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The Lay of the Land


“What you hear in the RAV-4, stays in the RAV-4,” Tom Segerstrom, Land Trust staff biologist warns me in jest as I climb into the passenger seat of his trusty Toyota. Armed with a notepad, binoculars, and a laminated map of the Jackson Hole Land Trust’s protected properties, I am about to see the valley’s open spaces from a whole different view – a colorful view, complete with stories of the valley’s conservation pioneers, land deals, and wildlife sightings.

My first month as Communications Manager at the Land Trust went by in a flurry of press releases about newly-closed projects, an exciting, immersive introduction to the Land Trust’s work in which I had relatively little time for small talk with my new coworkers. So when veteran stewardship staffers Tom Segerstrom and Steffan Freeman offered to take me on a driving tour of Land Trust properties, I jumped at the chance. Within minutes, it was clear the same dynamic, passionate spirit would prevail out of the office – weaving through town on roads made sloppy by rain on snow, we barreled through puddles of standing water on a mission to see as many Land Trust-protected properties as possible in three short hours.

Our route took us south of town and up the Hoback Canyon, where we turned around at the public-access Poison Creek property instead of continuing onward to Land Trust properties in Sublette County. Next, we took the southern entrance to the South Park Loop Road to view properties protecting riparian habitat and open space between the road and the Snake River, and then looped back around, turning left at the Poodle Ranch easement (a.k.a. High School Butte) to curve around onto Highway 22. We passed high-visibility Land Trust properties along Highway 22, including the Hansen Ranch, Indian Springs, Walton Ranch, and the recently-acquired River Springs property, across from Emily’s Pond on the Snake River. Turning onto Fall Creek Road at Wilson, I learned about the history of the Hardeman Barns and Hardeman Meadows properties, and the ongoing spring creek restoration and mitigation project at Hardeman Barns.

In a whirlwind of an afternoon, our last stop was the Flat Creek Corridor property, a multi-year partnership project with the Town of Jackson that will protect forty acres of wildlife and riparian habitat and recreational trails on the slopes of Snow King Mountain on the edge of town. In three solid hours of driving, we had seen less than half of the Land Trust’s protected properties, missing areas along Fish Creek, the Moose-Wilson Road, the Gros Ventre River, Buffalo Valley, Sublette County, and Fremont County – but I had been given a good understanding of the Land Trust’s protected properties and where they fit in the valley’s landscape, as well as how much of the valley’s private lands is still vulnerable to development.

Some of the visual memories of the day include the sun breaking through the clouds in the Hoback Canyon, lighting up a picturesque valley; a bighorn sheep gazing at us from a rocky outcropping; twenty head of mule deer bedded down on a sunny hillside; and the open spaces of Land Trust easement properties clearly noticeable among the houses and development throughout the valley. Even more compelling were Tom and Steffan’s stories at each property, which filled the driving tour with a running narrative of critical habitat areas for wildlife and the landowners that they know well and admire – reflecting the over 100 landowner relationships that they cultivate each year as part of our stewardship monitoring program. As a biologist and storyteller myself, I’m looking forward to my next chance to head into the field with the stewardship team, to get another sense of the lay of the land from the Land Trust’s perspective.

–Leslie Steen

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