The Importance of Being a Civic Leader in Jackson Hole: An essay from the Alliance’s new Civic Engagement Manager, Kelsey Persyn
I remember the day I fell in love with Jackson Hole. I was six years old when my family decided to squeeze my two brothers and I into our 1970 Cheverolet Blazer and drive the twenty-two hours to Jackson Hole. I remember taking pictures at the antler arch and being amazed by how beautiful the mountains were and how wild the landscape and animals seemed. I felt like I was going back in time and knew I had to return to this place one day.
Fast forward 20 years and I ended up back here. I have been a Park Ranger at Grand Teton National Park as well as had many other jobs (sometimes 3 at a time) like ski patrol and instructor, barista and now, the Civic Engagement Manager here at the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. Somehow, to this day, my childlike wonder has remained, and my awe of this place is greater than ever.
I have lived in Jackson hole for a year and a half. A short blip of time compared to many residents, but enough to know how important this place is to so many. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is incredibly Biodiverse; home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Some mammals such as wolves and grizzly bears, can only be found in a handful of other places in the world. Jackson Hole is also a rarity when it comes to recreational access. Grand Teton National Park is 310,000 acres with over 250 trails and the neighboring Bridger-Teton National Forest is 3.4 million acres with over 2,200 trails. Not to mention the over 70 miles of the Snake River for floating and the world class access to mountaineering and skiing. However, like many mountain towns, this place is changing. Affordable housing is becoming more difficult to find, local businesses and hotels are having a harder time competing with major corporations and employee turnover rate is higher than ever. Employees are losing their housing or no longer able to afford to live in this area without having to work multiple jobs or commute long distances. In just a year and half of living here, I have moved four times.
So, why is this important? The need for civic engagement is greater than ever. The future of community, wildlife and outdoor access of this place relies on its inhabitants. My goal is to help reach people in the community who can see how special this place is and want to do what they can to help protect it. Some ways we plan to do that is to help create civic leaders through the Conservation Leadership Institute in the fall. A free, nine-week leadership development program for those in the community interested in how they can best be involved. The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance celebrated our 300th graduate from the Conservation Leadership Institute last year. Many of these people have gone on to be legislators, executive directors, board members, and other important leaders in the community. If you are interested in the Conservation Leadership Institute (CLI), we will be opening applications in July.
We all have a story and a reason for why we call the Tetons home. My hope is that we will never lose our childlike wonder for this place. That even as we age and time goes on, we can keep coming back to the places that make this area so unique and special to us. Being a Civic Leader is important because we must be the voice for those who cannot speak. For the healing solitude that you get from watching the sunrise or sunset over the Tetons or hearing the bugle of an Elk in the crisp Autumn air. The joy that comes with skiing at a local mountain and listening to live music at a small-town restaurant. The otherworldly feeling that comes from camping with the people you love along the banks of the South Fork of the Snake. Whatever your happy place is, whatever your why is, I hope we can keep working to create leaders that promote a future where we can keep enjoying those special moments for years to come.