Town Of Jackson, Wyoming Worries About Tourism And Business Because Of Landslide | Big Horn Basin Media

Town Of Jackson, Wyoming Worries About Tourism And Business Because Of Landslide

Written by on June 13, 2024

After the initial shock at losing it’s main connection to Idaho in a landslide, residents of Jackson, Wyoming are now coming to grips with not knowing when the highway can be repaired and reopen.

And that has business and employees in town panicking.

Jackson Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Howe has been fielding dozens of phone call from frantic business owners, tourists, and others who all want to know if the town of Jackson is open.

The town is asking government agencies, local and state politicians as well as taking to social media to get the message out that Jackson is still open for business despite the “catastrophic failure” of a good chunk of Highway 22 collapsing on early Saturday morning.

“The national media sometimes will only state half the story,” Howe tells Cowboy State Daily. “So there were some stories yesterday from national outlets that essentially said a major thoroughfare going into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has been closed off due to a landslide, and their message was this could be catastrophic for the Jackson Hole community.”

Howe explains that there are actually three different ways to get to Jackson, but they aren’t the most direct routes.

Teton Pass Reroute

The reroute of Teton Pass in Jackson, Wyoming adds a least an hour or more to commuters trying to get from Idaho to Jackson. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps).

According to WYDOT and Governor Mark Gordon, it’s not immediately clear how long it will take to reopen the highway, which is a vital road for people who live across the border in Idaho and work in Jackson, a popular tourist attraction that serves at the gateway for many visitors to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.

Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Darin Westby addressed these concerns in a statement and said that the catastrophic failure could not have been avoided.

“We understand this highway is a lifeline for commuters, deliveries, medical care access and tourism, especially with limited alternatives and the summer season upon us. WYDOT engineers, surveyors and geologists mobilized quickly to try to maintain highway viability as long as possible, but catastrophic failure could not be avoided,” Westby said.

“People like to embellish the dramatic,” Howe said. “But all the assets are still available and open. This is just one tributary that has been shut down. The realities are it’s probably more of an impact from a local effect than a visitor effect.”

The main issues that has to be immediately addressed is where to house the Jackson workforce who commute into from Idaho.

Area hotels and motels are looking at how they can offer temporary housing for essential workers who live in Idaho.

During the pandemic, some businesses allowed their employees to work remotely so they didn’t have to commute.  That option is being explored and offered by some businesses, but it’s not a panacea.

Other businesses are considering ways to stagger shifts to try alleviate the commuter crunch. The START bus service, meanwhile, has already reworked its schedule to try and better accommodate commuters.

Jackson has hit the ground running when it comes to taking care of its workforce so that it’s open for the summer season.

The stunning landslide that wiped out part of Wyoming Highway 22 between Jackson and eastern Idaho does create huge headaches for many Jackson workers who live in Idaho due to a lack of affordable housing in Jackson.

About one-fifth of the Jackson workforce commutes from Idaho at least four to five times a week, and Teton Pass has been the main connection between the states for those employees.  Yes, there are other ways to get to Jackson from Idaho, but it’s not as “the crow flies.” Winding roads from Swan Valley, Irwin, and Palisades are on the Idaho side, and then Alpine, Hoback, and South Park on the Wyoming side make for an excruciating extra hour or more to start and end their work day, according to Google maps. And that’s not with congestion, delays, and other variables that slow down commuters to a crawl trying to get to work with the 4,000 other cars, many of them tourists, are also taking this scenic route into Jackson.

Because of the highway collapse, an estimated 5,000 people are now also coming from Idaho on this two-lane highway. That almost doubles the number of cars on a highway that was never designed for that amount of wear-and-tear and volume.

That’s a huge pain for Jackson’s workers but for tourists, the equation is a bit different. Teton Pass is not a main artery for getting into either Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks.

In fact, most visitors never go over Teton Pass at all, Howe tells Cowboy State Daily.

“A lot of people have never been to Jackson Hole, so they don’t know that you don’t have to go over the pass to get to national parks,” he said. “And people don’t realize that there’s multiple ways in and out of the area.”

Photos of the washout on Teton Pass bring to mind another catastrophic washout not so long ago. Historic flooding of Gardner River in June 2022 wiped out the north entrance road to Yellowstone National Park, forcing the evacuation of 10,000 visitors.

The park was also shut down in the midst of the very busy summer season that year which was a devastating hit to many of the businesses in the area, including all the towns next to the main entrances to the park.

Jeanette Mikos, owner of Yellowstone Basin Inn in Gardiner, for example, says she lost in the neighborhood of $500,000 worth of reservations in 2022. Yellowstone Wonders, one of the many tour companies in the area, lost almost all of his customers as well.

Wyoming’s overall tourism visits dropped 8.5% year over year in 2022, which Wyoming Office of Tourism Director Diane Shober told Cowboy State Daily in 2023 was largely due to Yellowstone National Park’s closure.

That impact wasn’t just centered around Yellowstone, though. Communities along the way to Yellowstone, like Casper and Cody, had fewer visitors as well.

Direct travel spending, not adjusted for inflation, was $166 million more in 2022 year over year, but adjusted for inflation, the overall spending was down 9%. Just how much top was shaved off Wyoming’s tourism spend in 2022 isn’t known.

But with 8.5% fewer visitors, it was no doubt in the millions of dollars.

A repeat of that, as national and international travelers view footage of a Teton Pass washout that looks eerily similar to the Yellowstone National Park’s north entrance road washout, is definitely not what anyone in Wyoming wants to see. ”

Tourism is big business in Wyoming,” Office of Wyoming Tourism Senior Communications Manager Piper Singer told Cowboy State Daily. “As the second-largest industry, it’s crucial to continue to advocate for the health of our economy, the small businesses and many other trade-supported jobs that have felt the impact of the devastating mudslide.”

Singer said Wyoming Office of Tourism is partnering with Teton County to put out messages that ensure visitors know Jackson is accessible despite the mudslide, and that it is more than ready to welcome summer tourists to town.

“Our efforts include working with local and national media outlets on tourism experiences in Jackson, a site map to showcase the accessible roads to-and-from Jackson, as well as ongoing social media efforts,” she said.

The whole tourist season depends on travelers getting that message, and Wyoming Office of Tourism wasn’t the only one sending that message out on Tuesday.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort took the unusual step of saying it’s business as usual at the resort.

“While the landslide on June 8 on Highway 22 closed Teton Pass between Jackson and Victor, Idaho, JHMR and Jackson are still accessible via the Jackson Hole Airport as well as Highway 191 for visitors traveling from the North, South and East, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks,” a media release from JHMR says.

“JHMR officials spent the past three days assessing how the road closure will affect employees, their families, and guests, and determined this incident will not delay the resort’s opening day.”

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