Another perfectly fine town that has been destroyed by rich, progressive liberals.

Oh No, Here Come the Solar Eclipse Hordes

In a tony corner of the Tetons, the rich and famous prepare to profit from supply and demand.

The Grand Tetons, Jackson, Wyo.
The Grand Tetons, Jackson, Wyo. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Jackson, Wyo.

In the general election last year, Hillary Clinton won just over 20% of the vote in Wyoming. But in Teton County—perhaps the most liberal county in America that doesn’t have ocean views or a major university—she beat Donald Trump by more than 25 percentage points.

Jackson, Teton’s biggest town, is a magnet to the outdoors-loving rich and famous. With world-class skiing, national parks and no state income tax, it’s easy to see why. IRS tax data from 2015, the most recent year available, show Teton County as having the second-highest average income in the U.S. According to Trulia.com, the average price of a single-family home in Jackson is north of $2 million.

Yet people in this charming alpine hamlet are losing their collective minds. On Aug. 21, the epicenter of a total solar eclipse will pass roughly between the tram at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and the top of the Grand Teton. Most American cities aren’t as lucky as Jackson: The eclipse’s “path of totality”—that is, the span of land in the direct path of the moon’s shadow—is only about 70 miles wide. The eclipse has caused plenty of excitement, but it also has caused some cognitive dissonance for local progressives.

Elected officials and government bureaucrats here have seldom found any problems that couldn’t benefit from municipal micromanagement—from dog waste to building heights. Yet the prospect of a town of 10,000 being overrun by tourists wanting a glimpse of the eclipse has raised a nagging doubt. What if there are limits to what government can do?

The city’s busybodies have held meetings, hired an “eclipse coordinator,” and set up contingency plans. But officials are slowly realizing it will only take a few unkind and drunken strangers to create a nightmare scenario. The planners are hopeful the visitor surge will be more like a Coachella than the Sturgis motorcycle rally. Considering the local demographics, they may be right.

Many of the well-to-do denizens are part-timers whose sprawling homes and ranches are often empty or underused. Usually by the third week of August, with the children heading back to school, traffic becomes less snarled. Fewer tourists jockey for selfies in front of the town’s famous antler arches.

Yet later this month nearly all the local gentry will be in town for the eclipse, and they will be inviting their friends. There will be valet parking at Jackson Hole Airport for private jets. The restaurants will be packed with movie stars, celebrities and titans of business.

Problem is, there are only two roads in and out of Jackson. In normal times, even a minor fender-bender on one of the main arteries can snarl traffic for hours. And since it’s dry season, the current undergrowth will be kindling waiting for a stray discarded cigarette. Imagine an already packed road filled with people trying to get away from a rapidly spreading brush fire. All the town hall meetings in the world can’t solve this problem.

The second core belief to be challenged is economic. If you haven’t already booked a room in Jackson for the eclipse, you may be out of luck. Pretty much every room within 100 miles is already reserved. The Four Seasons is offering seats at the mountaintop Rendezvous Lodge for $375 a person. Anyone who manages to find a room will probably pay five times the normal rate and need to book a lengthy stay.

Even at those rates there hasn’t been enough housing to satisfy the market. Independent brokers have stepped in to fill the vacuum by offering home and condo owners up to $1,000 a night for a bedroom with a four-day guarantee if they are willing to rent.

In a less enlightened enclave, activists might call all of this price gouging. But many Jackson residents are suddenly disciples of the law of supply and demand. The same people who insisted their homeowners association add strict rules keeping out Airbnb are now looking for loopholes so they can rent their places out. The City Council is quietly relaxing its rules on short-term rentals, in-town camping and open-container laws. The local police, stretched thin, are advising wealthy homeowners to hire private security.

If your invitation from Harrison Ford or Dick Cheney gets lost in the mail, you might want to consider visiting somewhere else. Casper, Wyo., is lovely in August.

Mr. Pennington is a writer in Jackson, Wyo.

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