Eleven-year-old Landon Holmberg spent the morning at the ElkFest rope bridge, checking off one part of the three parts needed to earn the coveted ElkFest patch.
Three activities had to be checked off the list to collect the patch, he said, his green eyes lighting up as he explained the process.
“We have to pick up trash somewhere, and then we do elk antler pickup over on the Elk Refuge, and then we have to participate in the elk antler auction,” said Landon, who is part of Boy Scout Troop 67.
Landon, along with Scouts in other troops, spent weeks preparing for the big day, the 52nd annual ElkFest. Part of the tradition, along with auctioning off thousands of pounds of antlers — 10,320 this year — is constructing the rope bridge.
Holmberg is the leader of Troop 67’s Cobra Patrol. Each patrol assembled one part of the wooden tripods at either end of the bridge, and then collectively constructed the detailed rope system.
Landon started out as a Cub Scout in California five years ago. He moved to Jackson with his dad three years ago and has been participating in ElkFest since.
Landon was scheduled for the last half-hour time slot of the auction, from 12:30 p.m. to 1. When he faced the crowd, Landon, like each of his Scout peers, smiled and held up a pair or a bundle of antlers as bidders who had come from across the country made their best offers.
“I do get a little nervous,” he said. “But, I mean, it’s just great to get up there and be able to do that.”
The Jackson Town Square feels like it was created for this purpose with its elk antler arches on each corner appearing even more monumental when surrounded by antler vendors all around the perimeter of the square. Families and people of all ages gather around for this once a year spectacle.
Within the square on the grass lawn, the Cub Scouts set up Pinewood Derby stations, where kids assembled Lego cars and took turns racing their toy cars down a wooden ramp.
The Wyoming Game and Fish stand featured an array of pelts, antlers and fish, testing passersby to name the species each belonged to. Scouts and other kids went toe-to-toe nearby with a faux grizzly, a sized-down model of the real deal that rolled down a track toward a person holding a can of practice spray.
“How often can you go to Town Square and get to challenge yourself with pepper spray on a charging bear?” the Scout Jackson District Committee Chairman Cliff Kirkpatrick said.
While the antlers take the center stage of ElkFest, much of the other activities on the square Saturday fell in line with the Scout motto: “Be prepared.”
“When you start teaching these kids when they’re small the value of being prepared, and for them to be able to learn and see those things, [it’s] incredible,” Kirkpatrick said.
ElkFest and all the Scouting activities leading up to the event are also memories Scouts carry with them, he said.
“This event probably is etched in their memory, as much as or more than any single event that they take part in,” he said.
Despite the day-of nerves before the auction, the hard work is worth it, Landon said.
“It’s just great to be with everybody helping them out,” he said. “Being a Boy Scout, it’s just one of my favorite things.”
Selling the haul of elk antlers is also lucrative, both for the National Elk Refuge, which receives 75 percent of the auction proceeds, and the Boy Scouts, who take home the remainder.
Of the 140 registered bidders, 55 went home with sheds.
“There’s a lot of people out there in the crowd at the auction that travel all the way across the country, and even if they don’t buy anything, they’re excited to come to see the antler, to network with everybody else, to be in Jackson Hole — it’s just incredible,” Kirkpatrick said.
In total, the auction raised over $186,000, most of which will return to the refuge to pay for projects like habitat enhancement and educational materials.
“It’s such a great privilege to be a part of what the refuge does in caring for the elk,” Kirkpatrick said.