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Jackson Wyoming

Jackson Hole Airport Reopens With New Eco-Friendly $44 Million Runway

in News/Transportation

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The busiest international airport in the state is back in business.

After a 78-day closure, the Jackson Hole Airport – with its new, eco-friendly, $44 million runway – resumed service Tuesday.

And the first flight, an American Airlines jet, received a hero’s welcome complete with water cannons christening its arrival.

Meanwhile the staff at the airport picked up pretty much where they left off, according to Kevin Dunnigan, the airport’s communications assistant.

“It was kind of like a normal Tuesday, in terms of enplanements and passengers coming through,” Dunnigan told Cowboy State Daily. “But we’re kind of shifting gears now as a staff, from reopening to getting ready for the July Fourth holiday.”

The midsummer celebration is typically one of the busier travel times of the year for the only airport in the country located in a national park (the airport merged with Grand Teton National Park in 1950). Because of the popularity of Grand Teton and Yellowstone in the summer, air traffic in Jackson peaks in the summer.

“This weekend, and then into July Fourth, we’ll see those numbers tick up a little bit,” Dunnigan said.

The Jackson Hole Airport hosts four major airlines year-round – Alaska, American, Delta and United – and in the summer months, Allegiant, Frontier and Sun Country Airlines offer direct flights between Jackson and Denver.

So the closure of the airport for major renovations did cause a bit of a dent in the local economy, according to Dunnigan.

“It definitely had an impact, but we’ve seen, just anecdotally, that the tourists are still coming,” he said, pointing out that the majority of visitors coming to Jackson choose to drive rather than fly.

For those who do arrive by plane (and that’s a significant number – in 2019, the airport saw around 455,000 passengers), their aircraft will be landing on a state-of-the-art runway made by recycling the material that was torn up from the previous runway.

Airport communications Director Meg Jenkins told Cowboy State Daily earlier this year that by milling the old runway, it would save thousands of dollars in materials and fuel.

“That part is estimated to keep about 8,500 trucks off our local roadways, and save 187,000 gallons of fuel,” Jenkins said.

Additionally, an eco-friendly drainage system was built into the project, filtering runoff from the tarmac through layers of rock and soil.

“This runway, to my knowledge, will be the most environmentally respectful runway with those drain systems and filtration of any runway that I’m aware of in the United States,” said Jim Elwood, Executive Director of the Jackson Hole Airport.

And although the major renovations are complete, Dunnigan said there’s more work to be done.

“During the closure, we started first demolishing and now remodeling the restaurant that we have on site,” he said. “We’re looking at having that completed by November of this year.”

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Only Two Homes In Jackson Under $1 Million; Real Estate Prices Doubled In Last 18 Months

in Housing/News

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Real estate prices have more than doubled in Teton County in the past 18 months and properties selling for less than $1 million are increasingly rare in the county’s limited housing inventory, according to a report by a Jackson real estate company.

Prugh Real Estate, in a report on real estate conditions in the first quarter of the year, said of the county’s 39 active residential listings, only two have an asking price of less than $1 million. The next least expensive 13 properties are on the market for from $1 million to $3 million. 

The residential property with the highest sale price currently on the market tops the $19 million mark.

In his 20 years of selling, Greg Prugh, broker and owner of Prugh Real Estate, said this is the lowest inventory he’s seen at such high prices.

Where last year a three-bedroom condo in Jackson sold for $775,000, the same property today was just sold for $1.5 million, Prugh said. His own house in downtown Jackson has more than quadrupled in value in the eight years since it was built.

The housing shortage is not a new situation, Prugh said, but the current shortage exacerbates a growing problem in supply and demand identified by a new Teton Region Housing Needs Assessment. 

The assessment, which looked into the housing needs of Teton County and surrounding communities of Teton County, Idaho and northern Lincoln County, identified an estimated need for about 5,300 new affordable housing units to address anticipated demand through 2027.

Despite a handful of new housing projects, the community is nowhere close to meeting that demand.

“We’ve always had a housing problem,” Prugh said, “but it’s more acute today.”

Influx of Out-of-State Buyers

Prugh said a dramatic increase in the housing sales occurred in March 2020 when panic buyers – mostly from other states such as California, New York, Texas and Florida – began gobbling up properties, buying at a much faster pace than had been seen before.

According to the input from local realtors included in the March housing assessment, many of these properties were purchased as second homes or “safe havens” to ride out the pandemic as work-from-home policies made it possible to live and work anywhere.

The influx of out-of-state buyers far outpaced local buyers, according to the report.

By the same token, locals took advantage of market dynamics and sold their local properties to purchase homes on the Idaho side of Tetonn Pass, many paying for these homes in cash.

However, rising home prices in Teton County predate the pandemic and can be traced back to 2015.

On average, housing prices have been rising by 16% per year since 2015 for single-family homes and 9% per year for attached condominiums and townhomes.

A more significant leap was seen in more recent years.

Between 2019 to 2020, the price for a median single-family home has jumped 44% — 27% for condominiums and townhomes, the report said.

In the first 10 months of 2021, the median sale price of a condo or townhome was $422,000 while the price for a single-family home averaged around $750,000.

The prices, combined with limited supply, have made purchasing a home below $1 million nearly impossible for many locals in Teton County and surrounding areas.

Changing Dynamic

Prugh said he is conflicted about the current market. While he and his firm have profited from 30 deals in the first quarter, he said it’s a bittersweet situation.

“We are happy, but we don’t know what the second quarter looks like,” he said. “It’s like eating all your Halloween candy in one setting. It tastes sweet and good but you’re going to get a stomach ache immediately following.”

Part of his discomfort is knowing that every sale drives someone else out of the valley where he was born and raised.

“I worry about the service providers, the guy who changes your tire and the nurse with a family whose rent just went from $3,000 to $5,000 a month,” Prugh said. “We have to protect our local population.”

The current housing shortage implies a larger problem in the future — what happens to Jackson when all the locals have been pushed out and the town no longer has restaurants, coffee shops and local businesses because service workers cannot afford to live in Jackson. It’s not good for the locals or tourists, Prugh said.

“You have to worry that Jackson becomes a cruise ship in the future,” he said. “People come to Jackson because they want to meet locals. They don’t go to meet other tourists. They are coming to experience Jackson and the community. We need both the working and leisure class.”

Former Miss Universe Olivia Culpo Visits Wyoming; Not Likely To Tend Cattle

in News

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It wasn’t the first time former Miss Universe Olivia Culpo had attracted attention for wearing an interesting outfit.

The swimsuit model, who has been told by airlines to cover-up because of what attendants said was revealing attire, received national attention for wearing a revealing western outfit she promoted while visiting Jackson, Wyoming, on Tuesday.

The Daily Caller heralded the backless western top and cowboy hat combo as “the best ever”.

Wyoming outdoorspeople, though, weren’t that sure.

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich was complimentary about some aspects but expressed concern about other details.

“That’s a sharp and functional hat she has,” he said. “She is smart to go with black clothing in cold weather, as black absorbs the light that hits it and converts that light into heat.  

“I am concerned about her exposed skin,” he added. “Frostbite is nothing to mess with, just ask the Olympic Finnish cross-country skier Remi Lindholm who recently suffered a frozen penis.”

Cutouts in Culpo’s top concerned other Wyomingites as well.

Lander-based outdoorswoman Joy Bannon, who is an avid hunter and angler, said it is not likely Culpo would be tending livestock or packing horses while wearing that shirt.

“Her shirt is not wild west although it is wild in its own way,” Bannon said. “I would recommend a more snap-button down shirt that is more suited for the outdoors.”

Bannon had high praise for the rest of the ensemble, however, calling Culpo’s snip-toe cowboy boots and boot-cut jeans “sharp” and adding the model’s cowboy hat is a type often associated with outfitters in the West.

Former legislator Lori Garrison liked the hat as well and said she assumed it was beaver fur. She wondered, however, where Culpo would carry her gun. After all, it is Wyoming.

“Is the Chanel handbag their new conceal carry option? Otherwise it’s a no go,” Garrison said.

“Honestly as cold as it has been, how do those things not expand and explode?” she added.

Former Attorney General Gay Woodhouse brought up the gun thing too.

“I have no doubt that the gear will improve her aim,” she said.

As for Wyoming Equality Director Sara Burlingame, she’ll take Culpo as she is. No need to change anything.

“She would fit right in on the Wyoming Equality Trap Team,” Burlingame said. “We’re willing to waive the $45 free if Ms Culpo wants to take the next step.”

Calls to Culpo’s agent were promptly ignored.

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Jackson Food/Hospitality Workers Live in Forest Because They Can’t Afford Rent in Richest County in US

in Teton County/News

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Jackson is home to some of the world’s wealthiest individuals — and to many of the working poor who meet their needs.

The disparate economics of the working class vs. homeowners in Teton County is among the most extreme in the nation and has created housing situation where people who want to work in Jackson can’t afford to live there. 

According to a report released last month by the Economic Innovation Group, Teton County has the highest per capita income in the country — over $250,000. The county’s wealth is comparable to places like Manhattan, New York; San Mateo, California; and Palm Beach, California — but for the area’s labor force, it’s a different story.

Although the latest data isn’t available, last fall the county’s food service and hospitality workers earned an average of $15.64 an hour. 

Sharel Lund, executive director of the One22 Resource Center, said some employers are beginning to pay their workers more, but it is still not enough to let them keep up with housing market.

“I think that most employers that I’ve talked to have increased wages,” said Lund, whose organization provides assistance to those in need in the county. “But, you know, nobody really knows if the wage increase is on par with the housing increase, it’s pretty tough to keep up with that.”

Lund said many people move to Jackson without understanding that although jobs are available, affordable housing is not.

“It’s hard to believe the scarcity of housing that actually exists,” she said. “They see a dozen pages of ‘help wanted’ ads and are  like, ‘Sweet, I’m going there.’ But the lack of housing here is really quite literally unbelievable.”

An ad in the local newspaper earlier this summer listed one available rental in nearby Wilson as a “5br/4ba newly remodeled house” that could be had for $20,000 a month.

This type of price is a little steep for rural Wyoming.

According to the Jackson/Teton County Housing Authority, for the third quarter of 2021, vacancy rates remain at 0% — meaning there simply are no homes people to move into. 

Rental rates for studio units went up about 6% this year to around $1,825 per month. A three-bedroom apartment in Jackson averages around $3,700 per month, according to the most recent data.

Camping As Housing

So what are workers to do? Well, many go camping — for the whole summer.

Bridger-Teton National Forest officials estimate that between 300 and 500 people are living in the nearby forest during the summer season. Chris Moll, director of the Hirschfield Center for Children in Jackson, said families camping in the forest because they don’t have a place to live has been occurring for decades.

“I’ve lived here for 30 years, and that’s been going on for as long as I can remember,” Moll said. “It’s always been an issue here… I think now, it’s just way worse than it’s ever been because of the divide between the haves and the have-nots here.”

Moll said in the winter, when the weather turns cold, some hotels in the area will lower their rates to allow families an affordable roof over their heads.

“So during the school year, when things start getting cold, some of the lower end hotels will open up monthly rates,” he said. “And we’ll see, you know, a family of four or five living in a hotel room.”

Lund said her organization can only do so much.

“A couple of years ago, rent assistance really made a difference for folks, helped bridge the gap, if they were just getting started, or maybe they had a seasonal layoff or something like that,” she said. “What we’re finding now is that housing just isn’t available at any cost. I mean, the inventory is just simply not there.”

She explained that with the housing market as hot as it is, some properties are being sold for a large profit, but the tenants who may inhabit those homes are then displaced.

“A lot of folks who have rental housing, are needing to reclaim that rental housing from their open market rental for their own employees,” she said. “So it’s a shift, you know, so they’re housing someone else. But that’s displacing the person that’s in it.”

To be fair, Lund said, there is a push to build more housing in Teton County right now.

“There is a lot of housing coming online, there’s a lot being built – but it’s just not fast enough, and it’s not of enough quantity, and it’s still expensive.” 

Hughes Charitable Foundation

One organization which stepped up this summer is the Hughes Charitable Foundation which donated $10 million for affordable housing in July.

The $10 million dollar gift is the single largest private donation toward affordable housing in the history of Teton County.

The $10 million gift is directed toward housing the workers at a diversity of human service-focused organizations in Jackson Hole: Senior Center of Jackson Hole, Community Entry Services, Community Safety Network, Curran-Seely Foundation, One22, Teton Literacy Center, Children’s Learning Center, Climb Wyoming, Jackson Hole Community Counseling, Teton Youth and Family Services, Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson Police Department, and Jackson Hole Fire/EMS.

“We wanted to do something meaningful to support our community’s safety net workers. They are the unseen heroes of our community, and we want to help ensure that they can continue to meet our community’s needs in perpetuity,” said Wayne and Molly Hughes of the Hughes Charitable Foundation.

“We wanted to do something meaningful to support our community’s safety net workers. They are the unseen heroes of our community, and we want to help ensure that they can continue to meet our community’s needs in perpetuity.”

This gift will enable the Housing Trust to accelerate its next project and break ground in the summer of 2022. By 2023, 10 essential human service organizations and three public service entities will have the opportunity to offer stable, secure housing to key employees.  

‘It’s like we’re constantly slapped down, so I feel like this gift was so uplifting,’ said Sarah Cavallaro, executive director of Teton Youth and Family Services. ‘It’s like someone sees what we’re doing.'”

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Teton County Opts Out of State Plans; Keeps Gyms, Hair Salons Closed

in News/Coronavirus

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Teton County’s gyms, hair salons and massage therapy services will remain closed until May 11, even though such services elsewhere in Wyoming will be allowed to open Friday.

Teton County officials, with the approval of Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s public health officer, have implemented more stringent orders for the reopening of such businesses than what is in place at the state level.

Dr. Travis Riddell, Teton County’s health officer, said the county needs to continue reacting cautiously to changes in the coronavirus situation.

“It’s not a time to let our guard down,” he said in a news release. “We’re urging everyone in Teton County to err on the side of caution, especially those who may have more frequent interaction with others or are at higher risk.”

Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday announced that some of the public health orders issued in March closing schools and businesses would be relaxed on Friday. Among the orders to be relaxed were those closing gyms and businesses providing personal services, such as hair salons, tattoo parlors and cosmetologists.

All those businesses will be allowed to open on Friday if their owners and managers follow certain safeguards, such as requiring the use of cloth masks by customers and staff.

But Riddell, in his public health order extending the closures to May 11, noted that Teton County has a higher coronavirus infection rate and a higher hospitalization rate than the statewide average, requiring additional safeguards.

However, Teton County officials did end their “stay-at-home” order, which prohibited residents from meeting with anyone from outside their own household, effective Friday.

The state’s health order prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people will be in place until at least May 15 and Teton County residents will now be able to follow the state rule rather than the more restrictive county rule.

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Mayor of Jackson to Tourists: Stay Home and Shelter-in-Place

in News/Coronavirus

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The Mayor of Jackson wants tourists to visit Jackson — just not now.

Pete Muldoon posted a video on Tuesday asking would-be tourists to stay out of the area for now.

“We’re looking forward to seeing you soon but right now, we’re asking you to hang your hat at home and help us give our small mountain town a chance to get through the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“Jackson Hole has very limited resources and our health care system will be stretched as we protect our most precious asset — member of our community,” Muldoon said.

Last week, Teton County and the town of Jackson both issued stay-at-home orders.

“(We) have seen mounting evidence that community-wide stay-at-home orders can have significant impacts on slowing the virus’ spread, particularly when implemented in the early phase of viral community spread,” said Dr. Travis Riddell, Teton County’s health officer. “We are in that phase now. I am absolutely in favor of a community-wide stay-at-home order.”

The town of Jackson rescinded its order on Monday in favor of a new county mandate.

The county order directs residents to have contact with no one except the people in their homes , except to perform tasks essential to health and safety, to obtain or deliver necessary supplies or services — such as groceries or medical supplies — to work at an essential business, to care for others or to take part in outdoor activities.

“So please, do the right thing for now. Stay home, shelter at home, stay healthy,” the mayor said. “We look forward to welcoming you on your next adventure to Jackson Hole when travel is recommended again.

As of Wednesday morning, Teton County had 26 confirmed coronavirus cases, the second-highest total in the state.

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Teton County, Jackson Issue ‘Stay At Home’ Orders

in News/Coronavirus

Teton County and Jackson officials issued separate but similar orders over the weekend for their residents to remain at their homes if at all possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Jackson’s order, adopted as an emergency ordinance by its town council, applied to all of the town’s residents, while the order issued by Teton County’s health officer applied to those age 65 and older and those suffering from high-risk medical conditions. Both were issued Saturday.

“(We) have seen mounting evidence that community-wide stay-at-home orders can have significant impacts on slowing the virus’ spread, particularly when implemented in the early phase of viral community spread,” said Dr. Travis Riddell, Teton County’s health officer. “We are in that phase now. I am absolutely in favor of a community-wide stay-at-home order.”

Both orders direct residents to stay at home except to perform tasks essential to health and safety, to obtain or deliver necessary supplies or services — such as groceries or medical supplies — to work at an essential business, to care for others or to take part in outdoor activities. In all cases, the orders required people to stay at least six feet away from each other.

Teton County and Jackson are the first Wyoming entities to issue “stay-at-home” orders.

Carl Pelletier, a public information officer and special events coordinator for Jackson, stressed the “stay at home” order is very different from the more restrictive “shelter in place” orders seen in other areas because a “stay at home” order allows people to go outside.

“When I hear ‘Shelter-in-Place’ I think of hunkering down in my basement during a tornado when growing up in the midwest, or not leaving my home due to a massive chemical spill occurring in West Jackson, or if there was an active shooter roaming through town a ‘Shelter-in-Place’ order might be instituted,” he wrote in an email to a reporter. “A ‘Stay-at-Home’ ordinance allows individuals to be outside their homes … raking leaves, hiking up Snow King, sitting on your lawn and soaking in some sun.” 

Teton County Spokesperson: Governor Gordon is Failing Us

in News/Mark Gordon/Coronavirus

A public information specialist for Teton County had harsh words on Saturday for how Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist are handling the coronavirus epidemic.

Kristen Waters, who moved to Wyoming in 2014, lambasted Wyoming’s governor in a Facebook post she published late Saturday morning.

“Governor Gordon and our State Health Officer are failing us,” Waters said. “Especially when you consider our states (sic) massive elderly population and small town hospital capacity.”

“Many counties SHARE hospitals, that have 30 or less beds and 10 or less ventilators,” she continued. “Western states that surround us are all in a shelter in place but not us, we’re gonna let the numbers climb, allow hospitals to get inundated and watch people die.”

Adopting a sarcastic tone, Waters criticized citizens of Wyoming.

“But that’s cool because we’re cowboying up and doin’ it the Wyoming way, where essential businesses are firearm & ammunition and liquor stores,” she said.

Waters suggested the state’s counties should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to mandate “shelter-in-place” policies.

“At a minimum, the state should let counties do what is right for our own individual counties, instead of continually rejecting public health orders presented by our own public health officer that literally says the purpose is to limit PREVENTABLE death,” she wrote.

On Friday, Gordon and Harrist extended three existing statewide health orders through April 17.

These orders close public places including schools, prohibiting gatherings of 10 people or more in a single room or confined space (including outdoors).

Bars, restaurants, coffee shops and some personal services businesses will also be closed through April 17. Food establishments can continue to provide take out and delivery services.

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