DON’T MISS: Hot Park for Teton Masses

By on September 13, 2017

Group celebrates the resurrection of a community hot springs park at Astoria landing.

Artist rendering of Astoria Park following its resurrection.

JACKSON HOLE, WY — Gather ‘round, kids. It’s time for a story about a little place called Astoria Park.

Once upon time, there was a public park right smack dab in the middle of the mountains. It was a majestic place, complete with a hot springs pool and campsites. It sat on nearly 100 acres of land, flanking the river over a bright red bridge.

Jacksonites of olde — think early ‘90s and prior — may remember Astoria park as the “great equalizer” of the community, said Trust for Public Land Wyoming Associate Director of Philanthropy Paige Byron.

“It was affordable no matter what your background was,” Byron said.

But even if the ‘90s were before your time, you may soon be acquainted with Astoria Park, because the picturesque park rising  from the wooded dead.

The folks associated with the TPL group have been working to re-open Astoria to the public—complete with a pool— with a tentative date of Fall 2018. But first, they must party to celebrate the progress made so far.

“It’s an opportunity for people to really get down on the land and see what we’re doing in person,” Byron said.

The new Astoria will be getting a bit of a facelift, with the addition of a series of warm pools and an awning/picnic area, and many of the 98 acres will remain undeveloped.

The look may be changing, but don’t worry — Astoria’s purpose remains the same, Byron said.  The park will remain a place to create “community cohesion and provide places for people to play together.”

Community involvement is crucial to the resurrection of Astoria, Byron said. The more people come together to rally over a common goal, the stronger the product. Everyone is a stakeholder.

So far, over 2,000 residents have been actively involved in Astoria’s grand overhaul. Some of the most meaningful engagement, Byron said, has come from Teton County’s Latino residents. TPL worked with One22 to ensure members of the Latino population to get insight into what the community wanted in the public park.

There was a lot to learn, Byron said, down to how most public picnic structures don’t allow for piñatas.

The size of public picnic pavilions is often prohibitive for larger Latino families and gatherings. But what stood out most, Byron said, was just how excited the Latino community was that somebody asked them for their opinion.
“We got so many comment cards that just said, ‘thank you for asking,’” Byron said.

TPL also worked with the community at large — including Astoria fans from earlier years and high school students — to get an idea of  what the park should offer. “All of the feedback was integrated into the design process,” Byron said.

The community’s first priority was — surprise, surprise — focused on the hot springs. TPL hopes to have that part open to by next fall, with the rest of the development happening in “layered phases,” according to Byron.

Still, the park has a long way to go to relive its glory days. From the ‘50s through the late ‘90s, the park was owned by the Gill family, and selling it to a private developer was one of the hardest things the family has done.

“I didn’t drive through the canyon for two years after we sold it, I couldn’t bear to drive by here and see it gone,” Robert Gill said in a TPL video promoting Astoria.

The new owners had big plans for Astoria — 200,000 square feet of development for a gated community — but they were hampered by two bankruptcies, and the development never came to fruition.

The land was then sold to a private trust company in New York City that knew nothing of its history or its community value.

“It’s unclear whether they even knew there were hot springs on it,” Byron said.

But the price point was low enough at that point for a nonprofit like TPL to run a fundraising campaign, and build a park.

It took two years of negotiation and entitlement transfers for TPL to land their hands on Astoria. In 2015, TPL closed the deal, purchasing the land for $1,600 an acre — or $1.6 million total — for almost 100 acres of land.

TPL has been fundraising for the project since.

“We’ve really been able to tap into all sorts of different groups of people to support the park,” Byron said.

The group is partnering with local businesses like Melvin Brewing and Cowboy Coffee to generate more local support and community benefit.

Melvin will be helping out at Saturday’s progress party, where they’ll be pouring beer while Cowboy Coffee serves up a special “Astoria Park” roast.

“We’re really hopeful that moving into this fall and winter we can generate wide-reaching grassroots support,” Byron said.

Saturday’s party will include tours of the land, kids’ activities with the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum, birds of prey from Teton Raptor Center, and two yoga classes on the lawn with Medicine Wheel Wellness.

Food trucks like Everest Momo Shack will be dishing out food all day, so bring your appetite and maybe some cash, Byron said.

Astoria is a mere three miles south of Hoback Junction, just across that epic old red bridge.

Astoria Day on the Land Celebration is this Saturday, with significant support from Dave Hansen Whitewater.  They will be picking people up at the Middle School Parking lot at the top of every hour: 11 am, 12 noon, and 1 pm. The whole day is free to the public. PJH

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