Local officials will likely need to pony up more money if they want to connect pathways near Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis to the pathway system in Grand Teton National Park.
Specifically, Teton County, Grand Teton National Park and Friends of Pathways are trying to decide how to fund building a pathway stub dubbed the “Sagebrush Pathway.” If completed, it would connect the northernmost section of county trails along Spring Gulch Road to the park’s pathways near the roundabout at Gros Ventre Junction.
Teton County Pathways and Trails Coordinator Brian Schilling told the News&Guide the new pathway is important because it connects two existing segments.
“It’s a missing link,” he said. “It’s a safety benefit in that it connects neighborhoods around Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis into the north pathway system so that cyclists and pedestrians wouldn’t have to walk or ride on Sagebrush Drive or on Spring Gulch Road for that mile-long stretch.”
With the proposed trail running through national park land, the project is estimated to cost around $2.3 million for a roughly 1-mile stretch.
“Admittedly it’s a fairly eye-opening price tag for a relatively short segment of pathway,” Schilling said.
He attributed that cost to three primary factors: that the project is subject to stringent federal construction regulations and would be managed by the Federal Highway Administration; that construction would include culverts and a new parking area in addition to the pathway; and that construction costs in Teton County are increasing.
The county, the National Park Service and Friends of Pathways applied in December for a Federal Lands Access Program, or FLAP, grant to fund the project, hoping that the federal government would pick up roughly 90% of the tab — just over $2 million. But FLAP administrators have asked the county, park and pathways nonprofit to pay more, or about 25% of the total project cost.
“They said that overall they liked the project, they liked the project readiness, they liked the partnership between the park and Teton County,” Schilling told the Teton County Board of County Commissioners in mid-March. “Their concern was the cost of the project, compared to the length of the project.”
Another concern was that “this project in particular has more of a local connectivity significance,” Schilling added, “rather than regional or national significance for connectivity.”
A 25% match would be $565,000, roughly $325,000 more than what the county, park and Friends of Pathways offered originally. Teton Park would have been on the hook for $180,000, and Friends of Pathways for $60,000. The county would have paid nothing up front but taken on ongoing maintenance after it was built.
Since FLAP administrators asked for more money, Schilling said the park would be willing to fork over an additional $40,000, and Friends of Pathways has said it would contribute another $20,000. That would leave Teton County on the hook for roughly $265,000, and the County Commission will now have to decide whether it’s willing to pay that much.
Director of Public Works Heather Overholser told the County Commission that it had a few choices. One is to say “yes” to the additional expense. Another is to contribute more, but not the full 25%. The final option Overholser identified is to say “no” and send the project back to the committee as is.
County Administrator Alyssa Watkins said the board could also consider reapplying to FLAP in the future, though the opportunity likely wouldn’t be available until 2024 or 2025.
Commissioners will revisit the project at their regular meeting April 13.
If the FLAP application does not succeed, the park has the paved trail slotted for construction consideration in 2026, Schilling said. But that route to breaking ground is not guaranteed.
“Admittedly it’s a fairly eye-opening price tag for a relatively short segment of pathway.” — Brian Schilling teton county pathways and trails coordinator