Paige Byron has always been goal-oriented.
In high school the Jackson native created a list of 25 talking points and convinced her parents to ship her off to an East Coast boarding school. She wanted to play competitive soccer in college and thought she’d have a better chance of being scouted at the Rhode Island school.
“It’s not really your traditional legacy boarding school story,” said Byron, 33.
She was right, though, and she was accepted to Hamilton College in New York, where she played soccer. She decided to major in art.
“I studied painting, much to my father’s dismay, after a long argument about the reasons I should study economics,” Byron said.
Again, she made her list and argued her points. Actually, she said, “that may have been a PowerPoint presentation.”
As she intended, Byron became an artist and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where she had regular shows. While in the Volunteer State she also landed a job raising money for a children’s museum. Her first project: a $6 million capital campaign.
“That was my first fundraising experience and sort of how I ended up in this world,” said Byron, who is now the associate director of philanthropy for the Wyoming division of the Trust for Public Land.
Among other fundraising in the West, Byron is in charge of raising the $5 million needed to bring back Astoria Hot Springs.
But had her future in this field hinged on that first position, she would be doing something entirely different. It was a tough job to walk into as a wide-eyed graduate, and not one she was prepared to tackle.
“I was working for an organization that was not set up to have entered into a capital campaign,” she said. “I was 23, walking into record executive offices and asking them for seven-figure gifts.”
When she returned to Jackson in 2009, she changed gears and pursued a master’s degree from the University of Wyoming, focusing on education. She worked closely with the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum, helping design creative displays for the organization.
Leslie Mattson, president of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, approached Byron about taking a position with her organization. Mattson mostly needed help with some administrative work, and Byron accepted.
“For me it was an opportunity to be part of a legacy of protecting the place that taught me to love the outdoors,” she said.
Byron moved up quickly, eventually landing in a role that, again, required fundraising. It was a job she was hesitant to take.
“Working for Leslie ended up being a totally different experience,” she said. “She was the kind of fundraiser that made sense to me, and I got to support Grand Teton National Park, which is this place that has so much meaning in my life.”
Byron grew up with two brothers, one older and one younger, who challenged her to get outside and try to keep up. She was an active member of the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club, raced competitively in college and became sponsored in 2012.
In the summers she and her brothers spent their days fly-fishing, hiking and climbing the big boulders along Phelps Lake and launching themselves into the cool water.
“All those experiences taught me jumping in headfirst into the deep end is always going to be the option I take, rather than retreating,” Byron said. “The park played a pretty central role in that.”
After three years with the park foundation, Byron was approached by member of the Trust for Public Land’s advisory board who wanted to bend her ear on the nonprofit’s latest project, which was rebuilding Astoria Hot Springs Park.
Byron had learned to swim at Astoria. She spent a lot of summers at the lap pool, swimming with the Jackson Hole Stingrays swim team, dunking her friends in the warm water and horsing around on the playground.
Like many others in town she was sad to see the historic hot springs close in 1999. So she jumped at the opportunity to help bring them back, along with about 95 acres of passive park surrounding the springs.
Astoria “was central to the cultural fabric of Jackson before it closed,” Byron said. “Now we have an opportunity to create a new gathering place for today’s Jackson family and for future generations.”
Depending on fundraising, construction time lines and all the finer details of redevelopment, Astoria Hot Springs Park could return as soon as summer of 2018.
Or at least that’s Byron’s latest goal.