The World’s First Geotourism Center

The Idaho highways connecting Ashton to Swan Valley undulate with the rolling hillside and appear like gray ribbons in the wind. A broad valley to the south unfolds and unveils farmland once covered in summer hay, barley and potato fields, now simply blankets of snow and miles of snowmobile tracks.

This is the Teton Scenic Byway. Living up to its name, the west side of the Teton Range juts into air, a vision painted against the cobalt sky. The byway meanders through several quaint yet vibrant towns, including the Teton County seat of Driggs. Located in southeast Idaho, near the Wyoming border, one discovers another gem: the eastern Idaho portal into the country’s most scenic and wild areas.

Wyoming’s Teton Pass is famed for its extensive backcountry skiing access, while Grand Targhee Resort and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offer world-renowned, lift-accessed terrain. To the north, the country’s first national park, Yellowstone, and neighboring Grand Teton National Park present boundless adventure opportunities.

The accessibility to adventure is endless. But first, a stop into the Teton Geotourism Center in downtown Driggs is a must. (TGC is also smack dab in the center of the Teton Scenic Byway.) Inspired by National Geographic Society’s concept of “geotourism” or sustainable local travel, TGC is the world’s first geotourism center, a space that elucidates the grandeur of Teton Valley and its place in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, while encouraging preservation of the area’s culture, environment and heritage. Tourists and locals alike can learn about the history, economy and events the region offers.

It’s also where Deb Hinkley’s affinity for the Teton Valley greets you like an old friend.

“I have a passion for keeping the door open,” says Hinkley, executive director for TGC. “When we moved here from Seattle, people [here] were friendly and caring, and easily conversational. It’s rewarding to talk to [visitors] and to share what I love about the valley.”

TGC held its grand opening in 2014, unveiling exhibits about discovery and pioneer settlements, flora and fauna, avalanche safety, and agriculture in the valley, among others. The center embodies all the treasures in this special valley: downhill and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, year-round fly fishing, restaurants, and the arts. The secret is getting out beyond the valley’s hamlets – Tetonia, Driggs and Victor.

“We have this 30-mile, three-tiny-town [stretch with] 10,000 people,” Hinkley says. “We’re turning around our economy by maintaining our agricultural roots and expanding to accommodate not only the high-tech telecommuter, but also recreational visitors.” Family friendliness, with most events tailored toward kids and dogs, fill the calendar.

When you visit, you may want to stay. But if you do leave, come on back. “Teton Valley represents peace and calm and renewal,” Hinkley said. “It just gets harder and harder to leave.”

This special advertising section was first published in the winter 2016 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.