Josef and Benjamin Sipiorski were hungry for adventure, but money was tight while the brothers worked as summer lifeguards to make ends meet while studying engineering at Elgin Community College and Judson University in Illinois.
Even with the Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center offering to nearly double their pay as lifeguards in Jackson, it wasn’t enough for a summer lease.
Their grandfather’s rundown Streamline was the answer. The brothers spent the spring of 2017 renovating the old trailer, replacing the floorboards, rebuilding the cupboards, applying fresh paint, replacing leaky pipes and rewiring everything. They added a small woodstove.
With the trailer looking good and lifeguard jobs lined up, they took off for Jackson that spring. However, once they arrived, they found that many of the campsites on the Bridger-Teton National Forest were already occupied by other seasonal workers. They decided to set up their new home outside Victor, Idaho, but the hourlong commute took its toll.
When their boss told them about the option for in-town camping behind the Rec Center, they were skeptical at first, but they soon came to love it. So much so, they came back again this spring for the second year.
Rec-land, as it is affectionately known, has become an incentive for 90-day wonders looking to spend summers in Jackson — especially for the rec center as staff works to finalize plans for a new housing development above the maintenance shop on Snow King Avenue.
“It’s been a huge benefit to our summer programs,” said Andrew Fleck, Parks and Rec program manager. “If they aren’t camping back there they’re fighting for spots in Curtis Canyon or elsewhere in the forest. We probably wouldn’t have as much success without having that opportunity, as it allows us to retain a lot of camp staff from season to season, which in turn allows the counselors to see the kids through the entire program from first to sixth grade.”
Though only eight people took advantage of the in-town camping last year, all 11 spots are filled this year, mostly by parks and rec employees. According to the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the 12 sites in Curtis Canyon are 97 to 100 percent full during an average weeknight from June through August.
“It works very well, and I’m really glad we are doing it,” Assistant Town Manager Roxanne Robinson said. “I don’t know where these 11 or 12 employees would stay otherwise. All of the town rentals are filled with critical response or full-time town employees.”
Despite having to shower in the rec center and having only one port-o-potty in the parking lot, the campers find it relatively comfortable after jerry-rigging kitchens and piecing together makeshift front porches. It’s quieter than Curtis Canyon or Shadow Mountain, where the Teton County Sheriff’s Office is called to a growing number of complaints. But mostly it’s about the convenience of living just steps away from work.
While some residents worried that allowing in-town camping would invite disturbances, there has not been a single complaint to the Jackson Police Department since the plan was approved last summer.
“Generally speaking no news in this situation is good news,” Lt. Roger Schultz said. “As far as the police department is concerned it’s a nonissue.”
While the town initially allowed private businesses to purchase a space for roughly $450 a month, in its second year the town offered only town and county employees the opportunity to camp behind the rec center, making rule enforcement even easier.
“We don’t want this to blow up and lose the opportunity to camp here, so we try to enforce the rules ourselves,” said Haley Heinz, who, after buying an old trailer home for $1,000 with her boyfriend, David Cranford, moved from Laramie to Jackson to be Camp Jackson counselors. “It’s worth it for the best three months of your life.”
The municipal campground has been a great base camp, the Sipiorski brothers said.
“We probably wouldn’t have been able to come to Jackson if this didn’t exist,” Josef Sipiorski said. “It provides us an opportunity to do all the things we wanted to do.”
Thanks to some of their lifeguard buddies, the Sipiorskis have been able to pursue their dreams of rock climbing (though they said their parents weren’t too excited by the prospect) and exploring Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
“We’ve made a lot of really good friendships, which helped draw us back for another year,” Benjamin Sipiorski said. “It’s like a little community back here. We have barbecues and all hang out together. It’s a lot of fun.”
Thanks to the good behavior of the campers, the Town Council said it would consider expanding the program and find a more suitable location for a larger campground for other seasonal workers, but that will have to wait till next summer.
“It’s another really good option as we try to meet our employee housing needs,” Robinson said. “But there hasn’t been any further discussion as to where to place a community employment-based campground since this winter.”