By: Caroline Daley, Public Land Community Organizer
If you live in or have ever visited Jackson Hole, it’s likely you’ve struggled to get to and from the airport. Maybe you caved and paid $45 for a 13-minute cab ride. Maybe you parked your car at the airport for $17 a day, a rate more than what many local service workers make hourly. Maybe you were the begrudging early morning driver. Maybe you were lucky and have car-owning friends or family who are both available and willing to offer a lift.
Relying on cars for transport between town and the airport is more than just inconvenient. Whether you drive your own car, take a taxi, or catch a ride with a friend, you are, to varying degrees, contributing to traffic on our already stressed road systems and to climate pollution in the midst of a climate crisis. Visitation to Jackson Hole is increasing, and it is unlikely to slow in years to come.
This fall, I am participating in this year’s Conservation Leadership Institute. CLI is a 12-week program that teaches community organizing, campaign development, and advocacy skills to emerging new leaders interested in engaging their community through grassroots activism. Participants work on projects addressing conservation issues in Jackson and the surrounding area. With our own stressful experiences traveling between Jackson and the airport, my fellow CLI participants Brian Bales, Natalie Prescott, and I teamed up to promote public transportation options between town and the airport as a potential solution to issues of traffic, convenience, accessibility, and sustainability alike.
We quickly discovered that plans to develop public transportation to the airport are already underway. START Bus, Jackson Hole Airport, Teton Village Association, Grand Teton National Park, and the town and county are collaborating on this issue with the hopes of including a bus to the airport through START in Fall 2022. This joint effort represents a step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions as a part of the town’s Climate Action Plan. In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency cited transportation as the economic sector producing the most greenhouse gas emissions within the United States (29%), exceeding both electricity (25%) and industry (23%). Locally, transportation causes over 80% of our climate pollution – about 20% from air travel and 60% from ground travel (page 11). Investing in systems of public transit will also help to reduce traffic and increase accessibility within Jackson Hole.
Since the airport bus route project is already underway, our group had to pivot. We realized just because a project is underway does not mean that there is no room to contribute. I often think of advocacy as opposition, rather than support. Participating in public comment and writing letters to board members and town and county representatives in support of an issue can also be a valuable demonstration of community investment and a powerful momentum builder. Our group also believes it is important to proactively engage decisionmakers on measures that will complement the airport bus and maximize impact when this route opens to the public. Car-free visitation programming has been highly successful in other mountain towns like Banff, Canada and Springdale, Utah. Proactively advocating for this messaging will pay off as we reduce the number of cars traveling between the airport and town and eliminate the greenhouse gases they emit.
Promoting and supporting a single new route to the airport seems a mere David to the Goliath of climate change or even Jackson’s own transportation and conservation issues. However, consider the impact your voice and experience may have on an airport board member or town councilor. Consider the impact they may have on their colleagues, a working group, or a project like the Jackson’s sweeping Climate Action Plan, for example. Consider how these groups and projects can contribute to affordable and accessible public transportation in support of a more integrated and sustainable transportation network for our community. Consider that, maybe, our community inspires another community, the way we are inspired by Banff and Springdale, or that we will inspire state decisionmakers or a future leader in community-based conservation advocacy.
Now, consider again whether your voice carries weight. Perhaps, it seems that David may stand a chance.