Fire in the Mountains

Heart Six Ranch in Moran hosted past Fire in the Mountains music festivals. The concert venue and parking area are staged on the ranch’s private horse pasture along the Buffalo Fork River. Pressure from the festival’s neighbors has, in part, led the county to consider new regulations for large special events.

The county has for years tried to figure out how to best handle large events like the Fire in the Mountains metal festival, and on Monday it will hold an open house to vet its solution publicly.

“This step is making sure we’re hearing from the business sector that is impacted,” Senior Long Range Planner Kristi Malone told the Jackson Hole Daily.

Buffalo Valley residents have fought Fire in the Mountains for years as it has spun up into an annual metal festival approaching 1,000 attendees. At the heart of their complaint is the noise.

The event was held in 2018 and 2019, and it had been approved for 2020 before organizers pulled the plug due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Neighbors have campaigned for the special-event regulation the county is proposing.

Malone said proposal is a general response to the demand the county has seen for larger events that require more planning and, some argue, more oversight.

“We’re seeing more applications for these really large outdoor events,” she said, “things that would include music and food vendors and big crowds.”

The proposal would require more event organizers to apply for conditional use permits, which determine whether a use such as a festival with 1,000 attendees is consistent with the character of a zone.

To obtain a required permit, applicants will have to pony up $2,500 — more if an environmental assessment is required — and go through a five- to six-month review process, including two public hearings.

The standing special event regulations require permits for so-called “outdoor reception sites,” properties that hold four or more events a year with over 50 guests or amplified music.

The county’s proposal requires any event organizer looking either to host more than 300 guests or to have camping as part of its event to get a permit. Private and nonprofit receptions, both of which have specific definitions in the draft rule, would be exempt.

Buffalo Valley resident Mickey Babcock, a de facto spokesperson for the neighbors, said she was happy with the county’s proposal: “My personal take on this amendment is it’s the best we can get at the moment,” she said.

Though Fire in the Mountains organizer Jeremy Walker agreed a new process for permitting events of the metal fest’s size is necessary, he had problems with the proposed changes.

“This is not about my event,” he said. “This is about all events going forward for many years. I don’t think the conditional use permit is the right way to go about permitting.”

Walker said five to six months is too long and the cost too high for a one-off event, especially if an environmental assessment is required.

Malone said whether such an assessment is needed depends on the property.

Paying for one at Heart Six Ranch and hiring someone to write the conditional use permit ran Walker about $40,000 for a permit he’s already chasing.

“It’s really, really prohibitive to people trying to have an event,” Walker said.

He said he worries about other industries, like the Teton wedding businesses.

Babcock pushed back.

“Nothing good is cheap,” she said. “You’re not going to plan a big wedding in less than three or four months. ... Big events require time for everybody to understand the implications and plan.”

Malone said the open house, scheduled for noon Monday over Zoom (link to zoom.us/j/96142014713 to participate or call in to 669-900-6833) is intended for people to let planners know what they think.

“I know the one that’s really on everybody’s mind is Fire in the Mountains,” she said, “but I also think it’s important to have anyone who lives near a big open-space area to weigh in on this.”

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Previously the Scene editor, Billy Arnold made the switch to the county beat where he's interested in exploring Teton County as a model for the rest of the West. When he can, he still writes about art, music and whatever else suits his fancy.

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