There’s a harsh irony that hours before the Sublette County Board of Commissioners voted to approve rezoning at the Jackson Fork Ranch, shunning the concerns of Bondurant loyals and locals, that same board accepted a commemorative rifle that encapsulated the county’s history.
The Sublette Centennial is a special event to remember the history of this county. And, with one definitive vote, history was made earlier this month.
Over those 100 years it’s been a worry of Sublette citizens to not become Jackson. And as Teton County surpassed its means – exponentially growing tourism with the advent of VHS video, national magazine ads, the Internet and now social media – it became the richest county per capita in America. Think of Jackson Hole. That is not what Sublette County has ever wanted to be and would fight, kick and claw at every encroachment.
That’s where we, as Sublette County residents, find ourselves now. A collection of citizens opposed the rezoning to accommodate a luxury dude ranch. Because, by most accounts, that’s not what Sublette County is. We’re a rural community largely driven by the same economic factors that formed the community 100 years ago.
Realistically, however, that’s not what will sustain Sublette County in the future.
One of the only constants in life is change. Nearly every corner of the county has changed in the century of its existence. This is reflected in business and residency. Even the addition of Hoback Ranches near Bondurant was fought initially. Now, those residents are welcomed as neighbors and voiced their concerns at the eventful Dec. 7 commissioners’ meeting.
Some of the Sublette citizens who voiced their opposition to the commissioners’ vote to rezone were not in Wyoming. They were at their second homes or winter residencies in warmer climates. Others who voiced their opposition were multi-generational ranchers, having been born into one of nature’s wondrous places.
But what about the working class citizens of Sublette County who can’t afford to buy a ranch – or even a home – here? A recent U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report indicates Sublette County’s GDP has declined by 83.5 percent since the last boom in 2008. Meanwhile, the county’s housing market skyrocketed and now the American dream in this incredible place is essentially impossible for those not born into it or without immense wealth. The latest U.S. Census statistics indicate the average individual income in Sublette County is $33,412 while the average household income is $77,403. Meanwhile, the median listing price for a home in the county is $375,000.
This county is moving further away from being a place for the blue-collar worker and closer to a place for multi-home owners and billionaires. This didn’t start with Joe Ricketts.
Citizens of Sublette County are worried about the “Jackson-fication” of the county. While certainly not facing the same housing or employment crisis the neighbors to the north are experiencing, the seeds have already been planted. A large portion this county is behind the 8-ball and the financial situation is only getting worse.
The future is approaching and fighting it is a futile exercise. That future should be planned for. What’s special to Sublette citizens is, at least in part, its isolation and space. As more people are attracted here, some feel infringement upon their space. While fears of changing the community are valid, this county already looks dramatically different now than it did 100, 50 or even 25 years ago. And it’s inevitable it’ll change more 25 years from now. Maybe instead of worrying about inundating Bondurant Elementary School, this rezoning of Jackson Fork Ranch would lead to enough students to sustain the school and allow it to remain open in times of education budget crunches. Or instead of worrying about access to healthcare or fire resources, this could further the case for a fire truck or an ambulance permanently in Bondurant.
Every decision is a slippery slope. That’s why it’s important to have a seat at the table in controlling change. It’s unfair to the people of Bondurant to be tested in this way. But change doesn’t only come when most convenient.
These are difficult decisions. Bondurant citizens spent hours and hours voicing their opinions in a public forum. They were supported with people from across the county who shared their concerns. And those concerns
are valid. It’s difficult to see the community around you faced with such change, especially a small community like Bondurant.
Simply put, the decision to rezone was to accommodate a luxury dude ranch on property Joe Ricketts already owns. Most saw this as the floodgates starting to open towards development, and that’s where the citizens disagree. Development is not wanted.
America, as with Sublette County, should not be best experienced when you – and only yourself – have access to it. This is a free country and a free community. Sublette County should be available to anyone who loves it. That’s how it stays vibrant.
Sublette County was a place of promise when it was founded. It’s maintained a working-class mentality while becoming unattainable to the working class. In order to return to a place of promise, it must change.