WYOMING — Ed Stetons life in Wyoming is well documented.
He is widely recognized as one of the most celebrated black bears in the United States, and he also has the most popular photo of him.
But that legacy is fading fast in the small community of Hope Lake.
The resort town is facing an existential crisis, with a decline in visitors and declining revenue.
A study by the U.S. Forest Service says that as many as 15% of the population has been removed from the community, leaving it to a dwindling population of roughly 400 people.
The town’s residents say they’re losing their way, unable to find jobs, find their own homes and have no place to live.
A lot of them are people who have been through hard times, like we have.
We have no money, no income.
There’s no place for us to live,” Hope Lake resident and former ski guide Tim Hagan told CNN.
Hagan is the former owner of the ski lodge where Stetsons family is believed to have first encountered the black bear.
He says the community was devastated by the loss of the black bears presence, but it is not over yet.
Stetsons son, Tom, says that the black Bear Lodge is a place of refuge.”
I’m glad to see this lodge here.
It’s a place where they can be safe and comfortable and not have to worry about what’s going on outside,” he said.
But the resort’s future, which had been on the upswing, has come to a screeching halt.
The resort was built in 1926.
It is now a ski resort with two lifts, a day-use area and a community center.
It closed last year, leaving more than 200 people without a place to stay.
Hope Lake Mayor Jim Gifford says the loss has been devastating, with some resort owners unable to secure the money needed to keep the lodge open.
The last of the resort owners, Ed Stietsons son John, was charged with burglary in January.
He was sentenced to five years in prison, but was released on parole in April, after serving just three months.
The next day, he was arrested for assault on a police officer and is scheduled to be sentenced in February.
The lodge closed its doors to the public in September.
In a statement, Hope Lakes mayor Jim Gafford said the resort is no longer a safe place for people of all ages.”
Hope Lake has lost one of its most beloved landmarks.
We ask that you please consider leaving and staying at another ski resort.””
We want everyone to feel safe and secure here.
We ask that you please consider leaving and staying at another ski resort.”
A former Hope Lake employee, Chris Wiebe, said that Stetsonian was a popular, hardworking man.
“He was a very well respected person, respected by his fellow employees.
They felt comfortable and welcomed him to the place,” he told CNN, adding that the community had lost its spirit and spirit to the mountain.
Hope Lakes residents are asking that the ski resort not be shut down and that Steton’s legacy be preserved.