As the sun sets on 2021, take a look back on the stories that lit up the year. Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

By Caroline Chapman, Lindsay Vallen and Shannon Sollitt

JACKSON, Wyo. — And just like that, 2021 is in the books, and tomorrow we will enter a year anew. But before the clock strikes midnight, Buckrail takes a moment to reflect on some of the year’s biggest stories. Journey with us as we take a walk down memory lane.

Housing here, housing there, housing… nowhere

It’s a tale of the ages (or what seems like it) that Jackson is home to well, no homes. At least affordable ones, that is.

Since 2020, the housing situation in Jackson Hole shifted dramatically. Data released by the Jackson/Teton County Affordable Housing Department found that while wages rose 4%, median home prices rose 23-44% locally. Average rents rose 9%. In July, a Community Needs Assessment conducted by St. John’s found that housing was the number one social determinant of health in Teton County.

Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

And while the valley has grappled with a housing crisis for years, 2021 brought along a new and unwelcome friend to the game: staffing shortages. The issue wreaked havoc on businesses in the summer months as tourism soared. Restaurants and stores were forced to adjust their hours of operation, with many closing an extra day of the week due to staffing issues.

Additionally, in 2021, the town issued record-breaking numbers of single-family home building permits and saw a significant increase compared to the 20 permits issued in 2019-2020.

The Board of County Commissioners voted in favor of approving the sketch plan for an 84 unit subdivision on the 26 acres of land at the corner of South Park Loop Rd and Dairy Lane, owned by the Gill family, JHHR Holdings, LLC.

But with tribulations at hand, advocacy and activism grew further giving way to new triumphs.

After nearly three decades of backlash, the Jackson Town Council addressed Town Ordinance 473 and passed new occupancy requirements for residential structures, which omitted the use of the term ‘family’.

An affordable housing project broke ground on June 16 at 105 Mercill Ave and another, Jackson Street Apartments, is in the works to produce a  new 57-unit, 100% deed-restricted affordable housing project. DACA recipients became officially eligible to buy affordable homes in Teton County and a First/ Last Deposit Pilot Program was launched to help provide rental assistance to residents who qualify.


Famous mama bear, grizzly 399 and her cubs again made headlines this year after emerging for hibernation in April. The family had an action-packed summer, venturing out of Grand Teton National Park, raising concerns about the growing bears receiving unsecured attractants and human conflicts.

In early November, two of 399’s yearlings were radio-collared by an interagency team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to better monitor the bears and mitigate human-bear conflicts.

On Nov. 10 the quintet was “escorted” out of Jackson after roaming the streets and making a brief stop at the Jackson Police Department. Local law enforcement and U.S Fish and Wildlife officials urged the bears north towards Spring Gulch.

Grizzly 399 and her four cubs romped around Jackson Hole this summer, venturing south out of GTNP. Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

Wildlife officials confirmed in mid-December that the famous family was hibernating, based on radio collar data. It is predicted that after this season, the public will no longer see 399 with her four cubs in tow. When cubs are two and a half years old, they typically separate from their mother.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) continued to be detected in elk in Wyoming and an ongoing discussion surrounding elk feedgrounds across the state was led by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

A record-breaking summer

Visitation in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park broke summertime records this year.

Between January and September 2021, recreation visits in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) reached 3,493,937. This surpasses the park’s busiest full year on record. In Yellowstone, 1 million visitors visited the park in July alone.

Month after month, visitation in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park broke historical records.

Grand Teton National Park recorded more visitors in July than any single month on record. Scenes from this August weekend suggest visitation hasn’t slowed down. Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

Grand Teton National Park moved most campsite reservations online, doing away with the traditional first-come-first-serve reservation system to help combat high visitation.  In November, the park announced at all of the campsites in the park will be reservation only for summer 2022.

Record-breaking heat and smoke blanketed the valley for most of the summer, with huge wildfires ripping across the American West. The summer season was the second hottest on record in Teton County dating back to 1895. Temperatures during the summer of 2021 were 3.9ºF above the long-term average, trailing only 2007 which holds the record for the hottest summer in Teton County when temperatures were 4.63ºF above average.

Widespread drought and extreme early summer heat contributed to an early start to fire season across the Northwest and Northern Rockies this past summer. Officials issued stage 1 fire restrictions in July, banning campfires in most areas.  Smokey skies blanketed Jackson Hole in August.


Teton County Search and Rescue said it well: this was a year when “folks went into the mountains but did not come back alive.” Indeed, 2021 was fraught with tragedies. Four people went missing in the Tetons and did not return alive. Cian McLaughlin was last seen in June. His car was left in a parking lot in Grand Teton National Park but was never seen again. Search and Rescue teams helped recover the bodies of Bob Lowery and Jared Hembree.

And then, of course, there was Gabby Petito. The 22-year-old went missing in late August just outside Grand Teton National Park while traveling with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie. Petito’s body was found weeks later, and Teton County Coroner Brent Blue ruled her death a homicide.

Petito’s murder drew eyes from around the world to Wyoming for several weeks. And then, people started pointing out where eyes weren’t looking: to similar disappearances of people of color, particularly Indigenous women. Petito’s own family took heed, and started a foundation in her honor to help reunite families with their missing relatives and support organizations that help survivors of domestic abuse.

Teton County also lost one of its own in service to his country. Rylee McCollum, of Bondurant, was one of 13 U.S. service members killed in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 26. Thousands of people gathered in the Town Square to welcome him home on Sept. 10. Online fundraising efforts raised thousands of dollars for McCollum’s widow and her new baby, born Sept. 13.