Back in the day, as Jim Verdone likes to say, “if you could not kill it or grow it, it probably came over Teton Pass on the Old Pass Road.”
The Old Pass Road was built in 1913, first as a wagon road and then as the main highway over Teton Pass, connecting Jackson to the Victor, Idaho, railroad. After it was replaced in 1968 by Highway 22, over the ensuing decades the old road fell into disrepair, eroded and riddled with potholes and overgrown vegetation.
For years Verdone has been working to rehabilitate the road that’s now a popular recreation destination for walkers and bikers of all ages, and now he — and the community — have a chance to repair the whole 3.5-mile path.
“I’ve seen people in their 90s up there, I’ve seen moms with baby strollers,” said Verdone, who’s been using the road since the 1970s and ’80s. “It is one of the most used trail facilities in the county.”
When Silver Star Communications placed a fiber-optic cable along the roadway in 2013, Verdone worked with Silver Star and the U.S. Forest Service to lay a pavement overlay on about a third of the path that runs from Trail Creek to the top parking lot. He’s also spent the intervening years voluntarily patching holes and cracks or spraying encroaching vegetation.
“Previous efforts have been like triage, paving the sections that needed it the most,” Verdone said.
Most trail users likely assume the Forest Service or Parks and Rec plow and care for the pathway, but in reality Verdone has taken on most of those responsibilities, Friends of Pathways Director Katharine Dowson said. While the Forest Service contributes signage and trail ambassadors, it doesn’t have the money to keep up a paved trail, Recreation Program Manager Linda Merigliano said.
“The only way that the kind of facilities can continue to exist is through public and private partnerships,” Merigliano said.
It’s going to cost $400,000 to repair the remaining two-thirds of the trail, Verdone said.
Last summer Teton County applied for a federal Transportation Alternatives Program grant to pay for the road repairs, but was unsuccessful.
However, county commissioners have placed $200,000 in next year’s budget to cover half the cost of repairing the trail, an amount Verdone hopes to match with private philanthropy. Advocacy group Friends of Pathways has agreed to help with the fundraising effort.
“It’s a much-loved, much-used pathway amenity in the county and it really needs some help,” Dowson said. “This will be the biggest fix for the road to date.”
Friends of Pathways Program Director Jack Koehler said Verdone has “done extremely well for basically a one-man team to raise money for, funds for the project, and we feel like we can help him get the word out and expand the reach and the awareness. A lot of people who use the road now and love the road have no idea how it has been taken care of.”
The Old Pass Road is unique because it’s a paved trail within the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Merigliano said.
“There aren’t really paved trails that are closed to motorized use on the forest,” she said.
It’s popular for its access to the key destination of Crater Lake, but also valuable for providing bikers an alternative to busy Highway 22 and as a historic resource, Merigliano said, and for mud season recreation.
“I think the value is that, particularly when it’s really wet, like now and kind of in mud season, it provides a paved path that people can walk on without trying to trudge through the mud,” Merigliano said. “This is an opportunity to maintain that kind of a surface so people can continue to use the facility and have it last for another 100 years.”
Interested donors can contribute through Friends of Pathways, reachable at FriendsOfPathways.org or 733-4534.