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Column: Not the Jackson of my childhood

Growing up, I was always excited for the school year to end and for summer to begin.

One of the things I looked forward to the most was our annual trips a couple of hours north to the Jackson, Wyoming, area. We would often come in the Hoback, where we would fish, and there were always plenty of day trips to places like Astoria Hot Springs, where my cousins and I would swim for hours in the warm waters.

The usual weeklong trips would also include plenty of trips to Yellowstone, Jenny Lake, and Grand Teton National Park, which is, to this day, the most beautiful view I've seen. I'm not much of an artist, but I would always try my best with a sketchbook to create a stunning rendition of the Tetons as we drove by, and my grandpa would tell us stories, including when the plane crashed into Mount Moran in 1950.

Many of our days were also spent in Jackson, which was fascinating for a kid as we walked down the wooden sidewalks, made breakfast stops for sourdough pancakes, and often finished our nights with a stop at the playhouse.

Even as a kid, I realized how many people visited Jackson, which always seemed to be bustling from the early morning hours until we returned to our campsite.

As vivid and wonderful as those memories are, I struggle to find my way back. The number of people has become uncomfortable, and the prices are out of control.

My only experiences with Jackson these days are during my one or two trips to my hometown a year.

I spend a few minutes driving through town and trying not to become unhinged, as people seem to be driving like it's rush hour traffic in Los Angeles.

When traveling to Wyoming, my preferred route goes over Teton Pass, which is very uncomfortable. It involves a few minutes of twisting and turning, and I always seem to find myself behind a never-ending line of traffic.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was sitting outside with my uncle, he told me he had just read about the "catastrophic failure" on the pass after a mudslide. The more I read about the collapse, the more I realized how much the Jackson area has changed from my beautiful memories in the early to mid-80s to what it is now.

For all the trips we made during my childhood, we never went over the pass and into Victor, Driggs, and Tetonia. It was not until 2015 that I made a trip over the pass and was able to experience a view of the Tetons from Idaho and see more of these communities that are home to thousands of people who make the commute each workday, including 20 percent of the workforce at the local health provider.

It is flat-out depressing that Jackson has become so expensive that so many people can't afford to live there. This is not the Wyoming I grew up in and love. Jackson was always a little pricey, but a lot of workers were still able to live there. As a kid, I can remember visiting my aunt who lived with her husband, a hard-working guy with a blue-collar job, and they lived in town. No way could happen today, and it's ridiculous. With a median home price in Jackson of $2.8 million, I am curious how anybody who works there can live.

As I reached my teenage years, there was always a saying around my town that billionaires were pushing the millionaires out of Jackson. I would hear that about as often as "we sure need this moisture" after it rained.

The sad thing is that saying was not wrong at all.

It makes me sick to know I can't even afford a hotel room in the area I loved so much as a kid. It makes me sick to think that around 2,000 people must utilize that pass to get work.

I drive on plenty of passes in Montana, but I can't imagine what it would be like driving on Teton Pass every day in January.

It also makes me sick to think that it isn't going to get any better. People will still come to see the park and the Tetons, ski, snowmobile, and walk around on those wooden sidewalks.

Things will only change once local leaders decide to have a serious discussion about housing. Even if they do, I'm still trying to figure out how to possibly remedy this spiraling issue.

There are so many places in the Jackson area I'd like to return to, but planning a trip is low on my list. It's tough to support an economy where people can't afford to live where they work.

At least I have my memories.

 
 
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