A long planned overhaul of the Moose-Wilson Road will eliminate travel between Grand Teton National Park and Teton Village for much of 2022 and require construction for at least the next four years.
On Tuesday, park staff rolled out their infrastructure plans for the 8-mile-long road, which will initially include two phases of construction that will move from south to north. Perhaps most notably, the graveled, 1.4-mile stretch of the route will be paved next summer — the primary cause of the extensive closures, which will be mostly confined to 2022.
“The closures are actually reduced from what we originally planned with Federal Highways,” Teton Park Project Management Chief Rusty Mizelle told the News&Guide.
The plan the park landed on will close the Moose-Wilson Road between the southern Granite Entrance Station and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve in the spring of 2022. The road will then open beginning Memorial Day as a through route for the busy summer season, but only from 7 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Monday each week. Then, after Labor Day, the southern stretch of the Moose-Wilson corridor will entirely close again.
Grand Teton developed a comprehensive management plan for the road by completing an environmental impact statement following a years-long planning process that ended in 2016. Some of the decisions along the way attracted controversy, such as a proposed and then scrapped plan to turn the road into a one-way route.
Ultimately, the park chose a plan that seeks to maintain the current rural, rustic nature of the road. A notable component that is not being pursued over the next four years is a crowd-control “queuing system” that would have put a cap on vehicles allowed in the corridor during the busiest, most congested times of year.
Besides paving the road, the work that starts next year will renovate the Granite Entrance Station while giving cyclists and pedestrians a safer route to exit the separated pathway along Highway 390, which currently spills out onto a high-speed section of road, Grand Teton Branch Chief of Project Management Jessica Brown explained. The road itself around the entrance station will also be realigned, with curves added, to encourage slower driving speeds.
To the north, Teton Park is reworking and improving the horse trailer parking lot at Poker Flats. The plan is to pave part of the lot where vehicles park, while also adding a horse-mountain ramp.
“That’ll be a nice feature for users that need a little bit more assistance,” Brown said. “Users that couldn’t access the backcountry otherwise.”
Throughout the road corridor park officials will be formalizing and paving informal pullouts — about 20 of them — where motorists can park to go for a jaunt or stop to peep at wildlife.
They’ll also make the road itself more uniform, ensuring its paved surface is between 18 and 20 feet wide. Today the gravel section gets to as wide as 30 feet, where potholes have encouraged drivers to forge new routes.
The construction work will cause a complete closure of the Granite Canyon trailhead in 2022 and 2023, though the parking area will be accessible next winter. Access to southern park hikes like the Valley Trail will still be possible by taking off or coming out at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Brown said. At the trailhead the plan is to add two vault toilets, benches, 32 parking spaces and a turnaround space for plow trucks.
The second phase of road work, on tap for 2024 and 2025, will cause disruptions on the north end of the road. Plans are less concrete, but the improvements will cover the Death Canyon access road, trailhead and parking lot. The park is also realigning the northernmost section of the Moose-Wilson Road so that the access point is beyond the Moose Entrance Station.
Each phase costs roughly $13 million, and the $26 million in funds have already been secured through the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, a pot of money created by the Great American Outdoors Act.