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This neighborhood was carved from ranchland in the 1970s. Between Wilson and Teton Village, it includes 800-square-foot condos, 5,000-square-foot homes, and retail space.
By Mark Huffman ∙ Photograph by Price Chambers
People live in Jackson for years and go to Teton Village hundreds of times without noticing the Aspens. But the subdivision, one of Jackson Hole’s oldest, lies just off Highway 390, behind Aspens Market. It has been here so long that it seems old, says resident Ron Miller. But that’s a good thing. “It’s a neighborhood,” says Miller, who lived here in the 1980s and again starting in 2010.
Bret King, a Jackson lawyer and son of one of the developers, recalls that his dad and a business partner “were trying to find a way to develop an area to provide some housing—they felt things were already too expensive.” Developers Floyd King and Charles Lewton bought ranchland from Parthenia Stinnett, a sister of Cliff Hansen, the former Wyoming governor and U.S. senator who died in 2009 and whose family still ranches in Spring Gulch.
The first phase of the Aspens—Teton County approved 33 lots on 41 acres—was platted in autumn 1971. This original area is now the north part of the subdivision. The next year, another 125 lots on 72 acres were approved. These were south of the original area and bordered the Teton Pines subdivision.
Lots were sold with minimal fuss. A classified ad in The Jackson Hole Guide mentioned new lots were “4 miles south of Teton Village … one acre and larger … heavily wooded with aspen and pine.”
Reflecting back on his time in the Aspens in the 1980s, Miller says it was “pretty much built out even then.” County records show that development peaked in the early-to-mid-1980s, when more than 300 condominium units were built. Today, the Aspens has 75 single-family homes and 434 condos, according to Jim Fulmer, general manager of Aspen Management, which does most of the neighborhood’s maintenance. Fulmer says there are only two vacant lots left.
Despite the density, the area retains a lot of what was there before, with big trees and thick brush. The winding road layout and lack of a rectangular grid slows motorists. There’s no public road, so there’s no outside traffic. That’s a big attraction, says Fulmer, himself an Aspens condo resident. After living for years in Jackson, Fulmer finds the Aspens “very quiet, even with 500-plus units.”
Moose, deer, coyotes, and the occasional bear frequent the area. Adding to the “wild feeling,” Fulmer says, “you can’t cut down a tree without approval from the condo association.” In addition, lighting rules aim to keep nighttime skies dark.
Jackson attorney David DeFazio likes living in downtown Jackson for its bike-to-work convenience—his office is located there—but, while his downtown home was being built, he lived for eighteen months in an Aspens condo he owns.
“I liked how quiet it was, and I enjoyed that it backed up against the VandeWater Ranch—there were moose routinely in the backyard, and I remember a black bear tearing up the trash. I thought my neighbor was having a wild party.”
[ David Defazio, Jackson attorney ]
“I liked how quiet it was,” DeFazio says, “and I enjoyed that it backed up against the VandeWater Ranch—there were moose routinely in the backyard, and I remember a black bear tearing up the trash. I thought my neighbor was having a wild party.”
Downtown denizens may think of the Aspens as being miles away from everything, but Miller says people who live there feel centrally located. They’re away from the craziness of most tourism but still a short drive to town, to Teton Village, to Wilson, and to Grand Teton National Park. “There’s the grocery store there so you don’t have to drive, and it’s so close to the Village, and there’s the bike trail and Stiegler’s restaurant and other businesses,” Miller says. “If you don’t want to go to town, it’s a good place to live.”
Within a mile along Broadway in Jackson there are four supermarkets with nearly 150,000 square feet of selling space. That’s where the county’s 23,000 residents and millions of visitors get their groceries. Except for those who go to Aspens Market.
With just a few thousand feet of space, Aspens Market is the only place in the valley outside of town’s grocery row that can bill itself as a full-service market. As befits the neighborhood, it has a slightly tony feel to it. The market is the commercial anchor of the area and, like all food markets, is a community meeting place.
This is the biggest concentration of businesses outside Jackson town limits. One of the area’s oldest restaurants, Stiegler’s, is here. There’s also the coffee shop Elevated Grounds and Sudachi, a sushi restaurant. Westside Wine & Spirits is next to Aspens Market. Wells Fargo and Bank of Jackson Hole both have branches here. There’s Teton Sports Club and Teton Yoga Shala, the Ginger Root Salon, and the Center for Aesthetics, a plastic surgery practice. Add in Blue Spruce Cleaners, the UPS Store, a branch of home goods store Belle Cose, and Harker Design, and you really don’t have to leave.
Before the Aspens became a subdivision it was ranchland, heavily forested and full of animals. It was also a ways from most everything else. Bret King, the son of developer Floyd King, remembers going as a youngster to the area before the subdividing began. He and friends spent hours wandering “river-bottom property, a lot of trees, wild animals, and good fishing,” he says. But once when it was time to go home, there was a mixup. The boys’ ride didn’t show up. The group walked to the highway and stuck out their thumbs. “I think we waited an hour for a car to come by,” King says.
Still like a forest
Unlike most subdivisions, the Aspens didn’t start with a bulldozing. Developers wanted to keep as many of its trees as possible. They succeeded. Today, much of the neighborhood still has a woodland feel. Some lodgepole pines are more than a century old—near 150 feet tall and so thick you can’t get your arms around them. In recent years, to combat the ongoing pine beetle infestation, Aspens homeowners have paid for about 1,200 of the neighborhood’s biggest pines to be sprayed each summer to protect the trees from the beetles.
No one remembers what lots went for in 1971, but in the 1980s Ron Miller sold a one-bedroom Aspens condo for $65,000. Today, the area is much pricier. Most condos are now selling for about $600,000 for 1,200 square feet, says Brett McPeak, owner-broker at Jackson’s RE/MAX Obsidian Real Estate. “For single-family homes, there are only two on the market, one at $1.5 million and one at $2.2 million,” McPeak says. In 2015, a two-story, 6,650-square-foot house built in 2001 sold for $3.655 million. For better or worse, the entire Aspens neighborhood is a county resort zone, meaning short-term renting is allowed.
Floyd King discovered Jackson Hole in the 1950s as a college student on summer vacation. When he arrived to stay in 1961, law degree in hand, he was the second lawyer in town. King met developer Charles Lewton, who had previously created Jackson’s Hillside subdivision. The Aspens was King and Lewton’s first project together. They later went on to start the Rafter J subdivision, located between Jackson and Hoback Junction.
King eventually became the town attorney for Jackson and the United States magistrate in Teton County. Development remained a side job for him. Lewton did projects around Wyoming and in Utah. King died in 2012. Lewton is retired in Ten Sleep, Wyoming.
Who lives here?
“It’s really a mixed-use development,” says Aspen Management’s Fulmer. A 2014 survey sent to Aspens condo owners revealed just under half of owners lived in their condos full-time. About half of the condos were used by both owners and renters. Only a small percentage were full-time rentals.