Jackson Hole’s Elk Antler Arch Tradition
Families gather here for their group photo.
The four elk antler arches guarding the corners of Jackson Hole’s George Washington Memorial Park, more commonly called the Town Square, have become well known icons to the town’s many visitors. They’ve been featured in thousands of family photos over the years.
How Often Are Jackson’s Elk Antler Arches Replaced?
It’s a toss-up whether the Tetons or the elk antler arches at the four corner of Jackson’s Town Square are more photographed by visitors, writes local Jackson, Wyo., writer Dina Mishev in the book On the Road Yellowstone. When the local Rotary Club erected the first arch in 1953, it had no idea it was creating an icon. But the arch was an instant hit with visitors, so the club started planning for additional arches, one on each corner. These were built between 1966 and 1969. (The southwest corner was the first to get its arch.)
Today’s arches are not the original ones, though. Elk antlers have a life span.
“They were starting to decompose,” says Rotarian Pete Karns. “People could and did steal individual antlers because they weren’t secure anymore.”
Karns, whose grandfather homesteaded in Jackson in 1890, also realized the arches were becoming a safety hazard. Kids, and adults, climb on them. But “A Jackson Hole without its arches could never exist,” he says. In 2006 Karns turned to the valley’s three Rotary clubs to fundraise money to replace all four arches. Even the youngest arch looked pretty dingy.
“They don’t look very good when they’re old,” Karns says.
Ideally, the antlers should be replaced every 30 to 40 years.
The oldest arch, the southwestern one, was rebuilt first in 2007. Because this arch is the most popular one for photographs, it wasn’t just replaced, but also moved. It was only a matter of time before someone walking backward to take a photo stepped into traffic and was hurt. The southeast arch was redone in 2009, the northeast corner in 2011 and the northwest one in 2013. Each time, workers disassembled the old arch just after Memorial Day and had the new one up by the Fourth of July.
How Do You Built an Elk Antler Arch?
Making an elk antler arch is a labor-intensive process. Workers weave antlers—each of which weighs from 5 to 10 pounds—together around the steel frame. Antlers go up one at a time. By the time an arch is done, it’s a mosaic of 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of antlers. Some of them are screwed down to add extra support and prevent vandalism.
About 1,000 to 2000 pounds of the antlers in each arch came from the Jackson Hole Boy Scouts, who pick them up on the National Elk Refuge each year. The rest were bought from antler dealers in the Mountain West. The new arches should be good until 2040 or so.
This excerpt is used with permission from Lyons Press and appears in the book, On the Road Yellowstone by Dina Mishev. It is a partnership between Lyons Press and National Park Trips Media.