Teton County, Wyoming has received a federal grant that will go toward improving transportation, outdoor recreation access and wildlife safety on Teton Pass. The County announced today that it was awarded $300,000 from the Federal Land Access Program (FLAP) to begin planning efforts.
“Teton Pass is a critical transportation corridor. that also traverses extraordinary public lands access and wildlife habitat,” said Teton County Engineer Amy Ramage. “This grant will allow us to develop a cohesive plan to address unprecedented levels of recreation and commuter use, while also looking at ways to reduce wildlife/vehicle collisions and improve pedestrian safety.”
Recreation use of this corridor, both during the winter and summer, has risen sharply since the early 1990s. Multiple trailhead facilities provide access to high-use recreation trails during the summer and exceptional backcountry terrain in the winter but they come at a price. As commuter and commerce traffic has also rapidly increased, parking congestion, conflict, and safety concerns, plague the area.
“Teton Pass winter recreation has reached a boiling point with overcrowded parking areas, skier-triggered avalanches blocking Wyoming Highway 22 and public safety concerns,” said Jackson District Ranger Mary Moore.
The Bridger-Teton National Forest, along with the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, manages most of the public land adjacent to Highway 22, which splits the pass. Both forests, Teton County, Wyoming, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT), and advocacy groups, Wyoming Pathways and the Teton Backcountry Alliance, have shared ideas and suggestions on how to balance the demands of Teton Pass.
“Use of this area is not going to decrease so we need to develop a solid corridor management plan that looks at the issues holistically from Idaho to Wyoming,” said Jay Pence, Teton Basin District Ranger for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
The escalating conflict between pedestrian safety and the highway corridor prompted Teton County to apply for the national grant. The fledging conceptual plan proposes design elements to improve pedestrian safety in the highway corridor, clearly define and separate recreation parking from highway maintenance and emergency needs and improve the recreation experience by reducing conflict and improved signage. Wildlife vehicle collisions are also a safety and ecological concern and synergy with implementing solutions proposed in the Teton County Wildlife Crossings Master Plan will be considered in this effort.
Maintenance of the highway and the adjacent recreational trailheads is currently a multi-jurisdictional responsibility. WYDOT maintains the highway including significant avalanche control, plowing, removing rockfall, pavement preservation, and replacing damaged highway signs and guardrails. The Forest Service, in conjunction with partners, installs and maintains recreation signing, removes trash, maintains trails and campsites, and provides on-site educational patrols. Teton County plows and maintains the Trail Creek road and trailhead.
A report published by WYDOT references the long history of safety concerns associated with the pass and the need for designated parking that can be used for recreational use as well as avalanche mitigation. The long, wide, and uncontrolled access points at the summit parking are a source of many near misses with pedestrians and vehicles on the highway.
The Federal Lands Access Program was established to improve transportation facilities that provide access to Federal lands. FLAP supplements State and local resources for public roads with an emphasis on high-use recreation sites and economic generators. With up to 200,000 visitors a year, 3 major trailheads and thousands of acres of public lands affected, this project easily fit the bill.