Park access today is limited almost exclusively to private vehicles – creating congestion, damaging resources, and reducing visitor enjoyment. Many park visitors and conservation groups have urged the National Park Service to invest in alternative modes of travel to promote health and safety, improve air quality, and help to reduce impacts on wildlife and natural resources.
Grand Teton is well on its way towards becoming a model park in this arena, by constructing a state-of-the art pathway system that goes a long ways towards achieving these goals. Their project will provide visitor access for bicycling and walking, relieve traffic congestion, minimize resource impacts, connect local gateway communities, and enhance visitors’ experiences.
In 2006, Grand Teton completed a planning process and environmental impact statement that evaluated how the park could provide sustainable transportation choices, while also protecting park resources. NPCA supports the park’s Final Record of Decision, which allowed for the construction of a 42-mile multi-modal pathway system. This project will ultimately improve access and safety for all park users.
Progress to Date
Currently, the park has received $11.5 million in federal funding through transportation and treasury appropriations for the system. Total costs for the project have been estimated at $30 million.
The pathways system officially broke ground in May 2008, and paving of Phase I was completed this past fall. The regulation to designate the pathway was submitted for publication to the Federal Registry this winter, and the first eight miles of the system will formally open after the official park service ceremony on August 9th.
Teton County was also able to secure an additional $2 million through two Alternative Transportation in Parks and Public Lands grants that were awarded in FY 2007/08 to link the county and park pathway systems at Grand Teton’s southern boundary. This will ultimately provide a contiguous path from the Town of Jackson through Grand Teton National Park.
Although, the project is off to a promising start, long-term funding will be essential to make the pathways system a reality.
SAFETEA-LU Highway Bill Reauthorization
The Grand Teton Pathways system is well on its way towards completion, with nearly one fourth of the system already paved, a completed environmental impact study finalized, and wildlife mitigation studies underway. Given the momentum behind this project, NPCA believes that the pathways system deserves strong consideration for funding under the transportation bill reauthorization.
Multi-year funding, whether through the earmark process or systemic program funding over the course of the six-year span of the bill, will ensure completion of the system, and ultimately save the federal government money by compressing the project timeline. However, in the current budget climate, earmarks will be increasingly difficult to secure and a dedicated funding stream will be essential. The federal government has already made a substantial investment in this project, and its inclusion in the highway bill with annual funding at $5-6 million per year would cover the remaining phases of pathways construction.
The Grand Teton pathways system will provide up to 20% of the park’s 3 million visitors a welcome alternative to private motor vehicle use, and encourage use of healthy, non-polluting and quiet modes of transportation in our national parks. These benefits are significant and should be promoted by the National Park Service and the USDOT Federal Land Highway Program.
Completion of the Grand Teton Pathways system will bolster the economy of the gateway community of Jackson Hole - already an important draw for overall tourism dollars into the state. The popularity of these types of alternative transportation initiatives has been proven in other parks like Acadia and Zion National Parks, and will likely attract an even higher level of use in an iconic park such as Grand Teton. This project will vastly improve the experience for visitors to Northwest Wyoming and provide new opportunities for people to explore this spectacular national park landscape.
Locally, the Town of Jackson, Teton County, the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, and many recreational and environmental interest groups in the area have supported this project.
On the state level, the Grand Teton pathways system has received the nod of approval from the WY State Department of Tourism, private and state-sponsored entities for people with disabilities, and regional organizations such as the Yellowstone Business Partnership.
For additional information, please contact Sharon Mader, Grand Teton Field Office Program Director at (307) 733-4680 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.