Weekly News Roundup: Friday, June 24

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on Yellowstone's partial reopening, a debate over short-term rental changes and COVID-19 vaccines for the youngest children.
Visitors to Yellowstone National Park must now abide by a license plate-based vehicle entry system, and only southern parts of the park are open following devastating floods last week. (National Park Service/Jim Peaco)

by | Jun 24, 2022 | Weekly News Roundups

 

Yellowstone partially reopens after floods

The southern loop of Yellowstone National Park reopened Wednesday morning, allowing visitors to access areas including Old Faithful, Fishing Bridge and West Thumb for day use. But there’s a catch for recreators: Admission is only granted to vehicles that end in an even number on even dates of the month and odd numbers on odd dates, though there are some exceptions. Speaking in a press conference last week, Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said the temporary system is designed in order to not overwhelm the park with too many people cramming into a smaller area. 

“One thing that we definitely know is that half the park cannot support all of the visitation,” Sholly said.

Visitors are now able to enter Yellowstone through the Cody, West Yellowstone and Jackson entrances. Parts of the northern loop road, including Mammoth Hot Springs and Dunraven Pass, are expected to open in the next few weeks, with longer delays for entrances and roads near Gardiner and Cooke City, Montana. Those gateway communities were heavily impacted by the recent rainfall and flooding, and Sholly said it will require longer-term planning to figure out how the National Park Service should design new transportation routes throughout northern reaches of the park. 

“Like, the road between here [Mammoth] and Gardiner, we are looking at pulling the road potentially away from the river and putting it on a completely different alignment to make a better investment and to avoid a similar issue in the future,” the superintendent said.

The National Park Service initially announced Sunday that it was allocating $50 million in emergency funding for Yellowstone to expedite the flood recovery process, and specifically to open up temporary passages between Mammoth and Gardiner and Cooke City. An additional announcement Thursday from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration said the FHWA is allocating a total of $65 million in “quick release” Emergency Relief funds for use by the National Park Service ($60 million, an increase from the original $50 million announcement), Montana Department of Transportation ($3 million) and Wyoming Department of Transportation ($2 million).

The latest information about who can enter the park, including when and where, can be found by visiting Yellowstone’s website and clicking “plan your visit.”

Ohio man killed on Gros Ventre River

Teton County Search and Rescue, Grand Teton National Park Jenny Lake Rangers and local law enforcement officials responded to a fatal paddling accident on the Gros Ventre River Tuesday evening. A two-person cataraft flipped over near the rapid known as Hermit in the demanding whitewater stretch below Lower Slide Lake, according to a Wednesday press release. One of the boaters was swept downstream and could not be retrieved by his party. The man was wearing a personal flotation device but was not responsive when later located by Teton County Search and Rescue.

The man was identified as 55-year-old Stephen Davis, of Ohio, according to the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Davis’ party was described by officials as “well equipped, prepared and experienced.”

COVID-19 vaccines now available for youngest local children

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccinations for children as young as six months old last week, and Teton County will soon start offering clinics for kids and their parents looking for their first doses. 

Director of the Teton County Health Department Jodie Pond said the first shipments of the vaccines arrived in Jackson Tuesday morning. She also said she expects a fair amount of demand for doses from the community. 

“Every individual family needs to make their own decisions about this,” Pond said. “[But] I do think that we do have a number of employees here at the health department who have kids under five, and they have been waiting anxiously and to get their kids vaccinated.”

Two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, were approved for rollout by the FDA after months of clinical trials, scientific review and consultations from family healthcare providers. Local vaccination clinics will be available from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Teton County Health Department starting next week, with additional hours in July. Information about the effectiveness of the vaccines, how to book appointments and where to find more literature if you’re a parent is available at tetoncountywy.gov/covidvax.

Pond also said she recommends talking to a pediatrician about any questions or concerns. 

Short-term rental changes continue to spark debate

A Jackson Town Council workshop held Tuesday about possible changes to rules for short-term rentals spilled over into an informal Chat with Council Members event Wednesday. The discussion is about a proposed change that would reduce the number of times homeowners outside of the town’s lodging overlay can rent their properties from 12 times a year to four. Advocates argue that the move could help provide more rentals for locals and preserve the character of residential neighborhoods, while opponents say many homeowners need the extra income to pay mortgages and property taxes. 

Morgan Bruemmer is founding principal, president and CEO of The Clear Creek Group, which provides luxury Jackson Hole rental homes, property management and more. He said many locals and town officials assume the worst about companies like his even though Jackson has always been a tourist town.

“If there’s a perceived problem, let’s number one, identify the problem. And number two, let us be a part of the solution,” Bruemmer said. “We’re all ears. We need to continue to operate. We want to do what’s best for the community. We’re not here to destroy the community character, but we want to do what’s right.”

Bruemmer also said his group averages just three rentals a year in homes located outside of the lodging overlay.

Another housing issue brought up Wednesday by Councilmember Jim Rooks is fractional home ownership made possible through companies like Pacaso, which has entered the Jackson housing market. Rooks described that development as “more concerning” to him than any other short-term rental issue because multiple owners, plus their guests, can come and go as they please throughout the year without limitation. Pacaso says it sells homes to about eight to 10 owners.

Rooks also said he planned to talk to a city councilor in Park City, Utah, to learn about how that resort community has been grappling with Pacaso.

Statewide climate stakeholders to convene in Lander

The first-ever Wyoming Climate Summit will be held Saturday in Lander. Organizers say the goal is to gather Wyomingites from all corners of the state and the Wind River Indian Reservation to inspire climate action. The summit is free and open to the public and will feature speakers and panel discussions, an electric vehicle show and networking opportunities. 

Ariel Greene is co-founder of the nonpartisan Lander Climate Action Network, which is hosting the event. He said the summit is needed now because the effects of climate change are already impacting Wyoming communities–including Lander.

“During the 20th century, we used to get about an average of 17 days a summer where temperatures reached 90 degrees or above, and the past two summers, we’ve averaged 44 days,” he said. “That affects everybody–if you’re building a house, you’re in construction or if you’re out doing road work, if you’re a farmer and rancher–you can feel it when it hits 90. It’s uncomfortable.”

That’s in addition to reduced snowpack, earlier peak runoff in area rivers and more forest die-offs due to beetle infestations. However, Greene also said that while Wyoming faces some disadvantages when it comes to tackling climate change–like the state’s overreliance on fossil fuels–there are also abundant opportunities for renewable energy development and other progress.

“There are a lot of positives in this discussion around the solutions, so we don’t just want to talk about risks, but we want to talk about how we can have more livable communities, cleaner air, cleaner water, healthy children, preserving our wild places and great outdoors, energy independence, more jobs, etc.,” Greene said.

Still, more political will is needed for bold climate action to be taken at the state level. About half of Wyoming voters surveyed in the recent State of the Rockies poll conducted by Colorado College said there’s enough evidence of climate change that action should be taken.

WYDOT seeks electric vehicle infrastructure feedback

Wyoming residents have until June 27 to comment on the final draft of the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure deployment plan, according to the Laramie Boomerang. The proposal outlines how the state will build a network of charging stations for electric vehicles, hoping to boost tourism and set Wyoming up for a future of alternative transportation options.

More than $25 million earmarked specifically for this should be coming into state coffers over the next five years. However, interstates 80, 90, and 25 currently have top priority for investment, with a few other major highways set to follow after that. 

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