Debate Heating up Over the Future of Jackson’s Rodeo Grounds

Teton County elected officials are expected to start discussing a possible relocation of the rodeo and fairgrounds early next year.
The lease for the Teton County fair and rodeo grounds is up in 2026, and elected officials say, if a move happens, planning discussions need to start now. (Courtesy of Isaac Spotts Photography)

 

“We’d bet a pair of silver spurs that rodeoing came to Jackson Hole on the day the very first man trailed into the valley.”

That’s a quote from the Jackson Hole News&Guide in 1971, describing how integral the rodeo is to the character of Teton County. And to some local residents, like Blair Maus, the grounds are still just as important today.

“I actually want to set my daughter up with these cowboys because they are the most lovely gentleman,” Maus said. “They take their hats off when they meet you. They say, ‘Ma’am.’ They’re so respectful.”

The rodeo and fairgrounds have been located at their current home on Snow King Avenue for more than 80 years. And Maus is trying to keep them there. 

Activists with the “Save the Rodeo” campaign argue that the fairgrounds are an integral part of Jackson Hole’s past, present and future. (Courtesy of Isaac Spotts Photography)

“Moving the rodeo grounds is a dramatic change because it is in the heart of the town. It’s the heart of our community. And so we want it to stay there,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t want affordable housing, but that can be other places. There are other creative ways we can come up with solutions for affordable housing without moving the rodeo.”

The rodeo grounds property is owned by the Town of Jackson, which leases the land to Teton County. Earlier this summer, both the town council and board of county commissioners voted to consider a possible fairgrounds move in order to use the property for something else. Those discussions aren’t set to start until next year, but Maus and Rebecca Bextel are funding a new “Save the Rodeo” campaign now—grabbing the bull by the horns, so to speak.

Local residents Blair Maus and Rebecca Bextel recently launched a “Save the Rodeo” public awareness campaign. (Courtesy of the “Save the Rodeo” campaign)

“The first approach is to raise public awareness and public sentiment for saving the rodeo grounds. That’s why Blair and I made the bumper stickers, the cards. And I’m actually seeing those bumper stickers around town more and more,” Bextel said.

Folks are also already writing to elected officials and bringing the rodeo grounds up in public meetings. After two residents raised the issue during an informal virtual chat with town councilors on Sept. 29, Jackson Vice Mayor Arne Jorgenson tried to put them at ease. 

“It is not an effort to not have a fair or not have a rodeo at all. It is simply a recognition that this is a significant asset for the town of Jackson,” he said. “And are there other uses, such as housing, that might go there if a suitable site could be found in the county?”

The lease for the rodeo grounds is up in 2026, so if a move is going to happen, Jorgensen said planning needs to start now. 

Another person who’d like to get a move in the works is Clare Stumpf, coordinator for the local housing advocacy organization Shelter JH. She said opportunities like a town-owned 12-acre plot don’t exactly grow on trees. 

Local businesses have struggled to find local workers this summer due to a lack of affordable housing in Jackson Hole. (Will Walkey/KHOL)

“Clearly, we have a housing emergency going on in town and the Town of Jackson has been identified as one of the better places to build, you know, more dense housing for folks,” she said. “So, the idea of capitalizing on a property that’s already in town and walkable and set up for that kind of development is really exciting and a great opportunity.”

Stumpf said she likes the rodeo, too, and that she takes visitors there when they come through town. But she’s also seeing local workers and businesses suffer due to a lack of affordable housing. 

“During election season for the last couple of cycles, housing has been the number one issue that every single candidate has talked about. So, I would like to see electeds really follow through with the commitments that they’ve made and prioritize homes here and still preserve our culture and value, you know, our Western character that we have by finding a new suitable location for the fairgrounds. But I don’t think it’s an either-or situation. I think there’s a way for everybody to get what they want,” Stumpf said. 

Jackson Town Councilwoman Jessica Sell Chambers is one elected official who wants to follow through on her campaign promises to help working people. During that September meeting with Jorgensen, she said she’s likely in favor of moving the rodeo.

“I prefer to focus on community character rather than neighborhood character,” Sell Chambers said.

But even Sell Chambers wants to make sure there’s a suitable spot for the new grounds, and right now, it’s not exactly clear where that would be. Bextel, of the “Save the Rodeo” campaign, said it’s critical to secure a new location before anything else. But a move is still unacceptable for some locals. 

“I think that where the rodeo grounds are set is vital to businesses. I live near the rodeo grounds and I watch people every Wednesday and Saturday walking from restaurants to the rodeo grounds,” she said.

Team roping, barrel racing and horse and bull riding are all regular events each summer at the Jackson Hole Rodeo. (Courtesy of Isaac Spotts Photography)

As of press time, more than 1,200 people—about half from Wyoming and half from out-of-state—have signed a petition asking to put the fairgrounds move up to a vote in Teton County. As recently as 2012, attempts to move the rodeo grounds have been shot down by electeds following public outcry. Bextel, who doesn’t want any kind of grounds move, would support a vote now because she thinks the will of the people is still in her favor. 

“Why wouldn’t we vote on it again? Why would we just happen to glance at an agenda item from June 7 and see where all of a sudden the town and county are voting about a housing feasibility study for rezoning the rodeo? That just seems suspicious to me,” she said.

For Bextel and Maus, the campaign comes down to historic preservation and not wanting to see the town change too much.

“Jackson keeps changing and getting rid of historical things and things that are part of the past, right? And progress isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we also just have to hold on to things that remind us of who we once were,” Maus said.

KHOL reached out to the Wilson Family, who’s been running the rodeo for decades, for comment on this story, but did not receive a response by press time. Right now, the family says they’re saddling up for the winter season after a successful summer despite the pandemic. And in a recent meeting with elected officials, the Wilsons confirmed that they’re excited to keep running the rodeo for years to come.

The question is, where’s that going to be? 

Editor’s Note 10/12: We’ve updated one line to read, “Bextel, who doesn’t want any kind of grounds move, would support a vote now because she thinks the will of the people is still in her favor.” This is a slight change from how it was before and was edited to better reflect her viewpoints regarding the fairgrounds. 

 

The Teton County fair and rodeo grounds have been in the same location for more than 80 years, but some elected officials and activists say it might be time for them to move. (Courtesy of the “Save the Rodeo” campaign)

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About Will Walkey

Will is KHOL's newest reporter and producer. Originally from Tacoma, Washington, he recently graduated from Columbia University with a Master's Degree in journalism. He likes to read and write about housing, local politics, and history, and spends most of his free time fishing or biking. He's excited to be living in Wyoming, and looks forward to honing in on his unique radio voice by highlighting the locals that make Jackson special. Contact Will with tips at will@jhcr.org, and follow him on Twitter at @WillWalkey.

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