Written by Berne Broudy
Fifteen minutes and 16 miles south of Jackson along a gentle bend, mineral hot springs burble and boil into the Teton Mountains-fed Snake River. Since the Snake River Valley’s earliest recorded history, Astoria Hot Springs was a gathering place first for Native Americans, then for miners and mountain men, and most recently for families that live and work in Jackson. In the 1960s, a resort was built at Astoria Hot Springs where the public could picnic, swim and camp. In fact many Jacksonites learned to swim at Astoria. It was a crown jewel in the area’s growing recreation economy that highlighted the community’s love for the outdoors and Jackson’s unique location between the majestic snowy peaks of Grand Teton National Park and the geothermal plains of Yellowstone.
In 1999, privately owned Astoria Hot Springs Resort closed to the public. Its swimming pools were drained and backfilled, and its buildings were leveled. A developer bought the land, and it looked like Jackson’s natural hot springs were permanently out of public hands, locked up behind a gate for use by wealthy residents of a high end development and private sporting club. The community revolted, and a fifteen year fight to return Astoria Hot Springs to the public began.
In 2015, the people of Jackson won, and Astoria Hot Springs was acquired by the Wyoming Office of The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national non-profit that creates parks and protects land to build healthy, livable communities. In 2017, TPL, in partnership with the Town of Jackson, Snake River Sporting Club and developer Northlight, collectively agreed to a plan to protect the hot springs and the surrounding land in perpetuity. In consideration of the importance of the springs as a public park and swimming area for all members of the Jackson community, the town approved rezoning of several parcels in the Northlight and Snake River Sporting Club developments. “Resort zoning” on the north property was reduced to approximately five acres from 100, enough to house the hot springs and a 9,000-square-foot building. The remaining acres were zoned as park to guarantee the land around the springs site remains natural. And development rights for 56 units on the Northlight parcel were transferred to the Snake River Sporting Club, concentrating residential density near the golf course and existing homes. Finally, it was agreed that one percent of the sale of each of the 56 units will be deposited into a fund to subsidize teacher housing.
“The hot springs is a beloved community asset and that will be awesome to see come back into existence,” Teton County Board of Commission Chair Barbara Allen told Jackson Hole Magazine. “Changes to the resort master plan, in my opinion, were of significant community benefit. The development footprint of the resort was much reduced. The square footage potential was reduced. A scenic corridor along the river that previously had the potential for structures right along the banks was better protected.”
“As Jackson grows and changes, the wealth differential can be polarizing,” said Paige Byron, Associate Director of Philanthropy for TPL Wyoming. “Astoria Hot Springs will be a place everyone can come together, including the working people who make this community run.”
The hot springs will be reopened to the public—renamed Astoria Hot Spring Park–as soon as funds are raised for reconstruction. In addition to hot springs, the park will have five miles of trails, outdoor education areas, event spaces, public art and it will protect and critical habitat for 97 avian species and other wildlife. An iterative, community- fueled design process has engaged 2,500 residents and partner organizations in shaping the public space in this newly protected landscape. And the community will continue to drive this project though construction and beyond.
“The Trust for Public Land believes that conserving land and creating parks is powerful and inspirational,” said Byron. “When people come together to protect places they love, they demonstrate their hope and commitment to the future and inspire others to take action to improve their surroundings.”
The hot springs will be the only public swimming pool in Jackson open to the public. But there is still work to be done before its doors open.
“Support for Astoria has been broad and meaningful,” said Byron. The $6 million Campaign for Astoria Hot Springs Park inspired over 300 donors– individuals, local businesses and foundations, and TPL’s Wyoming Land Action Fund, that have all come together to support their newest public park. A committed group of volunteers and local residents are leading the effort raise the last $1.8 million.
Byron asks Jacksonites for their support. Get involved at http://support.tpl.org/Astoria.
Video credit to Sheets Studios