Year in Review: Buckrail Best of 2019

JACKSON, Wyo. — The world will wake up in a new year, new month, and new decade tomorrow, January 1. Before then, Buckrail took a moment to reflect on some of this year’s biggest stories. Journey with us:

Shouts and shutdowns

The year started with a government shutdown — the longest in history — punctuated by the third annual Women’s March. People participated all over the world, and Jackson’s march drew around 100 people. People marched for women’s rights, climate change, and to protest the government shutdown — among other things.

Kirsten Goldman Taerea addresses an enthusiastic crowd at the third annual Women’s March. Photo: Buckrail // Nick Sulzer

Jacksonites also joined millions of people around the world in the Global Climate Strike in September. The day was one of the largest youth-led demonstrations in history.

Smoke and Fire

While it was a relatively mild wildfire year, there were two that struck uncomfortably close to home. First, lightning sparked a fire on the hillside just north of the National Museum of Wildlife Art on August 5. The flames forced evacuations and closed the Museum, but no one was injured. It was a display of the power of mother nature in all her glory.

Just a month later, the same hill erupted in flames on the other side. The Saddle Butte Fire sparked just after 1 p.m. September 1, forcing evacuations that lasted two days. Again, no one was injured and no structures were lost. The fire was caused by rogue balloons that hit a power line and caused it to spark. The fire prompted a partial fire ban in Teton County.

It was also a big year for structure fires. Café Genevieve remains closed after a fire inflicted serious damage to the kitchen and back wall of the building in the early hours of July 2. The cause fire remains under investigation and may hinge on one key witness.

The White Pine Lodge was destroyed in a fire just 10 days later. Brooks Lake Lodge also fell victim to a fire that caused significant damage but no injuries July 28. A small fire was quickly contained at Forget-Me-Not. Another sparked in the kitchen at the Dornan’s Chuckwagon as the space hosted several hundred guests of the Jackson Wild Festival.

Then, when it seemed fire season was over, the Rusty Parrot Lodge erupted in flames late November 18. It burned through the night, rendering the building a total loss. Still, guests reported being grateful for the owners and the western hospitality they were shown in the wake of devastation. The fire was caused by heat from a gas fireplace on the deck.

Block: Saved

After developers threatened to uproot the character of the East Jackson block of Broadway now affectionately known as the “Genevieve Block,” a group of local advocates rallied to save it. The developers would have built a hotel. But the stakeholders, led by the Jackson Hole Land Trust and partners, launched an ambitious campaign to “Save the Block.” It worked. After months of campaigning and throwing parties to raise awareness and money, Save the Block announced they had done it on August 11. The campaign got a huge boost from previous landowner Max Chapman, who agreed to lower the sale price shortly before the funding deadline.

SPET Success

Ten projects made the ballot during the SPET elections this year. Nine passed. The only that failed was a $2 million proposition for courthouse renovations.

The most popular ballot item by far was $1.6 million for new wildland fire apparatus for Jackson Hole Fire/EMS. The proposition won by a margin of 85%, perhaps bolstered by the still-fresh response to the Saddle Butte and Museum fires.

The second most popular proposition was for $10 million to help fund wildlife crossings in Teton County. Buckrail repeatedly reported tragic stories of moose end even bears dying on local highways at the hands of drivers. The frequency of wildlife fatalities on Teton County roads drove (pun intended) many residents to advocate for wildlife and wildlife crossings on the ballot. Wildlife crossings won 78% of the vote.

Bear of a story

Grizzly 863 (aka Felicia) and her cub Pepper pre-separation. Photo: Buckrail // Nick Sulzer

A family of grizzly bears was the center of a lot of drama this summer. Grizzly 863, aka Felicia, and her cubs were the objects of tragedy, awe, admiration, concern, and celebration in the span of a few short months. Felica had two cubs early in the spring, but by early summer, only one had survived. The surviving cub became a little celebrity. Visitors and locals alike enjoyed frequent encounters with the grizzly family right next to Highway 26 on Togwotee Pass. The duo was frequently spotted right next to or even on the road. But then people started to worry. Viewers were getting too close. Less than ideal behavior on the part of visitors trying to get a closer look put both Felicia and her cub in danger. Then, someone reported seeing Felica get hit by a car in June. It was never confirmed, but after that report, Felica and her cub were separated.

Then finally, the public got a happy ending. After a month apart, Felicia and her cub were spotted together again on July 16. Fans rejoiced. As far as Buckrail knows, they’re still together and healthy.


Outlaw country star Darci Carlson has played the Cowboy Bar a few times now. She opened for Midland at last Sunday’s first-ever “Million Dollar Music Fest.” Photo: Buckrail // Shannon Corsi


Jackson’s music scene keeps getting better. Buckrail’s music writer Aaron Davis keeps his finger on the pulse, and had the chance to bring some musicians’ stories to life. Josh Ritter came to town just this month. Caamp & Futurebirds played at the Pink Garter on Halloween. Davis covered local musicians, too, like Sneaky Pete & The Secret Weapons.

Davis is also a musician himself, and had a busy year recording and releasing a new album, which he debuted at JacksonHoleLive!

It was a big year for local watering hole and now premiere music venue the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. The new owner set out to make the Cowboy one of the best country and honky-tonk stages out there, and Bill Baxter and talent buyer Justin Smith delivered on that promise. The Cowboy also took its talent to the Town Square for its first-ever “Million Dollar Music Fest.”


Wyoming weather always makes for good, or at least interesting, news. There were plenty of stories borne from weather-related incidents, accidents, and observations this year. First, heavy snowfall forced an emergency closure of the backcountry gates at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in February. Of course, not everyone listened. The skiers who needed a rescue after poaching the backcountry gates that same month were cited. To his credit, one of the skiers offered a sincere apology after his sentencing in May.

Winter arrived again November 30 and dropped 20″ of snow on the mountains. Avalanche danger was amped up to “high,” and winter hasn’t let up since.

Also, Buckrail got a weatherman! Alan Smith joined the team as Buck’s official meteorologist. Follow along for regular weather updates.

Potatoes on the road

Happens every year. Happened a couple times this year. The worst was a semi carrying a load of potatoes and onions weighing 20,000 pounds over the legal limit on Teton Pass. The driver lost control and had no choice but to drive into WYDOT’s sand storage shed, because another truck had taken out the runaway truck arrestor.

In other driving news, a semi plowed through the Gros Ventre roundabout in Grand Teton National Park and did some serious damage. The driver has been cited.

Potatoes littered Teton Pass after a truck crashed into the sand shed. Photo: Buckrail reader


July 4 took a tragic turn for friends and family of Averin Scott, a 21-year-old man who went missing just before midnight July 3 along the Snake River. Holiday boaters were asked to look for him, but his remains were found 10 days later.

A head-on collision in Grand Teton National Park July 16 killed three people, including two Riverton residents. Four people were critically injured.

The community was rattled by the deaths of Babbs and Heinz Munz in September. The deaths were ruled a murder-suicide.

Two boaters were killed on the Snake River this year — one in Grand Teton National Park and one just before the KOA campsite near Hoback.

Celebrations and ceremonies

Amidst the tragedy, there were lots of causes for celebration. Astoria Park broke ground right as Pole Pedal Paddle racers were reaching the finish line. Sage Living at St. John’s Health broke ground in July. The Community Foundation of Jackson Hole celebrated a record-breaking Old Bill’s.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort hosted the second Kings and Queens of Corbett’s contest, and reigning champion Caite Zeliff kept her crown.

The Stagecoach Bar celebrated 50 years of “Church,” marking 50 years of dancing to The Stagecoach Band.

Women in Wyoming

It was a big year for Wyoming women. The state celebrated 150 years of Women’s Suffrage. Lindsey Linton Bulk debuted an entire exhibit at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody dedicated to “women who shape the west.” “Women in Wyoming” is still on display.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort released a video championing the “ladies of Jackson Hole Ski Patrol.” It’s bada**.

The youngest person to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan visited Jackson and talked to Buckrail. She happens to be a 10-year-old girl.

Bags: banned

Who could forget the newly-enacted town bag ban? The Jackson Town Council voted to ban single-use plastic bans at point of sale at the very beginning of the year. The ban went into effect for large grocers in April and smaller retailers in October.

*Phew.* That’s just a snapshot of what happened this year. Bring it on, 2020.

The energy we’re bringing into 2020. Photo: Buckrail // Nick Sulzer

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