2013 Year in Review

By on December 23, 2013
“Big Jim” Whittaker

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Both the community and this newspaper had an interesting year in 2013, and in many ways we will be sad to see it go. Our readership has probably never been higher, and certainly never more vocal. You let us know how our stories moved you, loudly, at times, and without reserve. Our post-story comment section remains the valley’s virtual hair salon. The feedback is usually informative and always entertaining, even when it meanders off-topic.

January 2013
The year started off with a bang. Actually, it was a bust. After the Planet’s first issue (Jan. 2), where we previewed the busy upcoming legislative session, we got an anonymous tip from a reader who gave us the inside scoop regarding the bank robbery at U.S. Bank in Jackson. We knew more about the heist than the cops at first and we put you there, on January 9, in the bank, when an unidentified robber made off with more than $140,000. Only Planet JH knew the amount taken and was not afraid to print it.

The month would end with the news that “Charlie,” now known as Australian Corey Donaldson, 39, had been arrested in Utah. Once again, we received a phone call, this one from someone who was there when Donaldson was busted in the back of a cab in Clinton, Utah.

Christmas came a tad late for conservationists but the news was worth waiting for. “We did it,” screamed headlines as the Trust for Public Land announced they had secured oil and gas leases on 58,000 acres in the Noble Basin with the help of more than 1,000 generous donors.

Don Frank was named to replace Melissa Turley on the Town Council. Turley won her bid to jump to the Board of County Commissioners. A proposal to merge Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee national forests was nixed with acting regional forester Marlene Finley saying it wouldn’t really save any money. Wolves were poached in the Gros Ventre, a crime that would never be solved
Planet JH hired a professional bodyguard for a week (January 23-29) until we figured out we had no substantial assets or net worth to protect. And were they or weren’t they? Our scoop on Jackson locals Jennifer Wolfrom and company, who claimed they were abducted and robbed while in Peru, launched a hailstorm of controversy we never anticipated.

Liza Benson

Liza Benson

February 2013
February was tragic. The shortest month was not short enough. January closed with two avalanche deaths that rocked the community. Liza Benson, 28, triggered an avalanche in Clause Creek near Bondurant on January 26 and was killed when she struck a tree. The valley was still in shock when another backcountry skier was buried, this time in the park in Berry Creek. Nick Gillespie, 30, a seasonal employee of Grand Teton NP, was caught in a slide on Survey Peak on January 27.

And it got worse.

Popular Moose hockey player and team captain Joe Casey died unexpectedly a day after the Super Bowl. The exact cause was never determined but Casey, 37, had been suffering from flu-like symptoms in the days leading up to his death.

Jared Spackman

Jared Spackman

And as if to prove February would not relinquish its icy grip easily, March 1 headlines carried the news that Jared Spackman was dead. The 40-year-old real estate broker was avalanched near the appropriately named Death Canyon while ascending Apocalypse Couloir on Prospector Peak.

Two other valley notables also left us in February, although their departures were of a professional nature. BTNF supervisor Jacque Buchanan announced she was moving on after two years to take a job at the Rocky Mountain regional office in Denver. And Cindee George abruptly resigned her executive director post at Center for the Arts after barely a year. Oklahoma State University Provost Robert Sternberg was announced as UW’s new president on Feb. 26. He wouldn’t last the year, either.

Planet JH spent February killing brain cells and then rebuilding them. We dove headlong into the bourbon-soaked world of rugby with an in-depth feature on the local side. The following issue was devoted to new age nerds, as we checked out the high school robotics club in a story called Geek Week.

March 2013
March came in like a, well, lion cub, maybe. A weak earthquake rattled Smoot residents on March 1. “Fewer than a dozen people felt it,” reported Jackson Hole Radio. In other words, the entire population of Smoot was jolted awake by the mild tremor.

The biggest story of March was how the sequestration cuts were going to affect the local economy beginning with the feds’ announcement that they would not be plowing open Yellowstone roads for a lack of money. Town and County leaders said they didn’t have the funds to step in but it was the Travel and Tourism Board to the rescue. In a partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, TTB announced it would put up $56,000, plus the chamber’s $14,400, to get the south entrance opened on schedule.

Canon Builders began work on the pathway bridge over the Snake River. Cheryl Probert dropped in for a cup of coffee as Buchanan’s temporary replacement. Clint Kyhl would replace her on a permanent basis in July.

Planet JH kicked off March with its popular “Best Of…” party and issue. We followed that up with a gripping two-part series on wolf and coyote trapping that got the whole nation blogging up a storm on the PJH website.

April 2013
The race was on in April. News that terrorists had bombed the Boston Marathon was quickly followed with relief that none of the 23 participating Jackson Hole runners were injured. NASCAR legend Kyle Petty roared into town on April 29 with his motorcycle buddies to raise money for his kids’ camp.

Grizzly 610 had flashbulbs popping again, when she emerged from her winter slumber with three more cubs in tow. The bruin family was spotted near Cattleman’s Bridge early in the month.

Planet JH reserved April for the elderly. We hit up Leta Deveraux’s birthday party in our first issue of the month. The Ewing family matriarch turned 105 on March 29. A few issues later, we caught up with local cowboy legend Jack Huyler for a memory-jogging history lesson.

May 2013
As the valley thawed out from a long winter, May turned deadly for some.

After a weeklong search, the body of 46-year-old Danny Durante was found on May 2 in about 100 feet of water in an area known as Jug Hollow on Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

On May 3, Adam Hagen, 27, was reported deceased after he was fooling with a firearm in his home and accidentally shot himself in the head in front of friends. Later that day, an employee of Gunsight Ranch in the Gros Ventre was killed when he was ejected from his ATV during a joyriding outing. Scott Lilley, 39, of Lansing, NY, was found face down in Cottonwood Creek and pronounced dead at the scene.

On May 12, it took nearly two-dozen SAR members to find three BYU students who had become stranded in the Wind and Ice caves. It would be Doug Meyer’s last mission with TCSAR. He was fired the following day “for cause,” according to Undersheriff Bob Gilliam.

The Lady Broncs cemented another soccer state championship, the Boy Scouts collected a record-setting number of elk antlers on the Refuge, and construction work began at the five-way in downtown Jackson.

“Big Jim” Whittaker

“Big Jim” Whittaker

PlanetJH snared “Big Jim” Whittaker on May 15, the first American to summit Everest, while he was in town. He told us a riveting tale about the trek that would claim the life of one team member on the climb’s second day.

June 2013

Sydney Lee Judge,

Sydney Lee Judge,

Jackson mourned the death of two teenagers in June. Sydney Lee Judge, 16, was killed in a rollover accident on June 9. That same weekend, authorities found 2011 Summit High School graduate Austin Kortum, 19, dead of an apparent suicide on Greys River Road.

The Redskins mascot for Teton High was eradicated and then just as quickly resurrected. Norovirus ripped its way through Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks after being brought into the valley by tourists.

Planet’s June 5 issue was a lightning rod. Blogging continued for weeks on the merits or misgivings of Jessica Rutzick’s egg donor website business.

July 2013
Maybe it was the heat. July was punctuated by two high speed chases ending in spike strips being deployed, an altercation at an employee party in GTNP resulted in a stabbing and arrest, the town stagecoach crashed after the two-horse team spooked and, horrors, there was the announcement by Liz Cheney that she was challenging U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi for his seat.

Yellowstone claimed two more visitors for another chapter in “Death in Yellowstone.” Charles Peet, 80, was a little luckier. The Jacksonite crashed his experimental plane on his Hoback ranch but walked away.

Sheriff Jim Whalen was appointed to the nine-member board overseeing the new state lottery, Jay Pistono returned to his post as river ambassador thanks to a grant from Snake River Fund, and a record crowd turned out at the base of the King for the Lukas Nelson concert.
And, oh yeah, the Moulton Barn turned 100.

At The Planet, we welcomed the new dog business to town. Snake River K9 gave us its first interview after landing in the valley. We also tracked down longtime valley restaurateur Joe Rice to learn how he keeps on keeping on, and our July 31 issue closed the month with a hottest story of the year. Christy Lawton gave us a candid interview on her new business venture, Street Fox, a matchmaking/dating service for distinguished locals.

August 2013
In case you missed it, Jackson Holers awoke to August with news that Steamboat had erupted after eight years of silence. The unpredictable geyser spewed 300 feet in the air at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night (July 31) as a few dozen onlookers caught the rare sight.

A late-night stalker made headlines after he entered the homes of at least four women in East Jackson and made contact of a sexual nature with a few of them. Grizzly bears attacked two bear biologists west of Island Park and hikers on the Cygnet Lakes trail in Yellowstone.

Another bank was robbed, this one in Afton. Donald Sample, 56, was pinched 15 miles from the First National Bank making his getaway. A mountain lion was spotted off Gregory Lane on school grounds. After weeks of searching, Game and Fish never found the elusive cat.

The Planet explored the tight housing market in Jackson Hole. Rents were though the roof, if one could even be found.

September 2013
In the good news department: Old Bill’s annual Fun Run raised a record-setting $9.8 million, topping the cumulative total of $100 million during its 17-year history. Jackson Hole High School was the recipient of the national Blue Ribbon Award and motorized watercraft were officially banned from the stretch of Snake River between Grand Teton National Park and the South Park Bridge.

Bad news for the month included Deputy County Attorney Brian Hultman suffering a stroke while participating in LOTOJA. A 55-year-old Florida man committed suicide at Windy Point in GTNP and a Colorado couple was killed when their plane crashed shortly after takeoff from the JH Airport on September 12.

The valley was on edge for much of the month after the discovery of a headless body in Mosquito Creek. Initially ruled a homicide, authorities quickly ascertained that James P. O’Brien, 66, of Forest Hills, NY, had killed himself with the possible assistance of a friend.

Our readers were divided on whether the introduction of Starbucks on the town square was good for the economy or the death knell for local coffee shops.

October 2013

Mary Gibson Scott

Mary Gibson Scott

The partial government shutdown managed to throw a wet blanket on the end of the summer tourist season. National parks closed and GTNP super Mary Gibson Scott took the opportunity to call it a career after 33 years in system. The local chapter of the Red Cross also shuttered.

Meanwhile, the Children’s Learning Center didn’t seem to have a problem with fundraising. It scared up more than $150,000 during its second annual “Dancing with the Jackson Stars.”

When the federal government did get back on its feet, it was announced the BTNF headquarters would remain in Jackson, ending nearly eight years of speculation and controversy over the district and SO offices.

The Planet chatted with high school principal Scott Crisp, “Crazy Sexy” toxic avenger Kris Carr, and profiled Freedom Arms, the quiet little gun-making enterprise in Star Valley.

November 2013
Two early season avalanches rocked Jackson Hole in November. Laura Krusheski, 29, caused a slide near the Breccia Cliffs on Togwotee Pass. Days later, Scott Dixon, 32, was caught in an avalanche while skiing Jackson Peak. Both were injured but currently recovering.

A dozen members of SAR rescued a construction worker using a rope rappel normally reserved for mountain operations. Cody Durban was pulled from the deep underground parking garage hole at the site of the old Woods Motel construction.

Someone took a shot at a school bus at the depot off Gregory Lane and vandals trashed a photo booth in the Pink Garter Plaza. Neither crime has been solved.

Snow King Pale Ale

Snow King Pale Ale

Trevor Stevenson departed the Conservation Alliance and Snake River Brewing unveiled a new beer commemorating Snow King’s 75th anniversary.

Developer Greg Prugh sat down with The Planet for his take on the local real estate scene and our two-part series on the unsolved murders of the early 1980s had folks reliving those wild and woolly days.

December 2013
Construction at the five-way finally ended. Motorists could now enjoy better traffic flow but not if they planned on using their cell phones. Jackson Town Council banned all cell phone use while driving, creating a new ordinance to take effect next March.
We quizzed departing county planning director Jeff Daugherty on his accomplishments and the future outlook for Teton County in a no-holds barred exit interview.

About Jake Nichols

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