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Dan Verbeten of TVTAP addresses a group of stakeholders from around the region at last week’s Greater Yellowstone Trail meeting. The group emerged with some tangible strategies for future action.

Five years later, Greater Yellowstone Trail partners regroup

On Oct. 30, representatives from public agencies, local and national governments, and nonprofit groups convened in Driggs to discuss the progress of the Greater Yellowstone Trail, a regional pathway first envisioned over five years ago to provide economic benefits and connectivity to local communities.

The Greater Yellowstone Trail concept plan was first released in 2015 and soon garnered accolades as an exemplary piece of regional pathway planning. Dave Foster of Alta Planning, who helped craft the plan, described it as one of his proudest professional accomplishments. Some of the stewards of the process, including Foster, Teton Valley Trails and Pathways executive director Dan Verbeten and Wyoming Pathways executive director Tim Young, wanted to bring the group of stakeholders back together to revisit, reassess, and revise the plan. Because five years had passed, it was time to check back in and hold each other accountable, explained Verbeten. The meeting was funded by a USDA rural development grant.

Of the 182 miles laid out in the plan, 114 are currently in existence and accessible. The biggest gaps in the trail are from West Yellowstone to the top of Reas Pass, from Warm River to Marysville, from Tetonia to Driggs, from Moose Creek to the summit of Teton Pass, and from Jenny Lake to Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park. Yellowstone National Park has not expressed an interest in continuing the route through the park.

The tone of the crowd at the meeting on Oct. 30 was equal parts optimistic and overwhelmed; the proposed path straddles three states, many jurisdictions, private land, and public land, with some major geographical barriers, none more formidable than Teton Pass.

Each segment of the trail contains its own challenges. Representatives from West Yellowstone are working to establish their segment but face the challenge of not having a guiding nonprofit trail organization to lead the fundraising charge or garner support from local entities. Island Park has a well-established rail bed with a very friendly grade, but the route sees heavy use by OHVs, often tourists without an understanding of local regulations who create illegal offshoots and travel in wider vehicles than allowed. Ashton would appreciate a spur from Marysville to connect the larger town to the network, but also understands the need for a pedestrian- and cyclist-safe route on the problematic section of highway that drops into the Warm River gorge. While Teton County, Wyoming has a well-used, high quality paved trail network that connects Grand Teton National Park to the top of Teton Pass, the approximately six miles that climb from Trail Creek to Teton Pass from the west promise to be the most expensive and heavily engineered miles of the entire route.

As for Teton Valley, perhaps the question most often posed by residents of the mid and upper valley is: when will Tetonia and Driggs be connected?

The old rail bed between the two towns travels across over 10 different private parcels. The City of Driggs and TVTAP have heard mostly silence or negative responses from those owners about the possibility of public easements on their properties. There is the alternative option of improving the shoulders of some of the quiet farm roads west of Highway 33 so they can serve as shared routes. Tributary, the new face of Huntsman Springs, is obligated through its development agreement with the City of Driggs to continue the existing path through the resort to 1000W. The developers also plan to install a pathway trailhead in the new public park north of the courthouse with bike and pedestrian amenities and interpretive signage.

“We have a keen interest in trying to make this happen,” said John Gavin, the investor managing the Tributary project. “I think it’d be a game changer not only for the marketplace but for the broader mountain western United States. I think it could rival something in Europe. Tributary is 100 percent committed to trying to help get this done. We will task our resources and our corporate relationships to try and help fund this thing.”

Meanwhile, the phase of the trail from Moose Creek to the state line is scheduled to begin next summer with the construction of highway underpasses at Mike Harris Campground and Trail Creek Campground.

The Teton Valley stakeholders determined their project is fortunate to have the benefit of ample expertise, strong relationships between partners, good funding mechanisms, an enthusiastic community in a location that can serve as an enticing regional hub, and local governments that operate with policy documents that codify the vision of the trail.

All of the assembled stakeholders agreed on some relatively easy steps to take within the next six months: an updated website, cohesive branding, and possibly a part-time coordinator to work with committee members on those tasks. The group also agreed to meet again in that time frame, in order to maintain momentum.

“This project is really amazing in terms of all the agencies and entities and governing bodies involved,” said Teton County Commissioner Cindy Riegel. “It’s really a great example of large-scale regional planning that I’m really committed to. If we can continue to work on this I’ll do whatever I can.”

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