Grand Teton tightens marriage license regulations

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) – For Chip Jenkins, superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, it makes sense to tighten regulations on the wedding industry in the park.

“It’s not a private place,” he told Jackson Hole News&Guide. “We are public land, owned by all Americans.”

This is especially true after applications for wedding permits at the park doubled in recent years, from 150 to 325 – a jump that coincided with the park’s busiest visitation year. And Mallory Smith, head of the park’s business and administration division, said officials have received complaints about parties not respecting the terms of their marriage permits, bringing non-native flowers and asking others visitors to leave the area so they can have their wedding. .

Changes the park is making for the 2022 season, such as allowing 330 permits for six “site-specific” frontcountry locations, are intended to protect park resources. Ditto for the experience of the park for visitors who do not use the public square as a place for their wedding.


But for wedding photographers like Erin Wheat, whose main business is photographing Grand Teton getaways for people who want small, private ceremonies, the changes are a blow.

“I’ve lost four clients so far because of this,” Wheat said.

“Most of these people have a very specific reason why they do what they do,” she said. “In many cases, the trade-off with their family is that they’re going to have photos.”

His images, the photographer said, are often the reason clients can have the “day they wanted” and “not constantly upset their parents.”

She and other wedding industry professionals in the Teton area are therefore questioning the decision of park officials.

The new regulations

Park officials pointed to the 330 permits planned for 2022, saying they weren’t trying to reduce the number of ceremonies allowed.

Instead, they said they were trying to meet last year’s demand in a sensible way. In the six frontcountry zones, a maximum of 40 people will be allowed, although the cap depends on the site. Locations are Schwabacher Landing, Mormon Row (separate areas for north and south), Mountain View Turnout, Glacier View Turnout, Snake River Overlook, and Colter Bay Swim Beach. Schwabacher is already booked for 2022.

“We did, I think, a pretty good job of looking at venues and picking locations that people commonly requested for weddings,” Smith said.

Commercial photography will be permitted at all six locations as long as photographers obtain a separate permit. The process to get one is expected to roll out in early March, Smith said.

Ceremonies in the six zones will be limited to two hours, max. And the people getting married, rather than a wedding planner or relative, will be required to apply for a license for the wedding, and be able to reserve a site only between May 13 and October 16, 2022.

For wedding ceremonies of fewer than 12 people held outside of those six areas — ceremonies Grand Teton calls “scattered” — the park plans to offer permits beyond the 330 for established venues, Smith said.

These gatherings will be limited to one hour and will not be permitted at certain locations, such as String Lake, Inspiration Point and the six frontcountry sites.

“Scattered” ceremonies will also be permitted in the frontcountry and backcountry areas, without commercial photography or other services.

Officiants will be permitted. Ditto for the others in the wedding and the children. Members of the wedding will also be able to take photos, as long as they are not paid.

The goal, again, is to follow the Wilderness Act, which prohibits “commercial enterprise.”

Some businesses, such as mountain guide businesses, are granted an exemption for commercial services necessary to carry out the “recreational purposes or other wilderness activities” of the area.

About 40% of the park is managed as wilderness. But regulations prohibiting photographers from accompanying groups of 12 or fewer outside the six designated areas apply throughout the park.

Smith said it was for “simplicity and clarity of message” and because officials believe the sites they direct people to will meet demand.

“These, we think, can accommodate it,” she said.

Plus, Smith said, smaller groups can get married at one of six established venues — and have the ceremony photographed by a paid photographer.

“If someone has 12 people, they want to get married at the specific site location, they can,” Smith said. “Photographer or not.

Industry Concerns

Growing demand for tourists and wedding parties has put a strain on more remote spots in the park like Delta Lake, the scenic, turquoise, and heavily Instagrammed lake that has become one of the most prominent backcountry haunts. of the park.

Delta Lake is in a wilderness area and park officials have seen commercial photography in the area and received complaints.

“We’re trying to strike a really good balance to allow people to continue to visit, recreate and enjoy this place,” Grand Teton Chief of Staff Jeremy Barnum said. “But at the same time, do we want to have things that will only add to the fracas and the chaos and the pressure?”

Wedding photographers and planners agree the park has a problem. But they’re not sure what the park came up with is the right solution.

Tiffany Garcia, who runs Elope Jackson and has planned small weddings in Delta Lake as well as frontcountry venues like Schwabacher’s Landing, said guests planning a wedding in November won’t be able to get married in the park. , unless they change the date .

“They can just get married in the national forest,” Garcia said.

Moreover, they do not know if they will be able to hire a photographer to take portraits of them in the park before or after their marriage.

“There’s definitely an overuse,” Garcia said. But she thinks local wedding industry employees can help.

“If you book an educated photographer or wedding professionals to be on location with you, they’ll make sure you’re educated,” Garcia said. “They’ll make sure you follow the rules. They will make sure you are safe.

Wheat is one of those people. She is trained to leave no trace, certified in wilderness first aid, donates 1% of every client session to conservation efforts, and knows the park well.

She fears the new policies will keep photographers who want to protect the place out of the picture and see fewer park-aware photographers taking freebies, like a free hotel room, in exchange for shooting a marriage.

“It looks like it’s going to encourage people who already don’t care to stop caring,” she said.

And she asked why guides are allowed in wilderness areas but wedding photographers aren’t, especially if they’re focused on wedding safety.

Jenkins said the guides fall under the Wilderness Act exemption.

“There’s a certain segment of the population that doesn’t have the skills to be able to go to certain places, whether it’s skiing or climbing,” Jenkins said. “Providing the guide, as a way to develop that skill set and allowing them to travel safely and be able to experience it, is what makes it necessary and appropriate.”

But Jenkins said a wedding photographer isn’t necessary to get married in the desert.

Smith added that the rules are not intended to prevent people from doing so.

Wheat, however, said most of his business was elopements in the countryside within a mile or half a mile of park roads. She was only shot once in Delta, which is in a wilderness area.

“It wasn’t a wedding,” Wheat said. “I demanded that if they wanted to do Delta it had to be on a day other than their wedding because it was too much.”

“Adaptive” management

Wheat criticized the park’s decision to roll out new rules without a public process.

“We wanted it to be a conversation, not a fight,” Wheat said.

Jenkins said the park enacted the policies without a public process because it “regulated commercial use.”

“Again, the fundamental purpose of the park is resource preservation and public engagement and enjoyment,” Jenkins said. “People who operate a private business in the park are not our priority. We may, where necessary and appropriate, allow this to occur.

The superintendent said people can weigh in at any time, and it’s likely the park will likely re-examine the regulations based on public input – both from the wedding industry and others.

That could include, Jenkins said, the park receiving “more complaints from people about how photographers and weddings are performing.”

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