Rodeo Redo

Management of the Teton County Fairgrounds, shown here in spring 2015, has shifted to the Jackson/Teton County Parks and Recreation Department.

It’s time to consider a new home for the Jackson Hole Rodeo and Teton County Fairgrounds.

The decades-old tension between balancing open space and workforce housing requires that we put density in already developed clusters on the 3% of Teton County land that’s private. That puts homes near jobs and services, reducing traffic and preserving rural character in rural areas of the valley. It’s spelled out in the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan.

The fairgrounds occupies 12.35 acres of prime downtown real estate that the town can no longer afford to keep relatively vacant. At the 45 homes per acre apartment density that town planners proposed for the embattled 440 W. Kelly parcel, the rodeo grounds could hold 555 units. If that’s too much density, planners can work to find the right number of dwellings with plenty of open space.

In the aftermath of the town and county shooting down Larry Huhn’s workforce housing plan — they wisely agreed to reconsider — it seems now is the perfect time to make a plan for how town-owned land can be aligned with town goals.

None of this should be construed to mean the value of the Teton County Fair or the Jackson Hole Rodeo is diminished. Read more about the valley’s rodeo traditions in Roundup, the souvenir rodeo program inserted in today’s edition.

However, the fairgrounds and rodeo are better suited to a more rural setting. Removing the horse and stock trailer traffic from rush hour might incrementally aid downtown congestion.

If Hog Island is a better place to hold agricultural events, there’s already a five-lane highway leading there. Transit service could easily be expanded to drop visitors and pick them up. If Spring Gulch or the West Bank is the chosen site, the move could be timed with WYDOT’s revamping of the Highway 22 corridor. Again, transit would be crucial.

An indoor arena, outdoor arena, administrative space and parking could easily fit on a 12- or 15-acre parcel in the county. A community 4-H barn like the one south of Pinedale could be incorporated, offering more children a chance to stick close to their Western roots.

To make it happen, new land needs to be identified outside town limits, zoning needs to be amended, funding must be obtained — specific purpose excise tax? — and politicians have to vote decisively on the matter.

This editorial represents the opinion of the News&Guide’s editorial board: Johanna Love, Rebecca Huntington, Kevin Olson and Adam Meyer.

(15) comments

samantha thoenig

as a kid that is from jackson and lives the “rodeo” life everyday i think this is so wrong. this town is a WESTERN town and i want it to stay that way. the jackson hole rodeo is why i love the sport. almost every other day i can load up and go right into town to run in the rodeo. the location and the amount of people that show up to make it possible is a huge part of what makes that rodeo so special. if we were to move the fair grounds, jackson would become less and less of a western town which is why i even live here. i wish we had some more ranchy people on the board...

Jake Caldwell

Housing for work force .... I thought the idea was to keep the region pristine and open... like the park ... oh but now everyone under the sun wants to be there .. so let’s just do away with what made it all possible for all you folks from back east California China and wherever else you came from .. simple solution restrict the growth that requires less workforce and stick to keeping it less populated ... that’s the real solution . A second option would be to addrsss or demand or eminent domain with a pittance some land off those multi billionaires that have ruined the place to begin with ... Maybe when they have to part with their “piece of heaven” or a part of it you will see change .. As was stated in the earlier comments 1. The land was given to the county by a individual with EXPLICIT understanding that it was to be used for agricultural events only ... which educated the public about feeding you all .. Not to mention what made it possible for you folks to even be there to see it in the first place ...A third option for you all is pack up and GO HOME or someplace else and ruin it... In 25 years I’ve seen some of the people commenting who have no business what so ever saying a single thing .. GO HOME. Passive aggressive capitalism disguised as passive aggressive socialism is ruining this country...

Ken Chison

Well said Jake. I feel the exact same way. They all show up here and try turning the place into exactly what they left. When I look at all those mansions out there by the village and all the land they encompass, I have to ask myself why they don't donate it or why the county just take it from them to build housing. But it gets back to the Not in my backyard analogy I guess. I'm sure a few of them hollyweird celebrities out there would be more than willing to donate 20 or 30 acres to build employee housing on. After all, these transplants are all the reason why we have the problem in the first place. Along with a governing body here in Teton county that keeps promoting more and more people to the area. Ruining it more and more as time goes by. It's time to put out the no vacancy signs.

Christian Andersen

The property is deed restricted. It was gifted by a rancher to be used exclusively as a fairground. Stop the fairground use and the property reverts to the family. But you snowflakes at the NaG think everything is yours for the taking. The old ranchers were a lot smarter than you think and still smarter than everone at the News and Guide.

matt Hall

Can you find that document? That plot of land is also taken over by the Town Works, the Parks and Rec maintenance area and tennis courts and ball field. The Town's snow storage.

The lease the Fair gets from the town is only for the 12 acres the rodeo, heritage area, grassy area and Pavillion Building are on. The exhibit hall across the street and grassy area there are separately leased from the Town.

Engage Staff
Audience Engagement

Hi Christian, I cover the town for the News&Guide. Officials have researched this "multiple times" over the years, according to Town Manager Larry Pardee, and they have found no indication that the property is deed-restricted. If you have documentation that says otherwise, please email me at Thanks. - Cody Cottier

Christi Yannelli

This is very disappointing to hear. Why not put housing where the Start Bus building is! Talk about wasted space, money and resources. Yonder here is the last of the old...oh, wait never mind. The western culture in JH is leaving us faster than I can ride my horse!

Ken Chison

California and New Jersey??? Yea. That's the 2 states I think of when I think about sane laws being passed. Comical.

Bill Lewkowitz

In 2006 I was President of the Teton County Fair Board and we were very proud of the new Heritage Indoor Arena that we were building and the incredible fair grounds and rodeo arena. Close to 60,000 visitors attend the weekly summer rodeo that helps drive our summer economy that is based on our National Parks, our western town and heritage. In addition, it hosts one of the best county Fairs in Wyoming. At that time, town and county officials, as well as the Fair Board
, knew that the fair grounds in town were valuable for housing that was needed then and more so now. The problem was, where can you move it, since the county would need to purchase 30 to 40 acres to house a new Fair Grounds and the cost of building all the needed facilities. It was the decision then to grant a lease another 20 years and a lease I gladly signed. The Fair Board was thrilled by the support of both Town and County officials and since then Teton County can be proud of one of the best facilities in the state. Officials are now looking at the grounds again for housing, but where does the fair and rodeo go. Can we afford to build a new grounds or do we forget what makes this town and county so appealing and just eliminate it. I don’t know if my idea will be well accepted, but I say let’s stay with what is working and find another solution for housing. As a community, please don’t get rid of our past and what the Fair Grounds can provide our community in the future. If you can’t tell, I care and hope you do as well. Thanks. 🤠

Eric Mills

Howsabout a move to the cemetery, permanently. Nearly EVERY animal welfare organization in the country condemns rodeos due to their inherent cruelty. Most of this nonsense is bogus from the git-go. REAL working cowboys never routinely rode bulls, or wrestled steers, or rode bareback, or practiced calf roping (terrified BABIES) as a timed event. Nor did they put flank straps on the animals, nor work them over in the chutes with painful "hotshots." Some "sport"!

Ken Chison

It's a man's and women's sport requiring finesse, timing, dedication, courage and hard work. All qualities many, like yourself, probably don't possess. Plus, most rodeo people come from families that have passed down the rodeo tradition for generations, and will continue to do so. No more sense of family values and sportsmanship can be found in any other sport.

Eric Mills

True "sport" denotes willing, evenly-matched participants. Rodeo does not qualify. It's an exercise in DOMINATION (and often sexist, at that). Rodeo has had its day, and now belongs in the Dustbin of History, along with Ringling Bros. Circus, SeaWorld's banned orca shows, and Florida's recently-banned greyhound racing. R.I.P. Only last year both New Jersey and Hawaii outlawed the use of wild animals in circus acts, and California is about to do the same. And now I hear a similar Federal bill has just been introduced....Can rodeo be far behind?

matt Hall

Oddly, I'm not a cowboy but have done some of those things. And I know lots of cowboys who have done more of those things. It makes me wonder if you have ever even touched a cow.

Ken Chison

Well little Matt. I know enough to say that there are bulls, there are calves and there are steers. Know the difference? Yea. I didn't think so.

Ken Chison

So much for the western atmosphere presence in Jackson Hole anymore. Might want to add a Texas Roadhouse into the mix as well. Just because the rodeo or Western oriented events don't fit this fine editorial boards liking, don't try pursuading people into thinking it's the correct choice. The fairgrounds and night rodeos were here long before the housing crisis. Only a bandaid fix, and the same problem will remain. Then what? What's the next parcel to go after?

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