As a local to Jackson Hole Wyoming, it’s funny to think that one of the main draws to visitors in our neck of the woods is not just the outdoor recreational paradise that we get to call home. No, in fact one of the main highlights for people passing through our town is actually a set of arches that claim space in downtown. Not your typical statue or commemorative piece of art the arches that surround George Washington Memorial Park, more commonly referred to as the Town Square, are actually made up of elk antlers and adorn the four corners of the park. These arches help visitors to feel that they are truly getting to experience the west and represent a historical legacy to our Wyoming landscape, while causing traffic jams year-round as people flock for pictures.
The first antler arch was constructed in 1953 through the efforts and fundraising of the Jackson Hole Rotary Club. The National Elk Refuge, a protected haven where hundreds of elk come to take shelter during the winter months, sits just outside of the town of Jackson. Each spring the herd of elk naturally shed their antlers allowing locals and visitors alike to harvest the pieces for art and auction. Using a steel frame as a base and thousands of antlers from the annual spring shed, the rotary club methodically stacked the antlers to form the resulting arch. By the late 1960’s the other three antler arches came into existence and completed the project.
The four arches stood proudly for the sixty years that followed. But as antlers are in fact made up of bone, they eventually began to decompose causing the structures to lose their rigidity and foundational structure. In 2006 the Rotary Club began fundraising efforts to replace the structures altogether with newly formed arches. Using donations and the funds received from auctioning off the original arches, some 14,000 pounds of antlers per arch, the club was able to replace them entirely with new frames and new antlers.
By 2015 the final arch reconstruction was completed and the new adornments are expected to last at least another 50 years. The antler arches have become something of a Jackson Hole icon and a legacy to be passed onto future generations. I can’t imagine walking past the Town Square without glancing at families posing for pictures underneath the antlers or watching the christmas lights strung over them each winter season twinkle with the falling snow. Just as much as the Teton views comprise our familiarity and love for Jackson Hole, so do the arches.