A fundraising campaign to revitalize the Astoria Hot Springs Park has raised 70 percent of the money needed to start construction next year.
“We have just a few remaining hurdles to overcome before we can restore Astoria to the community,” said the Trust for Public Land’s Paige Byron.
Construction costs prompted the trust to push the project’s timeline from an anticipated fall 2018 opening to a spring 2019 construction start date. Byron said high demand for construction in Jackson Hole upped the project’s price tag from an estimated $5.5 million to $6 million.
For Byron, the pressures driving up the costs of restoring Astoria underscore why the community needs the park.
“As we see more development increasing across the valley, protecting places that maintain our community character and provide gathering spots for the everyday resident of Jackson and Alpine are more and more critical,” she said.
To cover the additional costs, the trust secured an extra $1 million from the Trust for Public Land’s Wyoming Land Action Fund, Byron said.
Those funds came from the sale of the 990-acre Upper Gros Ventre River Ranch from the Trust for Public Land to the Bridger-Teton National Forest for $3 million. The Land Action Fund is intended to support protection of open space in Jackson Hole and beyond. Former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl donated the acreage to the Trust in 2014.
The Astoria project has raised about $4.2 million so far from more than 200 donors with gifts ranging from $5 to $750,000, she said.
The hot springs, 16 miles south of Jackson, closed in 1999. After a complicated series of bankruptcies and failed development plans, the Trust for Public Land acquired the parcel in summer 2016 with a mission to reopen the springs to the public.
A national nonprofit with a mission to create parks and protect land for people, the trust worked with the Snake River Sporting Club to rezone the area and transfer the resort’s previously approved development rights to its golf course area.
The trust solicited design ideas from about 2,000 residents, culminating in a plan that includes hot soaking pools, a leisure pool, a kids pool, lawns, picnic space and hammock setups. Plans also call for an adjacent 98-acre park with walking trails, multiuse pathways, playground areas and event spaces. The county OK’d the plan in July.
Since then, the trust has been busy completing detailed construction drawings, from locker room surfaces to pool heating-pump systems.
The Astoria project team has launched a nonprofit called Astoria Park Conservancy that will own and operate the park once it’s completed. Byron said the trust always intended to transfer the completed project to a local group and never owns or operates parks long-term.
“That was a big step in the process,” Byron said, “being able to establish a group of community leaders that will be working hand in hand with us moving forward.”
Byron said while creating a new nonprofit is “never a popular thing to do in this town,” it made sense for Astoria given the significant responsibility of managing the park. The local nonprofit will allow participation in Old Bill’s Fun Run to support the park.
Bill Schwartz, chairman of the capital campaign, will chair the new nonprofit. Its first tasks will include selecting a contractor to manage the facility. Schwartz hopes to find someone with expertise in the field who can operate the park in “accordance with the mission of Astoria, which is going to be to make this park available to everybody.”
Ongoing efforts to continue fundraising into the home stretch include a matching donation of $250,000. Schwartz said events inviting people to Astoria, neighborhood gatherings and a presence at the People’s Market are planned.
For Schwartz, the effort to revive Astoria is about preserving the spirit of the community, including an egalitarian spirit that he said Jackson Hole used to have.
“You couldn’t tell the millionaires from the ski bums,” Schwartz said, “and Astoria was the kind of place that epitomized that. Everyone was welcome. It was a beautiful place where people could be together outdoors and that was affordable for everyone, and it was for all ages from toddlers to the elderly.”