Motorists heading down Highway 191 bound for Pinedale or Rock Springs this winter may notice something different as they crest the hydrological divide leading into the Green River basin.
At the Hoback Rim, as it’s called, there figures to be an open sign on Rim Station, a historic establishment that’s been known for being closed more often than not, especially in winter. Brent and Jackie Hillen, the general store’s new owners, aim to change that reputation.
“The goal is for people to stop, come in and talk,” Brent Hillen said. “Give them more of a personable experience, and a place to go.”
That starts with staying open: Winter hours “most likely” will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week. Currently, the Rim Station is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.
Once inside the modest shop, patrons will have to grab a bite at a new bar that the Hillens are building. Or they’ll just be able to peruse the aisles, which feature an array of local goods, ranging from whiskey from Pinedale’s Cowboy Country Distilling to hunting and fishing items.
The Rim Station, which also hosts the Hillens’ real estate office, is not the only establishment in the Bondurant area that has changed hands and been spruced and shored up.
Sixteen miles up the highway toward Teton County, Jackson residents Ian and Elena Schroth have renovated the historic Elkhorn, a bar and trading post they bought in mid-2019. Gone are the faded, tacked-on dollar bills that used to line the walls and ceilings of the once-smoky gas station and grill.
“There’s definitely a big revival down here,” Ian Schroth said.
There are some new features on the 4-acre lot at the junction of Highway 191 and Dell Creek Road. Coming in 2022, for one, will be an 18-spot RV park located on the backside of the property.
But in other ways, Schroth’s vision for the Elkhorn’s future is to uphold its history.
“When you buy a place like the Elkhorn, which has longstanding traditions, I think there’s a responsibility to the community,” he said. “You can’t alienate people.”
Eventually the Elkhorn’s menu will feature some familiar items from restaurants of yesteryear in the region.
“The whole concept is to go back to Jackson staples,” Schroth said. “Basically, reliving my childhood is what I’m trying to do.”
Slowly, Schroth is also renovating the four apartments and seven cabins spread across the Elkhorn compound. It’s hands-on work that often involves a bunch of troubleshooting and is proving to be an education about building practices from the 1950s to the ’90s, when most of the structures went up.
“I knew nothing about plumbing and electrical,” he said. “It’s the ultimate puzzle.”
The Hillens, likewise, have handled the lion’s share of Rim Station’s renovations on their own. Buildings on the 5.5-acre property date to the same era, with the main structure going up in late 1940s. The handiwork has been a big part of their lives since buying the station in 2020. The project marked somewhat of a left turn in life with the couple, formerly of California.
“The way we got here is our friends,” Jackie Hillen said. “We were helping them move here, and my husband was driving one of the trailers. And he never came home.”
Now, a year later, their hope is that the Rim Station supports itself in the winter by attracting more locals with its coming restaurant, which will have a “simple” menu. The tourist traffic, which fills up their RV park’s dozen sites for months, tends to dry up once the snow flies. A dream of Brent Hillen’s is to develop the winter economy in the region by working with landowners and the agencies to route a new groomed snowmobile trail by his new business and even down through Bondurant.
“I think that would be fantastic,” Hillen said. “It could link Kendall Valley [in Cora], the Place [on Highway 352], here [at the Rim Station] and Ian’s place — the Elkhorn.”
But in the meantime, the winters down in snowy Bondurant figure to remain customarily quiet. Schroth has learned that firsthand in his first couple of years of operation.
“Out here it’s tough,” Schroth said. “I was a little naive about the slow times and the busy times. You have a captive population of 100 people.”