Environmental groups question plans for Karns Meadow

Conservationists argue new pathways could disturb wildlife, while transportation enthusiasts see them as a safe route through town.
Karns Meadow sits between Snow King Avenue and West Broadway, surrounded by buttes. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

by | Mar 14, 2023 | Environment, Recreation

Environmental advocates say the town of Jackson may be encroaching on wildlife habitat with new plans to make Karns Meadow more accessible to the public. But transportation advocates say new pathways in the park could make getting around town safer. 

The town purchased 42 acres of primarily wetlands near Snow King Avenue from the Karns family roughly two decades ago to create a “park for the people.”

Jackson ecosystem stewardship coordinator, Tanya Anderson, said the goal is “making it a place people can enjoy rather than an empty lot of land.” 

The town is now gathering public feedback on a plan to convert the space to more of an urban park, complete with pathways, parking, a picnic shelter and restrooms.

Karns Planning Project Map (Town of Jackson)

Wildlife concerns

Loren Nelson, who has lived next to the meadow for 14 years, refers to it as the last natural wildlife habitat left in Jackson.

“If you lose that, it’s gone forever,” Nelson said at a March 10 open house, which brought together about 20 neighbors, elected officials and nonprofit leaders to discuss the new park plans.

“It’s sort of the critical junction for all the animals,” he added. “It’s their last place where they can stop, rest, get food and water when they are moving.”

It’s not just mule deer using the habitat. Nelson said elk, moose, fox, coyotes, marmots and migratory songbirds also use the space.

Environmental advocates are taking particular issue with the proposed pathways, especially one that cuts between West Broadway and Flat Creek. 

Kevin Krasnow, with the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, said West Broadway already has a huge impact on wildlife with vehicle collisions, but it’s not enough to make the neighboring Karns Meadow habitat useless.

“[Mule deer] are still using this habitat significantly, and it’s an important linkage to this other habitat by Snow King,” Krasnow said.

A long road here

The current proposal comes after years of discussions about how best to expand public access to the meadow.

In 2018, the Jackson Hole Land Trust — which holds conservation easements on the meadow — partnered with the town to work toward fulfilling the Karns family’s vision, commissioning an environmental analysis.

The report, produced by Jackson-based environmental consultant EcoConnect, ultimately found that “gains to our community from development may be outweighed by the impacts to wildlife habitat.” 

It identified Karns Meadow as part of the heart of winter habitat for mule deer, which use it as a refuge between the surrounding buttes. 

Community members gathered at Teton County Library on March 10 to discuss the plans for Karns Meadow. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

The report advises the town to proceed carefully and create a plan for the park, in addition to improving “existing conditions” in Karns Meadow. This refers to unofficial camping and invasive weeds. 

The town followed that advice, creating the plan now being proposed.

“We’re going to get started taking a more active role in removing those invasive [weeds], replanting native plants and restoring some of the areas that have been degraded,” Anderson said.

But, while the current plan leaves the meadow relatively untouched, environmentalists are still raising red flags.

Bike paths

It’s dogs and bikers that could have the biggest impact, according to Krasnow, frightening mule deer out of the meadow. 

But avid cyclist Layne Presson disagreed. He said the benefits of adding more pathways outweigh the potential drawbacks.

“A tiny little walkway is pretty insignificant, don’t you think?” Presson said, adding that he thinks the neighboring highway already poses the greatest threat for wildlife. 

“It’s almost a waste of breath,” he said, “that we’re even discussing this.”

Presson said he would use the pathway to commute to work from East Jackson to Gregory Lane and advocates for any solution that separates bikers from cars. 

‘A park for the people’

Local nonprofit Friends of Pathways is supportive of the plan. Chris Owens, the trails programs director, said it would offer a safe route through town.

“I always think we’re not making pathways for me or someone who likes to bike all the time,” Owens said. “We’re making them for little kids.”

Anderson, the town ecosystem stewardship coordinator, echoed that sentiment.

“Hopefully, we can do something [with the meadow] where it’s a place families feel comfortable taking their kids,” Anderson said.

Potential activities, she said, include picnicking, wildlife watching and fishing on Flat Creek. Some people have even pushed to groom the pathways for Nordic skiing, though the town is still seeking input on what activities community members want.

The town of Jackson is accepting public comments about the project through the end of March here, where nearly 200 community members have commented thus far.

Anderson said she hopes to present a final draft of the plan to the town around June.

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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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