Data Dump: Park #s + Housing + etc

A smorgasbord of numbers and figures from around the West

Third quarter statistics are rolling in from across the West for everything from housing sales and values to national park visitation, meaning it’s time for a Land Desk end-o-summer Data Dump hodgepodge! Here we go …

The inundation of national parks and surrounding public lands continues as anticipated, with several parks setting records for the first nine months of the year.

Yellowstone National Park has already had more visitors (4.47 million) during the first nine months of the year than it ever has for the entire year. Meanwhile, Zion National Park is on pace to hit 5 million visitors this year—an average of 13,700 per day—which would blow away previous records. Canyonlands’ numbers may be puny in comparison to the big parks, but it has seen nearly 50 percent more visitors than previous years so far.

If you’re looking to reduce crowds at national park units, one sure-fire way is to diminish the main attraction. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area has seen a fraction of its usual visitation this year, most likely because Lake Powell’s shrinkage has left most of the boat ramps high, dry, and unusable (while exposing drowned wonders).

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In not unrelated news: The housing crisis deepens, especially in public land and national park gateway communities, or as Telluride Properties put it in their third quarter market report: “Nothing like a pandemic to lift a market!”

Some alarming, enraging numbers:

$2.166 billion: Overall real estate sales volume for the first nine months of 2021 in Teton County, Wyoming. Prior to 2020 the highest first 3 quarter volume was less than $1 billion. 

$3.35 million: Average sale price for all homes in Jackson Hole so far this year.

120: Number of sales in the $5 million to $10 million range.

40: Number of sales above $10 million. 

$1.35 million: Listing price of the least expensive home on the market as of Oct. 1. 

$65 million: Listing price of the most expensive home. 

From the Jackson Hole Report, put out by The Viehman Group: “While the number of local working-class buyers continues to dwindle as inventory in their price range becomes nonexistent, the amount of Zoom Town telecommuters, second home buyers and early retirees continues to increase. We are also seeing several investors snapping up homes and condos in the locals’ price range ($400,000 to $1.8 million) for rental income. One investor has purchased 25 such rentals in the last two years, while others are tearing down the old and building new 4,000 sf homes in the Town of Jackson.”

52 percent: Portion of all housing in Summit County, Utah, that are second homes.

487 Number of active short-term rentals in Whitefish, Montana as of Aug. 1, according to the Flathead Beacon.

24 Number of government employees the Town of Frisco, Colorado, hopes to house with the first phase of a program incentivizing landlords to convert short-term rentals to long-term.

1,077 Approximate number of workers who commute daily into Springdale, Utah, the gateway to Zion National Park. Springdale’s population is 750. 

1.9 percent; 109 percent Amount wages have increased in Missoula County, Montana, since 2000; amount housing prices in Missoula County have increased since 2010.

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We’ve all been hoping for a big winter, snow-wise, to help the region dig out of the rut of desiccation in which it finds itself. But it looks like the weather forecasters—with some help from La Niña—are going to poop on our parade. For the second year in a row, the nasty little climate pattern is lining up in the Pacific, which is likely to mean a drier than normal winter (as if “normal” means anything anymore). It’s not looking too good for the Southwest (although the Northwest may see some relief). See for yourself:

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Sometimes, the intertubes really are amazing, and this new online platform, OpenET, is a prime example. It is a map-based thingamajig that uses satellite imagery to estimate the amount of water consumed by crops. You can zoom in on a specific plot of land and find out what’s growing there and the evapotranspiration rate. Check it out.

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And, finally, while reading a story about how insurance companies sent private firefighting teams to protect neighborhoods from the Dixie and Caldor fires this summer, I remembered a little section in my novel, Behind the Slickrock Curtain. It’s fiction. No really. This could never happen in real life. Could it?

The fire north of Durango had started near the railroad tracks the previous day, blowing up to more than sixteen-thousand acres by nightfall, sweeping through one of the last trailer parks in La Plata County and reducing it to ash, leaving many of its former residents to camp out in their cars in the Walmart parking lot for an indefinite period of time. “Miraculously,” the Durango Herald story read, “several multi-million dollar homes on the tinder-dry face of Hermosa Mountain had been saved.” 

The “miracle” had come in the form of the United Corporations of America Wildland Urban Interface Firefighting Force, colloquially known as Woofer, which was created by State Farm, Allstate, IntellInsure, Prudential, AIG, and several other large homeowner insurance companies in reaction to the Four Mile Fire in Boulder and other similar conflagrations that had torn through upscale residential areas. The insurance companies realized that climate change was rendering a good portion of the West’s most valuable real estate uninsurable. Clearly these corporations couldn’t stop selling insurance. So instead they came together and created their own firefighting force, complete with a Reno-based national command center, a private, enhanced version of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. 

Brautigan had visited Woofer’s headquarters for a story when he was with the Tribune. It was like NORAD: whole walls covered with video monitors, their screens splashed with data and maps showing every fire start in the nation. Herds of analysts — scientists, financial experts, and traders — tracked each fire, crunching data on weather, soil moisture indices, vegetation, humidity, and, most importantly, the value of the insured real estate that was in the flames’ paths. It was a real-time, cost-benefit risk analysis, and when the cost of not fighting the fire reached a trigger point, teams of elite firefighters were dispatched from the nearest regional satellite office via plane, chopper, and vehicle. Quite often the Woofer crews were on scene hours before the wildland hotshot teams—staffed more and more by incarcerated people—arrived, building fire lines around upscale subdivisions while their private aircraft dropped red clouds of retardant. Woofer’s existence explains how, a few years back, devastating California fires burned the relatively low-income community of Paradise to the ground, while billionaire celebrities’ Malibu mansions were saved from a similarly destructive wall of fire.

Saving Paradise simply didn’t pencil out.