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Together, Dan Verbeten, Joselin Matkins, Amy Verbeten, and Shawn Hill are helming an ambitious project to improve and protect Teton Creek, adjacent habitat, the area’s agricultural heritage, and public recreational access.

To put it simply, the Teton Creek Corridor Project has a lot of moving parts.

The project, a collaboration between the Teton Regional Land Trust, Friends of the Teton River, Valley Advocates for Responsible Development, and Teton Valley Trails and Pathways, started almost five years ago thanks to a catalytic grant from the LOR Foundation, but the idea has been percolating for 15 years.

“The Teton Creek project is a reflection of the comprehensive plan and the community’s vision,” FTR executive director Amy Verbeten said. “We didn’t invent this wheel, we’re just fulfilling the role of carrying out it.”

The project’s mission is fivefold: to improve and protect wildlife habitat; to restore the Teton Creek stream function and habitat; to maintain productive farmland; to improve existing development in the corridor; and to establish a public pathway.

With the project seed funding, the partners hired Legacy Works to facilitate the collaboration. Each of the four nonprofits has its own mission, donors, and operating style, so TRLT executive director Joselin Matkins said it’s essential to have a facilitator to organize the logistics of meetings, decision-making, and budgeting. Every decision requires unanimous approval from the partners. (That means the Verbeten voting block can’t overpower the partners, joked TVTAP executive director Dan Verbeten.)

“The point of this project is that the sum is greater than its parts,” Matkins said. She added that the project has resulted in spin-off partnerships like the Buxton River Park and the Teton Water Users Association that bring in other nonprofits.

Each partner in the collaborative is tackling its own specialties within the project. FTR has established relationships with adjacent property owners and worked for years to restore the creek and stabilize the streambed. The creek now runs dry in July or early August every year, and FTR’s next project is to restore some stream flow during critical cutthroat spawning season.

“We want to both retain water for agriculture and to ensure adequate flow in the stream. We’re going to work with willing water rights holders to test that idea,” Amy said.

VARD is helping developers redesign planned but unbuilt subdivisions along the corridor in order to reduce the excess lot supply and make development more sustainable.

“We want people to understand how special these creek corridors are,” said VARD executive director Shawn Hill. “This is a tendril of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. We’re challenged by a real estate market that’s rife with expectation, but we’re trying to convince owners to see land not just as a development asset, but as a natural asset.”

TRLT has acquired land and established conservation easements on the south side of the creek while also protecting the farmland on the bench above the creek. Matkins emphasized that all property decisions have been made voluntarily, with the cooperation of generous property owners, and with private funding. And because of the public’s visceral negative reaction to a proposed road and bridge facility for the 31-acre county-owned property on Cemetery Road next to Teton Creek, TRLT is now helping the county explore alternatives for that land.

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In fall of 2018, the Teton Regional Land Trust worked to restore the riparian area in this heavily impacted home site next to Teton Creek.

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Now the buildings have been removed and with federal, state, and private funds, TRLT planted hundreds of native trees and shrubs to speed up the riparian restoration process. On the bench above the creek, approximately one hundred acres will remain in productive agriculture.

As of this summer, TVTAP is in the hot seat: the 2.5-mile crushed gravel pathway between Cemetery and Stateline Road is now the top priority for the partners. It will be open to non-motorized users except in the winter, when the path will be off limits to protect important winter range for the creek’s resident elk herd, as well as mule deer and moose.

The path will follow a high bench above the creek, with select access points into the riparian area that don’t disrupt wildlife habitat. Even though the path travels near the county transfer station, the layout of the land provides the feel of quiet and isolation. Near Stateline the path reaches a high point from which one can look down at the creek to the north, across lush farm fields to the south, and into the mouth of Teton Canyon to the east.

“It’s an opportunity to provide people with a taste of nature within walking distance of town,” Matkins said.

The exact details of the pathway are in flux but the necessary easements are already in place. Construction should begin next spring. The City of Driggs is lobbying to have the trailhead located at the 5th Street Park, and Teton County will own the easements and maintain the path. There are several mountains of rubble stockpiled on the county property, the spoils from FTR’s stream restoration work in 2013, and earlier this summer the board of county commissioners agreed to let TVTAP use that pit run for the pathway surface, which will decrease the project cost and can be applied as a match in some grants. TVTAP might also use crushed glass from the county recycling facility as a bed surface.

The partners just released a public survey to inform their decisions about the pathway. Dan Verbeten visited with lunchers at the senior center on Aug. 6 and said many of them had questions about the accessibility of the pathway, including seating areas and handrails. Those are the kinds of elements the survey seeks to address.

“It’s setting the stage for a community-owned asset,” Dan said.

To take the survey visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/YWGK8ZH.

On Aug. 21 from 9 to 11 a.m., the partners will host a free Wednesday Walk along the future path for anyone interested in experiencing the corridor in person. Email dan@tvtap.org to RSVP for the walk.

“This will become a character-defining feature of the valley,” Hill said. “Future generations, when they think of Driggs and Teton Valley, they will think of this corridor.”

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