On the bank of the Snake River south of town, dozens gathered Saturday where developed hot springs pools could open to the public as soon as 2020.
Teton County Commission Chair Natalia Macker clutched one of several shovels at the official groundbreaking for the revitalized Astoria Hot Springs Park.
“This park will be a beautiful example of how we, the people of Teton County, come together to provide access to our incredible natural resources in a way that improves quality of life and promotes responsible stewardship of our unique ecosystem,” Macker said. “This is about the balance of people, place and wildlife that Teton County does so well.”
Astoria Hot Springs, located 16 miles south of Jackson, closed in 1999. After a complicated series of failed development plans, the Trust for Public Land acquired the land in June 2016. The trust raised $6 million from more than 500 donors to revive the park, designs for which include hot soaking pools, a leisure pool, kids’ pool, decks, lawns, picnic space and hammock setups. Plans also call for an adjacent 98-acre park with walking trails, pathways, playground areas and event spaces. The trust collected opinions on the design from 2,000 people.
A little more snow has to melt before construction can really get going, said Paige Byron Curry, director of Astoria Park Conservancy, the nonprofit that will run the park. She said holding the groundbreaking at the finish line of the annual Pole Pedal Paddle was intentional, as the PPP is “a really tangible example of the sorts of community events we’re hoping to have at Astoria once we reopen.” And one that took place at the site prior to its closing.
Building the pools area and restoring ponds and wetlands is the first phase of construction, Curry said. The other aspects of the plan, like trails or an amphitheater, will take more time and funding to realize.
“It’s helpful to have people down there and actively using the park before you start to build other amenities,” Curry said, “so you can really see how people are using the space and what other people would like to see onsite.”
Other tasks ahead for Curry’s team are setting admission prices that are affordable for locals and thinking about what programming the park can host. For example, park leaders are exploring possibly partnering with Teton County School District No. 1 to invite kids to the park to learn about geology and geothermal power. A potential partnership with Friends of Pathways could bring in volunteers to build trails in the nearly 100 acres of passive park adjacent to the pools.
“How can we partner with groups in the community to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to explore the park?” Curry said. “For me, that’s going to be the most creative part of the process we’ve gone through so far.”
The Trust for Public Land, a national conservation nonprofit, owns the land, but it will hand over the park to Astoria Park Conservancy as construction progresses. Granite Management has been contracted as concessionaire to run the park, doing the as cleaning, running the snack shack and managing reservations of picnic pavilions.
In a groundbreaking speech, Macker said the park was one of the first votes she cast after joining the commission in 2015, approving the rezoning and density transfers to pave the way for Astoria’s return.
“The opportunity to relocate the density that would have been along the Snake River and enable conservation is likely to be one of Teton County’s proudest moments for many, many years to come,” Macker said. “I know all of us will remember that any time we float down the river, float in one of the new pools or compete in the Pole Pedal Paddle.”
The goal for a grand opening is before summer 2020, if everything goes according to plan.