Efforts to address dispute over Jackson rodeo fail in Cheyenne

A bill to designate the Teton County Fairgrounds a state historic site won’t move forward this legislative session.
The Teton County Fairgrounds are located off of Snow King Avenue and home to the Jackson Hole Rodeo. (Tyler Pratt/KHOL)

The state legislature won’t be weighing in on the future of the Teton County Fairgrounds this year. Two bills concerning the Jackson rodeo died this week in Cheyenne when they failed to make it out of committee by a state deadline. 

One bill from the local “Save the Rodeo Grounds” group could have bypassed local government and designated the Jackson fairgrounds a state historic site. The effort gained some support among state politicians — including the newly-elected Republican Congresswoman Harriet Hageman — and it was sponsored by lawmakers outside Teton County.

One sponsor, Sen. John Winter (R-Thermopolis), deemed the fairgrounds issue “a top concern,” but the measure failed to gain wider support in the legislature. 

Lack of support

Two local representatives — Andrew Byron (R-Hoback) and Liz Storer (D-Jackson) — said some lawmakers were concerned about the bill eroding local control.

“It also clearly restricts the town’s ability to use its own land,” Storer said. 

Historic sites are typically created on state land — not town properties, according to Gary Schoene with Wyoming’s state parks department. A state document also maps out a process for designating historic sites where passing legislation is the last step after the state parks department approves the project.

A memo sent by the Wyoming Legislative Service Office to Storer also questioned the legality of what many say was an unprecedented move.

“Because this bill may impact one municipality’s right to determine its own affairs in disposing of a parcel of land that it owns,” the Jan. 27 memo reads, “it is possible that this bill may be challenged as violating the home-rule provision of the Wyoming Constitution.”

A counter bill

In reaction to the rodeo bill, on Jan. 27, Storer introduced another piece of legislation aimed at protecting local control. That bill also failed to move forward.

Earlier this week, Storer said she hoped to further cement what she sees as the state’s process, where local governments approve historic site designations. But she also said she didn’t expect her bill to move forward since she introduced it so late in the session.

“This is not a bill that I expect to have a hearing given how slowly we’re moving,” Storer said. “But it at least raises the issue of maybe we should consider this in the future.”

Debate over housing project

The efforts stemmed from a dispute over a planned affordable housing project next to the current fairgrounds near downtown Jackson. 

Supporters of the project say it’s a step toward addressing the town’s dire housing crisis.

“Save the Rodeo Grounds” group members, on the other hand, say it threatens Jackson’s “western heritage.” They say it’s encroaching on the land historically part of the fairgrounds and that they don’t want the fairgrounds moved.

Town and county officials say there are currently no plans to relocate the current fairgrounds. Town councilmember Arne Jorgensen was in Cheyenne this week and said he tried to share his local perspective on the topic.

“There is no threat [to the fairgrounds],” Jorgensen told KHOL, adding that the “Save the Rodeo Grounds” legislation could have opened the door for the state to take over fairgrounds across Wyoming.

Sponsors of the “Save the Rodeo Grounds” bill didn’t respond to requests to comment made after the legislation failed to move forward.

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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