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Teton Valley grows a trail system

Nonprofit group looks at a growing community for pathways system support.
Read more about Teton Valley's publication "PATHWAYS: how they are important how they help sell homes how to build them."

By Tim Adams, Executive Director, Teton Valley Trails And Pathways

Background

Map of ColoradoIn 1998, a small and dedicated group of bicyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts in Teton Valley, Idaho, gathered to discuss how they might address what they felt was a growing need for bicycle lanes in their community. Specifically, they saw an opportunity associated with a road that was going to be redeveloped, with the chance to influence the design to include a bike lane or separate bike path.

Encouraged by the enthusiastic use of a new rail-to-trail pathway that was built in 1997 between the cities of Driggs and Victor by the Idaho Transportation Department, and then deeded to Teton County, the group felt they would have good public support in achieving their goal. Although the end result was not exactly what was originally envisioned, the re-worked road did meet many of the group's expectations, solidifying their common feeling that they could have a positive influence on future pathway needs in the community.

photo of skiers on wide trail
Teton Valley Trails and Pathways provides a groomed cross-country ski trail system

The group moved forward, forming a non-profit organization in 1999 with a goal of advocating for non-motorized trails and pathways throughout Teton County, Idaho, as well as the small portion of Teton County, Wyoming, that lies west of the Teton Range. The initial mission was "Teton Valley Trails and Pathways develops and maintains year-round off-highway transportation alternatives in Teton Valley, Idaho and Wyoming.

The organization brings together citizens, businesses and local governments to expand the valley's opportunities for outdoor recreation and nature appreciation while linking communities, providing access to national forest trails, and promoting healthy mountain lifestyles." Since then, that rather wordy early mission statement has been shortened and summarized into: "Teton Valley Trails and Pathways promotes a trails and pathways connected community."

Since 1999, Teton Valley Trails and Pathways, or TVTAP, has grown to boast a database over 1,000 people strong (Teton County, Idaho, had a population of roughly 7,200 people in 2004). TVTAP has also developed into an important asset in Teton Valley. One of the most important goals of TVTAP was to grow the pathways and trail system in Teton Valley so that a variety of users and needs could be met. Ultimately, it was envisioned, one could travel on pathways and trails to any part of Teton Valley, as well as connect to pathways and trail systems beyond the valley.

In 2002, TVTAP board member Eve Lynes recognized a need for a guiding document to highlight the ways that pathways and trails could be an asset to the community. Without such a document, she believed, the organization would face greater challenges in convincing city and county officials and developers that constructing and maintaining trails and pathways is an important endeavor. Later that year, the first TVTAP Pathways Handbook was published and distributed throughout the county. It became a reference for community members to use when discussing the issue of trails and pathways. In 2006, the TVTAP board of directors and executive director felt the time was right to update the handbook by incorporating information about recent successes, as well offering a broader perspective for developers and city/county officials to call on. The revised handbook has been received by the community with great enthusiasm and appreciation.

While the revised handbook remains a critical tool for future pathways successes in our community, we recognize that there are, and always will be, three components essential to achieving our mission time and again: 1) working with city and county officials, 2) working with developers, and 3) working with the citizens of the community.

Working with City and County Officials

From its inception, TVTAP as an organization has understood the value of interpersonal relationships with city and county officials. Without support from these individuals, attempting to achieve any of our goals would be a constant uphill battle. Here, as in most small communities in America, city and county officials, both elected and non-elected, can remain the same individuals for years, making strong relationships all the more important. The reality in 1999 and the early 2000s in this community was that support for building pathways or maintaining the one we had were not a high governmental priorities.

It was only through persistently communicating our vision that officials started to listen. As we found, if you simply wait for change to happen, you might get caught behind the eight ball when someone with a common vision is elected into office or is hired. Most of the time our conversations with officials did not influence their decisions or actions, but it did get us noticed and kept TVTAP at the forefront of the pertinent issues in the county. As certain personnel left and were replaced by new employees, we were able communicate our goals and work with these people to accomplish quite a lot.

We worked with the cities to have maps and pathways philosophy adopted into city and county comprehensive plans. That led to working with the cities to get state and federal funding to build pathways in the cities. It also led to working with the state to gain funding for a project that could eventually connect two cities separated by 20 miles, a 9,000-foot pass, and a state border (those cities are Victor, Idaho, and Wilson, Wyoming). All of this could not have been accomplished without consistently working and communicating with local officials. This collaborative attitude also led to a growing partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and our work with trails on federal lands.

As we continue our work into the later 2000s, that early dedication to not simply waiting for change to happen has assured us a prominent place in the community. Some of the officials still in office from eight years ago, as well as elected officials newer in office, now see the value of our mission and the contribution we make to the community. Had TVTAP waited for change, we would not have the support and achievements we have now.

Working with Developers

As is the case in much of the Rocky Mountain West, Teton Valley is undergoing an explosion in growth. Not that long ago we were a quiet community that was home to farmers and workers who commuted "over the hill" to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Now, as of July 2007, the county has roughly 15,000 housing lots in the permitting process to be built, representing 371 subdivisions. These numbers are staggering for a relatively small-population community like ours. We realized that if we do not engage the developers at this time, then we might as well hang our hats and go away.

Although developers must follow the codes, zoning laws, and city and state statutes, if they are not made aware of the benefits pathways can contribute to their developments and to the greater community, then a great opportunity has been missed. We have been fortunate in the past few years to have developers coming to TVTAP, asking for guidance and assistance in developing pathways in and around their developments. This has given us the opportunity to discuss with them how to best support the systems of pathways in Teton Valley.

The goal is not to tell the developers how to build a pathway in their development, but rather how to connect their development to the current pathways system, and the importance of allowing public access to the pathways around their development. Many of these interactions have been instigated through the city and county planning and zoning officials as an outcome of the adoption of maps and language in their comprehensive plans. As growth continues, TVTAP will be the voice for pathways and trails&emdash;all resulting from the foundation of conversations and relationships we have built over the past eight years.

Working with the Citizens of the Community

This might seem like a logical step for any organization with a long-term goal in a community, but it is not necessarily the easiest to accomplish. Although TVTAP had some early successes that brought attention to its mission and vision for the valley, the organization did not always encourage citizen participation. It has, however, been a strategic goal from the beginning to involve the community in supporting the mission. Efforts to accomplish this took place through community events, annual membership meetings, and, most notably, through the very successful Nordic ski-trails grooming program.

Several years ago, we recognized both a need for groomed cross-country ski trails in Teton Valley and an opportunity to fulfill that need on both public lands and private golf course developments. We also saw this as a potential way to give back to the community by providing a free service. To date, TVTAP grooms in three different locations and a total of more than 26 kilometers of trails.

The Nordic grooming program has provided a winter outreach opportunity to connect with many of the same people who use pathways in the summer. This connection has allowed TVTAP to increase its exposure in Teton Valley and provided opportunities to educate the public and raise funds through Nordic ski races and other events. As the community members watch all the growth and development happening around them, helping them to understand what a positive role pathways can play in supporting and promoting a healthy community is key to achieving our long-range goals.

A collaborative effort has made all the difference

TVTAP has remained steadfast in its conviction of needing to engage the community at all levels to build a strong consensus. In the past eight years, TVTAP representatives have ventured out into the community, providing resources and programs to help educate citizens, officials, and developers regarding the true value of trails and pathways. That outreach has helped solidify the "connected community" component of the TVTAP mission. It also further assures that trails and pathways will play an important role in the vitality and strength of our growing community.

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