County Commissioners have joined Grand Teton National Park and Friends of Pathways in agreeing to pay more than planned toward a $2.26 million pathway just west of the Gros Ventre roundabout.
“I’m really appreciative of their commitment to partnering with the park and with Friends of Pathways,” Katherine Dowson said of the board’s decision. Dowson is executive director for Friends of Pathways.
“I think the commissioners have really committed to the goals of their comprehensive plan and making sure people have comfortable choices for walking and biking,” she said. “That seems to be well supported by all the commissioners right now.”
Teton Park spokeswoman Denise Germann also cheered the collaboration.
“We greatly appreciate the support and collaboration of Teton County and Friends of Pathways,” Germann said. “It’s a community effort, which is wonderful.”
The Teton County Board of County Commissioners voted 5-0 on April 12 to put $265,000 toward the stretch of pavement dubbed the Sagebrush Pathway. The county boosted its commitment after getting feedback from the Federal Highway Administration’s Federal Lands Access Program, or FLAP.
The county, park and pathways nonprofit had applied to FLAP for a grant, asking for the federal government to cover roughly 90%, about $2 million, of the $2.26 million proposal. If completed, that project would see a roughly one-mile-long pathway built on park land, connecting the Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis area to the park’s pathway system.
The Wyoming FLAP committee that decides which projects get funded came back, saying the project was on the shortlist for approval. But it asked for more money from the local partners: 25% of the total, which would cost $565,000.
That left the county, park and nonprofit with a $325,000 funding gap. The park and nonprofit both kicked in more money. Teton Park upped its commitment from $180,000 to $220,000 and Friends of Pathways did the same, bumping the original $60,000 it had promised to $80,000.
Under the original proposal, Teton County would have paid nothing up front and picked up maintenance costs in the future. But the request from FLAP and the other partners’ commitments left the county with a decision: agree to pony up an additional $265,000, offer less, or back away from the project.
The board decided it would pay if the grant was awarded, but commissioners wrestled with how roughly one mile of pathway could cost over $2 million. Teton County Pathways and Trails Coordinator Brian Schilling said that was due to three 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 Teton County construction costs are increasing.
Dowson acknowledged that the “expense is extraordinary” in the commission’s Monday meeting. But in a Friday interview with the Jackson Hole Daily, she argued that the price was worth it. She also said what the county will pay if the grant is approved is less than what it has paid for pathway construction in the county.
“It’s actually still cost effective,” the pathways advocate said. “A mile of pathway is about $500,000 to build [in the county], and they put in $265,000.”
Schilling told the Daily that the county, park and nonprofit should learn whether they are awarded the grant in the next month. In informal communications, he said, the FLAP committee was “pleased to hear that the [commission] approved the additional match.”
The pathway will connect a stub of pathway near Golf and Tennis to the more expansive paths in the national park and, if users head south at the Gros Ventre roundabout rather than north, the town of Jackson.
Dowson said that’s how pathways have been built elsewhere — one spoke at a time.
“All these pathways have started with one mile here and two miles there,” she said. “That’s how it happens.”