Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Oct. 29

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on the search for Cian McLaughlin, Jackson’s rec center expansion and the special legislative session.
Grand Teton National Park
Friends and family members of Cian McLaughlin, the 27-year-old who went missing in Grand Teton National Park in June, are making a renewed push to find him before snow covers too much of the landscape. (Courtesy of VisitJacksonHole)

Body of Texas Man Found in Grand Teton National Park; Search Efforts Continue for McLaughlin

Search teams located the body of a 26-year-old Texas man in Grand Teton National Park on Sunday, Oct. 24. The search for Jared Hembree began on Thursday, Oct. 21, and involved more than 80 personnel from the park, local law enforcement agencies and the Search and Rescue teams from both Teton County, Wyoming, and Idaho. Hembree is the fourth person to go missing in Jackson Hole this year and the third whose body has been recovered. Public affairs specialist for the park C.J. Adams said more cases of missing persons is likely a reflection of increased use of public lands.

“For the park in general, we’ve just been super busy this year and so with increased visitation, we’ve seen some of these cases and that does take a toll on park personnel,” Adams said. “But we do our best and make those search efforts as necessary. Luckily, in this case we were able to locate Jared.”

Hembree’s remains were found near Uhl Hill in the eastern part of the park, near Moran. An investigation is ongoing into the circumstances of his death. 

Meanwhile, friends and family members of Cian McLaughlin, the 27-year-old Jackson man who went missing in the park in early June, are making a renewed push on social media to locate him, using the hashtag #FindCian. Adams said the park is still seeking any information that might help in that cause.

“We do not stop searching until a missing person is found. So, in the case of Cian, the park continues to operate in a kind of a continuous mode, and we’re still hoping to locate him.” 

Adams also said it gets harder to find clues as snow starts to cover the landscape. Anyone with information about McLaughlin or who may have photos or videos from the Delta Lake or Lupine Meadows areas in early June is urged to call the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch at 888-653-0009 or submit a tip online at nps.gov/isb.

County Residents Speak Out Against Mask Mandate

The Teton County Board of Commissioners heard updates from local public health officials during its regular Monday meeting. The main purpose of the agenda item was to discuss whether or not the current county mask mandate, which was put in place in September, is still effective. During the public comment period, 19 community members asked to rescind the order, while just one asked to keep it. 

“People are tired of it,” said one resident, “We’re tired of being told what to do if we don’t believe in it.”

“As a mom, I’m keenly interested in creating a path to normalcy for our children, given that vaccine authorization [for children] down to five [years old] is likely to come in the next week,” said another speaker.

The update was requested by Teton County Commissioner Greg Epstein, who opposed the face covering mandate last month. But public health officials, including Dr. Dan Forman of the Teton District Board of Health, argued that the science says the order should continue through the end of this year or until metrics improve. That’s because too many communities around Jackson Hole, and all local children under 12, remain significantly unvaccinated. Plus, many high-risk populations haven’t been able to get booster doses yet.

“I really do sympathize and empathize with the public comments from this morning regarding the psychosocial as well as potential medical detriments to wearing a mask. But the benefits, at least in my opinion, greatly outweigh the risks at this point,” Forman said. “And frankly, anything that we can add to our quiver to try to get out of our current predicament, we are supportive of, and that includes masks.”

Teton County continues to fall in the red (high) risk level for COVID-19, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Teton County Board of Health. Hospitals around the Cowboy State and in Idaho are also struggling with an influx in COVID-19 patients, the vast majority of whom are unvaccinated. More information about current coronavirus metrics, vaccine effectiveness and booster shot qualifications is available at tetoncountywy.gov/covidvax

Rec Center Expansion Over Budget But Proceeding

Teton County Director of Parks and Recreation Steve Ashworth gave an update Monday to town and county leaders about the status of the rec center expansion and renovation in Jackson. The project was originally budgeted to cost $22 million — a price tag that was approved by voters in 2019. But Ashworth said the project is running about $9 million over budget right now.

“In 2019, I did not predict what we’d be dealing with today. You know, we didn’t see a pandemic [coming], we didn’t see a supply chain challenge [coming] like we’ve had,” Ashworth said. “And the escalation in our community, there is an increased escalation… due to labor.”

Other factors that have increased project costs include expanding the proposed climbing gym, based on public feedback, and unexpected required excavation on the site. Still, several town councilors and county commissioners said the project’s not likely to get any cheaper if they hold off. The boards voted unanimously to support a timeline proposed by Ashworth to continue moving forward in the design and bidding process. The director expects to come back to the county with more details in February.

Special Wyoming State Legislature Session Underway

The Wyoming State Legislature kicked off a special session Tuesday aimed at combating President Joe Biden’s proposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal workers and contractors and private businesses with more than 100 employees. Most of the day was spent deliberating the rules and procedures for the lawmaking session, and at one point the house and senate both voted on whether or not to adjourn the meetings altogether. However, that was shot down, and debates in Cheyenne continued throughout the week. 

Republican Rep. Chuck Gray of Casper is leading the charge on many of the proposed bills, and he implored his colleagues Tuesday to act swiftly against what he calls federal overreach. 

“It is our job as legislators of the State of Wyoming to take our 10th Amendment powers, our powers in the 9th Amendment [and] our powers across the constitution, and to assert that we are not going to stand for what the chief executive and the executive branch at the federal level is doing right now,” Gray said.

Some of the laws up for discussion include penalizing employers for requiring or incentivizing COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, as well as requiring severance pay for those who leave work due to their inoculation status. Democratic Rep. Mike Yin of Jackson spoke out against those types of bills on the house floor Wednesday, saying they infringe on the freedoms of individual business owners in Teton County who want to do what they can to make customers feel safe. 

Old Bill’s Breaks Record

The 2021 Old Bill’s Fun Run raised nearly $20 million dollars for local nonprofits. That’s a record-breaking number and a 29% increase over last year. A total of 4,100 individual contributors helped raise the money throughout a six-week giving period, and large donors, including this year’s Mr. and Mrs. Old Bill’s, also stepped up and raised the matching funds for organizations that raised more than $30,000.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you to everyone who donated to KHOL this Old Bill’s Giving Season! Your financial support allows our small nonprofit newsroom to continue bringing you the latest community headlines directly to your radio and podcast feed.

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