Gros Ventre Road

Teton County is applying for a federal grant that would pay to pave a 3.75-mile stretch of Gros Ventre Road between the eastern edge of Grand Teton National Park and the Atherton Campground adjacent to Lower Slide Lake. If awarded, the county would officially adopt the segment and be responsible for maintaining the road in perpetuity.

With some concerns about appearing “greedy,” Teton County commissioners pared down their ask for federal grant money from $6.8 million to $5.4 million to fund two projects.

“I think we’re hurting our own chances of getting funds that are pretty important,” Commissioner Smokey Rhea said before the board reduced its request.

The Federal Lands Access Program allows governments to apply for funding to plan, engineer, restore and construct roads that run through federal lands. The program has $8.4 million in the pot for projects across Wyoming.

Commissioners considered four projects Tuesday, nixing one immediately because it did not meet qualifications for the grant program.

The three remaining — a 1-mile pathway along Spring Gulch Road and Sagebrush Drive, a 3.75-mile stretch of Gros Ventre Road and a quarter-mile segment of the Teton Pass pathway — added up to 81 percent of the funds available for Wyoming.

“In the past, I believe, we have narrowed our request ourselves rather than submitting multiple applications,” Public Works Director Sean O’Malley told the board Tuesday. “We could be perceived as greedy, asking for all of those. It would probably be prudent — if we go with multiple applications — to prioritize.”

The board decided to submit an application for up to $4 million for Gros Ventre Road, which if approved would give the county nearly 4 miles of new road to maintain. Federal funding would reconstruct and pave the rough road, and the county would chip in 9.51 percent of the funds, or $380,400.

The current owner of the road, Bridger-Teton National Forest, has offered to foot the $380,000 bill and offered $10,000 of an estimated $50,000 in annual maintenance for the county to take the road. Residents who live up the Gros Ventre have also expressed interest in forming an improvement and service district, which would also help defray maintenance costs of the steep and challenging road.

“We have for at least five years gone out there every spring and shoveled asphalt — the landowners have done this,” said Brad Mead, who owns land up the road. “I’m too old to shovel asphalt, and young people are too smart to shovel asphalt. This seems like a pretty good alternative to us.

“I suspect we can cover our share of maintenance for not a lot more than what we’re spending right now to buy asphalt,” he said.

Commissioners also decided to send in an application asking for up to $1.4 million in federal funding for the construction of a quarter-mile portion of pathway, from the Idaho state line to Trail Creek Campground (see map on page 2 for other planned capital projects). Teton County’s share of the project totals $133,120.

The county had previously applied for money to build that segment of the Teton Pass Centennial Trail, a project intended to build a pathway from the summit of Teton Pass to a path in Teton Valley, Idaho. But the project stalled when federal funding came in less than requested and too short to build an underpass at Trail Creek, a requirement of the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

The new application seeks more funding for the same quarter-mile but also tacks on the cost of building the underpass.

Pathways Coordinator Brian Schilling has been advocating reallocating the previously awarded half million dollars to complete the required National Environmental Policy Act study and to plan and design the entire project from summit to state line.

Schilling, along with other supporters of the project, suggested that reallocating the funds would allow the project to move forward and would boost the chances of the new application getting funded.

“It will allow us to continue working on the project for the next two to three to four years before the funding that we’re applying for now becomes available,” Schilling said.

“I recognize there is a little bit of confusion on how the funds will be spent and how you reallocate given some of the new requirements by WYDOT,” Friends of Pathways Executive Director Katherine Dowson said. “But I agree that this just shows momentum toward completing this project, maybe not in the near term but certainly in the future.”

Commissioner Paul Vogelheim challenged the assertion that reallocating the money would make the county’s application stronger.

“The folks that have given us this grant had an understanding of what we wanted to do, and now we’re changing it,” he said. “I would disagree that this is helping with the other grant application.”

Commissioners haven’t decided if they will ask to reallocate the funding. They tabled the issue once to Tuesday’s meeting, and tabled it again to their May 8 meeting, asking staff to explore other options for the $500,000 of federal funding.

The board cut its third grant proposal from consideration, deciding the request for up to $1.4 million was adding too much to the county’s overall request for federal assistance.

The project would have put a 1-mile pathway along East Sagebrush Drive, starting at the Gros Ventre Junction in Grand Teton National Park, turning south on Spring Gulch Drive and ending adjacent to Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis. The project received the highest ranking from the county’s Transportation Advisory Committee, but the board opted to focus on the other two projects.

FLAP applications are due mid-May; approved projects are announced in the fall.

Contact Melissa Cassutt at 732-7076, county@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGcounty.

Allie Gross covers Teton County government. Originally from the Chicago area, she joined the News&Guide in 2017 after studying politics and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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