Forty years ago a group of concerned citizens joined to protect Jackson Hole as they knew it.
Not unlike today, growth and development of the town threatened wildlife, wild places and the community character that makes Jackson Hole special, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s Executive Director Skye Schell said.
“Understanding they could not respond to this challenge individually, a group of citizens decided to work together as an alliance to help our community responsibly plan for a better future,” Schell said. “At the time the big topic was whether to do ‘planning’ — and if so, what that means.”
In 1979, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance was born.
“I heard we started in an overflowing packed basement of the Antler Inn,” Schell said, it “sounded like an exciting night.”
The alliance’s first project was to support Teton County’s first comprehensive plan to balance development with maintaining town character and protecting wildlife. Since then the Alliance has been behind campaigns that saved the area from development that seems inconceivable today, like oil drilling in Cache Creek and the damming of Oxbow Bend.
On Thursday the Conservation Alliance is celebrating its 40th anniversary from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Center for the Arts at an event that is free and open to the public. Over the course of the evening the Alliance will debut a new short film and auction works from its Conservation Collection, a collection launched in March to celebrate the organization’s work. There will also be a silent auction featuring items from local businesses.
‘All the same threats’
The anniversary party is an opportunity for the Alliance to honor the organization’s history.
In the new film Story Clark, the organization’s founding executive director, and Patty Ewing share stories from one of the organization’s biggest victories: keeping oil drills out of Cache Creek.
Clare Stumpf, a graduate of the Alliance’s Conservation Leadership Institute, also shares a more recent story: campaigning last year in the effort to protect the Cafe Genevieve block.
In a fight against what was seen as an affront to town character, the Alliance was involved in a grassroots effort to oppose plans to put a huge hotel on the East Broadway property.
Now the organization is supporting the Jackson Hole Land Trust’s continuing effort to “Save the Block” for historic and green space preservation.
In light of its anniversary the Alliance is also taking time to raise awareness for the problems Jackson still faces.
“In many ways we’re still facing all the same threats — but now the stakes are higher,” Schell said. “More money is at stake. Over 40 years land values in this valley have gone up exponentially, and developers have gotten much more sophisticated about getting what they want at the local — or state or federal — level.”
One of the Alliance’s biggest issues right now is preventing the investors and developers at Snow King Mountain Resort “from completing a massive expansion that would bulldoze a ton of important wildlife habitat,” Schell said. “We believe there can be a much more balanced future where Snow King can succeed as our Town Hill, not an amusement park.”
The Alliance is also working toward securing Special Purpose Excise Tax funding for wildlife crossing structures. This November voters will have the chance to approve a $10 million measure on the ballot that would go towards building wildlife crossings at important junctures, like the intersection of Highway 22 and the Village Road, to reduce roadkill and lessen human injuries and property damage.
The Conservation Collection harnesses the power of art to speak to “what’s at stake” and features works from 25 local artists including Kathryn Mapes Turner, Amy Ringholz, Travis Walker and Tom Mangelsen.
The collection debuted at the Teton Artlab in March before traveling to West Weird, Altamira Fine Art and Cowboy Coffee over the summer, gathering momentum and new pieces along the way.
The works in the show will be auctioned during Thursday’s anniversary party.
“This has been a retrospective, looking back at the Alliance’s past, and a glimpse into our future,” said Ryan Nourai, field organizer for the nonprofit.
Nourai pointed to Eric Nelson’s woodcut print “Mount Moran” as a reminder of the Alliance’s work to thwart the Oxbow Bend dam, and Kathryn Turner’s painting “Stride” to speak to the importance of protecting the area’s ungulates with wildlife crossings.
“At the crossroads of our 40th these featured artists have helped our supporters look at where we have come from and then move on to glance into the potential future,” Nourai said.
Looking to the future, Schell admitted that conservation will always be unresolved.
“One of the hardest things about conservation is that we have to win every fight every time — and developers only have to win once,” he said. But, Schell said, “our strength has always been in the volunteers and grassroots. That’s where we came from.” ￼