5. Animals and their manure can cause objectionable odors. What else can we say?
6. If you chose to live here, do not expect our governments to intervene in farming and ranching. Wyoming has “Right to Farm” legislation that protects farmers and ranchers from nuisance and liability lawsuits.
7. Wyoming also has an open range law, otherwise known as fence out state. It is your responsibility to fence out livestock. Bulls and horses must be fenced in.
8. Know if your property has noxious weeds and the cost of control. Some plants are poisonous to horses and other livestock.
9. Animals can be dangerous and they can attack humans. It is not safe for anyone, adult or child, to enter fenced areas and pens where animals are kept.
10. Precipitation in Wyoming varies, we have high plains dessert and may have problems with overgrazing and fugitive dust. Land can only handle a certain amount of grazing. Extension Offices can aid in education.
11. Trespassing cannot be stressed enough. IT IS NOT OK.
12. On a final note… the bawling calf that looks to be alone, is not. He is not an orphan. It is not ok to take him home. All cattle belong to somebody, we have no feral bovine. That is rustling, it is still a hanging offense on the law books today.
Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed.
ALL IMAGES & CONTENT COPYRIGHT M. MCAMIS
1967-2012 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.