By Melissa Snider // Photography by Matt Donovan and Reed Mattison
Many of us live for summer in Jackson Hole.
After a long winter of bundling our children—and ourselves—in multiple layers for every excursion, enjoying a sunshiny-summer evening with friends at the park is an absolute joy. It’s a treat to let kids run wild on the playground, have (mostly) uninterrupted conversations, and revel in the gorgeous weather. And imagine—what if you could have all of this, and someone else made dinner, too?
This dream-come-true can be yours at Grazing Rights, a weekly Jackson Hole neighborhood food truck series, now in its second year. Last summer, creator Matt Donovan worked with local officials to coordinate dinners at May Park and other public town parks, following two years of record-breaking visitation. The number of tourists forgoing plane travel during COVID-19, and instead, arriving in cars and campers in 2020 and 2021, resulted in a downtown that was more than just bustling—it was a 24-hour traffic jam. While a positive boost for the economy, residents trying to eat out were unable to compete with visitor activity.
“There was no space at the table for locals to have dinner, much less places we felt we could take our families,” says Donovan. He noticed that parks in various parts of town were often empty in the evenings, and started forming his business concept as one solution to the problem he and many others were experiencing.
“We focused on residents, open spaces, and community, and how we could reconnect those things,” he says.
In 2022, the series served more than 5,000 meals at three weekly events, mostly to locals. Participants in this year’s Grazing Rights events can expect to see about a dozen food truck vendors throughout the summer, serving up everything from tacos to pizza to pulled pork sandwiches.
“It is a slightly free-range, family-friendly offering to the community,” says Donovan, whose own young family joins him for many of the events. “This idea is simple in its nature, and now it feels like it can be as easy as it’s designed to be.”
Flo McCall, Melody Ranch resident and member of the HOA Board, feels Grazing Rights is a rare benefit for locals. There is no messing around with traffic, crowds, or high prices—just socializing in the summertime while grabbing great food.
“I love it more than anything,” says McCall. “What a positive thing to add to a growing contemporary life in Jackson Hole. It’s affordable, and a good way to support local business.”
Food Truck owners in Jackson balance the challenges of extreme seasonality and limited opportunities to operate their businesses. Dan Quirk, co-owner of Chompers Southern-inspired food truck, is excited to participate in the series again this year. He likes how summer food trucks allow people to hang outside with a bit more freedom to roam, while providing casual, inexpensive dining options. Quirk applauds having multiple food trucks in one location, when possible.
“You’re not committing to one meal,” he says. “You’re going to bounce around and truly graze.”
Donovan expanded the event by inviting local nonprofits to spread the word about their work while diners mingle. Friends of Pathways, which supports sustainable transportation and healthy recreation in Jackson Hole, was one natural pairing for the event. Friends of Pathways Communications Director Sam Petri sees their presence as a “value-add.”
“One of the reasons we wanted to be a part of Grazing Rights is because we’re meeting people where they already live. They can just walk or bike right out of their homes and have dinner together as a community.”
For the May Park event in particular, those returning from a bike ride up Cache Creek or Nelson Trailhead can swing by and grab some food to refuel before heading home.
Additionally, diners can peruse the information tent, take advantage of a free bike tune with Hoback Sports, or let their youngest riders try the “Strider Course.” The positive environmental impact of participants walking or biking to the events speaks for itself.
Annie Riddell, May Park resident and parent, loves seeing nonprofits like Slow Food in the Tetons, Spread the Love Commission, and others in action at the events.
“They help entertain kids and add a fun dimension to the gatherings,” she says, describing the food truck series as a “gift” to East Jackson.
“I loved seeing May Park—a sometimes under-utilized public space—used in such a positive way,” says Riddell. “What’s more community-building than breaking bread with neighbors under Jackson Hole summer skies?”
So, grab your bike, blanket, and beverage of choice. Meet us at the park—rain or shine—and set your kids loose as you take a rare moment to appreciate the opportunity to gather and graze.
For more on the Grazing Rights Neighborhood Food Truck series, follow the gathering on Instagram and Facebook @grazingrights.