The Creekside Meadows Story
Before the North American continent was born, a vast inland sea stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic. Things changed when the area was uplifted five-hundred million years ago. Sixty-five million years ago, the Rocky Mountain orogeny uplifted sediments thousands of feet above sea level, and the Big Hole Mountains, and the valley we call Pierre’s Hole were formed. Much more recently (four million years ago) the ancestral hot spot beneath Yellowstone marched across the Snake River Plain in Eastern Idaho. As lava flowed from the Yellowstone Calderas, the Jackson Hole valley floor dropped and the Teton Range was uplifted. The peaks are still growing after only four million years of mountain building, further defining the Teton Valley. More recently glaciation shaped the majestic peaks but not did flow into the Teton Valley from most of the canyons.
During the Ice Age, when the seas were low, the first Americans migrated across the land bridge between Russia and Alaska and the North American continent became home to its first people. Several different bands of Native Americans used the Teton Valley for hunting and summer activities.
John Coulter, an explorer with the Lewis & Clark expedition of 1806, was probably the first white man to enter into the Teton Valley from Jackson Hole. He was such a successful boatman and hunter he was granted his request to leave the expedition on the return journey. This was especially interesting as he had been away from his wife and family for two years but forgave the reunion potential for the wilderness! He left little trace other than a questionable carved stone unearthed by a farmer plowing a field near Tetonia in the north end of the Teton Valley.
Demand for beaver hats from the Far East and Europe led the fur trappers into the Teton Valley to trap the many streams in the early 1800’s. They came from Astoria, Oregon in the west and from St. Louis, Missouri from the east in small groups, on horse, pulling supplies behind with mules.
However, their activities were transient. Each year they would travel back to St. Louis to sell the pelts and trade for the next year’s supplies. In the early 1830’s David Jackson, William Sublette, and Jedediah Smith developed a better idea. Why not form a company to bring supplies to the trappers and purchase the furs to be taken to St. Louis? The trapper could rendezvous and remain in the mountains.
The early Rendezvous were held in Bear Lake, Idaho, the Cache Valley, Utah and Green River, Wyoming and the largest was held in Pierre’s Hole. In 1832 over a thousand mountain men along with friendly trading Native Americans were camped in various places around the Teton Valley, with the largest encampment on Teton Creek, probably on the present site of Creekside Meadows.
The fur trade died out in the early 1840’s as beaver hats fell out of style and it was not until 1871 that Hayden Survey party came to the area after the end of the Civil War to map the west. Westward migration began in droves as a result of the Homestead Act of 1862 that opened the west and enabled a settler to obtain 160 acres of free land if he lived, worked, and improved the land for a five-year period.
The first homesteaders came to the Teton Valley in 1885 from Rexburg to the north end of the valley and over Pine Creek Pass to the south end of the valley. Edward W. Seymour homesteaded on Teton Creek, the site of Creekside Meadows, in 1902. His occupancy was short lived and he sold the 160-acre property to Ernest Taylor in 1905. Upon is death in 1944 the property was distributed to his wife and his five children. In 1970 Kitchen Head, a local doctor became owner of the 80 acres of Creekside Meadows land with the intent of building his home there. He traded it to Richard Hokin in 1993, an investor from Connecticut, before it was purchased by Bruce Simon and a partner in 2001.
The modern story began in the late 1970’s when Bruce began in the real estate business in Jackson Hole. It wasn’t long after he began to get familiar with the beauty of the Teton Valley, driving every back road in both valleys looking for exceptional property.
Working in the real estate business in Jackson Hole and living on the Fall Creek Road, in Wilson, Wyoming, he began to sell the Rivermeadows development, 5 miles south of Wilson. Bob Erickson was the land planner for Don Albrecht and he became friends with Bob. Bruce was so impressed with the design, forethought and development techniques for the land.
In the early 1980’s Bruce began his first development in the Teton Valley. He bought an elevated 80-acre parcel at the foot of the Big Hole Mountains in Twin Creek on the west side of Pierre’s Hole. This property overlooked the amazing agricultural beauty of the valley and seemed perfect for a large-lot (20-acre parcel) development. The property was divided into 4 parcels and development improvements included a county standard access road, fenced common area for horses, underground utilities, building envelops to protect view corridors and Protective Covenants. The project was named Vistameadows.
In the mid-eighties Bruce met a prominent real estate developer from California, William Wilson, while manning a real estate office in Teton Village. He can still remember the day Bill walked into the office and sat down. He had a charisma about him, he loved to talk, and Bruce loved to listen and adsorb as much as possible. Bruce became his agent on several large properties, he referred his friends to Bruce, and they became friends. He was a true real estate junkie; he loved to talk real estate, developing, leasing, financing, and his business affairs. Bruce learned so much by just listening.
In the early 90’s Bruce partnered with PC Development, Mike Potter and Tom Clinton to form Prime Properties of Jackson Hole, which they operated for 27 years. They were very successful in developing in Jackson Hole, including Teton Pines, Willowbrook and the Tucker Ranch; all very high-end projects. Bruce became the sales arm for their developments. In the mid 90’s Bruce took Mike and Tom to some property 1 mile south of Victor and suggested golf course development. Five years later, when he saw the plans for Teton Springs on their desk, he knew that there would be a high-end development in the south end of the Teton Valley. This would be a game changer for the west side of the Tetons.
When Bruce told his California developer friend about the future Teton Springs (Bill was a member of Teton Pines and an owner in Tucker Ranch, where he lived) he said “let’s go to the Teton Valley and look around”. They both realized that there were limited possibilities to control a large parcel for development in Jackson Hole if one was not a second or third generation land owner. However, with very limited opportunities in Jackson Hole, and a clear need for more planned regional housing, they recognized the potential of the Teton Valley, as all the same recreational pursuits were available.
There was a “for sale” sign on an 80-acre parcel just to the south of the City of Driggs (future Creekside Meadows). He said “Let’s buy this property and I’ll put up 90% of the money and you put up 10%, so I know you have “skin in the game” and you will do all the necessary work”. He had confidence that Bruce was a hard worker and had the necessary skills and follow-through to see such a large project to completion.
Keep in mind that Bruce had been in the real estate business for 22 years at this time and had developed lots of experience with developments, building, marketing and selling.
The land for Creekside was close to Driggs, but not a candidate for annexation since it was not contiguous to city limits; a requirement of state law. Therefore, Bruce put together several different partnerships to buy 3 more parcels to the north to make the 90-acres contiguous for annexation.
A contract was arranged to purchase all 4 parcels; all conditioned upon the successful annexation which was a fairly long multiple meeting process. The Mayor of Driggs, Lou Christensen, was always supportive, as was the City Council. They all wanted to see Driggs grow.
Bruce hired David Michaelson, of Rock Creek Studios, from Fort Collins, Colorado to be his planner. Dave was one of his tennis proteges from the 70’s when he was the tennis professional for the Ft. Collins Tennis Club. They had kept in touch for 30 years, without the aid of Facebook! Dave had become All-American tennis player at University of Northern Colorado, but more importantly he had a masters in Urban Planning from Cal-Poly.
With a total of 90 acres, we were able to create a Planned Urban Development (PUD) with different types of zoning including multifamily, small and large lot single family homes, office buildings and commercial land for the future. Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND) was implemented with small clustered lots, narrow streets, walking paths, 25% open space for wildlife along Teton Creek, design standards, use restrictions and front porches to encourage people to meet and interact.
It wasn’t very long after the annexation was completed Bruce’s partner got quite ill and told him he should not be in this development for the long haul. He said “why don’t you buy me out and I’ll structure a deal to enable you to do so”. Startled at first, but then recognizing an opportunity, which Bruce had done many times before, he agreed to a purchase that he thought could work well. A lot was on paper and dependent upon sales, which he was confident he could make.
After the approval of a seven-figure bank development loan from Bank of Jackson Hole, construction work began, including underground utilities (water, sewer, telephone), large landscaped areas, and streets to meet city standards as the City of Driggs would take them over after completion.
It wasn’t very long after breaking ground that someone got mad and said “It’s not fair, you Realtors always get the best property for yourself before the public gets a chance to purchase.” Bruce’s response was “The property was listed for two years with a sign on the land and no one made an offer. I had a vision and I made it happen. You could have but you didn’t!” Bruce has always been visionary and can see the future. And he took plenty of risk too! Real estate developers must understand risk!
There were stumbling blocks too; the development game has its minefields. When initially digging a waterline on the north portion of the property to connect to the city utilities, he met a very hard worker by the name of Marshall McInnis. He was down in the ditch, looked up with his green eyes and said, “I want to be your construction manager.” He was a former Navy Seal with plenty of infrastructure experience, so he was hired.
Bruce told Marshall if you see an arrow head or spear point while excavating, put it in your pocket and shut up! One day he called me and said, “I know what you said, but you better come look at the skeleton we unearthed.” I said “stop construction and I’ll be there in a half hour.” Sure enough there was half a skeleton on a dirt pile and the other half was still intact about three feet down in the trench. He secured a cardboard box from the nearby apartment construction site, padded it with fiberglass insulation, and carefully collected the bones.
Bruce took them back to Wyoming for security and shortly received a call from the Sheriff. He said “Bring those bones over to me right away.” There were two choices. The first was to bring them to his office right away and the second was that he would send a deputy over to arrest Bruce for interfering with a crime scene. He told the sheriff that they were the consistency of a Ritz cracker but the sheriff said he still had to investigate a crime. Of course, Bruce chose the latter option and returned them to him for investigation.
The State Archeologist, Kenneth Reid, came to perform an excavation. Upon carefully screening the topsoil he recovered 21 blue glass trade beads, possibly from Italy, a metal object, and three bone dice. We probably uncovered the grave of a 32-year-old male Native American who was possibly killed in the Battle of Pierre’s Hole in July 1832, when the Rendezvous broke up. An article was published in the Journal of Northwest Anthropology, Memoir 7:137-166 2012 entitled “ANOTHER ROLL OF THE DICE, THE CREEKSIDE MEADOWS ABORIGINAL BURIAL IN TETON VALLEY, EASTERN IDAHO.”
During the excavation the construction crew was able to continue installing the water line in a different area, therefore there were no serious delays. If this had happened in California it would have been an entirely different story. The Native American was returned to the Blackfoot Tribe and re-interred in the National Forest.
The second snafu was due to the Clean Water Act Section 404 Permitting and regulation by the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers. Bruce had carefully obtained a permit to fill some wetlands in order to build a bridge over Teton Creek to access the rear 15 acres for the Estate section. All of the permitted work was completed, inspected and approved by a government representative. A year later, out of the blue, he received a violation notice for the work he performed along the bank of Teton Creek. They said he placed too much rip rap on the banks to protect the bridge from erosion. A lengthy and costly legal situation occurred which was finally settled when Bruce agreed to remove some of the rip rap and plant shrubs in the balance of the rocks. He supplemented nature as trees and shrubs naturally regrew along the areas that had been disturbed.
Initially, Bruce was trying to sell lots in the first phase which was the high-density area. Faced with the prospect of different builders designing homes to be built close together, he quickly realized that he had to design and build the high-density homes himself in order to create an architecturally pleasing and planned development. Furthermore, the larger, estate lots were in the rear and in order to sell them for strong prices he needed to create a pleasing housing development in the front section.
At this point two very important things happened. Firstly, he happened to drive by some very attractive resort-type homes in Cook City, Montana; the design and architecture of which he thought could work well in Creekside Meadows. Secondly, a home was being installed in Wilson, Wyoming in two pieces, pre-built by Superior Modular Systems (SMS) in Pocatello, Idaho and shipped 100 miles!
Recognizing the difficulty and expense of building in a mountain community, he came up with the idea of designing and building homes at a plant in Pocatello, Idaho and shipping them 100 miles to Driggs to be installed in Creekside. He worked with a very experienced and forward-thinking plant owner and creative draftsman at SMS to figure out how to design and build homes that had no resemblance to manufactured homes, which were recognizable from a distance, as lower quality homes.
The designs increased overhangs from 6” to 18”, we increased the size of the windows and we increased the roof pitches from 3/12 to 10/12. We used fiber cement siding in place of aluminum siding, we installed siding on-site to hide the seams, and we installed flooring on site after the pieces were “stitched” together. All these design criteria had to also fit certain length, height and width restrictions in order to be transported over the highway without excessive costs. Bruce re-invented modular custom home building to the International Building Code standard. Subsequently a category in the Teton Board of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Service now includes “stick-built off site” construction to differentiate from FHA lower quality modular home construction. They designed and built 5 different floorplans for small homes ranging in size from 1,350 to 2,400 square feet and the models all bore the names of the fur trappers to honor the past. They also designed and built a 5,000-square foot apartment building that was shipped in 16 pieces (William Ashley Building). Individuality was obtained by varying design, use of colors, front porch details, and Victorian and Craftsman details.
Collins Graphics from Billings, Montana was hired to create a marketing package including letterhead, trendy presentation folders, and artist renderings of both the masterplan and the three initial homes. Jim Collins had worked for PC Development and they were a clear choice to enable Bruce to pull of the initial sales of a project, that was just a vision in his mind at this time. There was no question that their aids were well designed to complete the vision. The first model home was pre-sold to a local investor who immediately demonstrated his belief in the project. Bruce leased the home back to use as a model home and sales office. Keep in mind that this house stood alone in a former farmer’s field in the beginning, with excavation occurring for streets, water and sewer lines, and landscape berms! The developer’s first sale is the hardest and he was very happy to sell a house.
Quickly, at a rapid pace, several more homes were sold as model homes to investors, some of which are still owned by the initial buyers demonstrating long-term satisfaction. From these models he quickly built and sold homes as fast as possible recognizing that recessions do periodically occur. He wanted to be as far along in the development process as possible. Bruce knew that from experiencing at least 3 prior real estate downturns, that another might be around the corner. He built 40 homes before the crash of 2007 slowed things down to a standstill at which time, he had 4 unsold homes in his inventory. Two were built for customers who did not close and he had two built for himself on speculation.
From 2008 until 2013 the 4 homes were rented to carry the $1 million outstanding revolving line of credit and things were very tight. At the time he owned 6 other companies and there was plenty of money juggling on a daily basis. However, never a ball was dropped. His banker often complimented him on his skills to keep all the balls in the air, when other developers were faltering.
None the less Creekside Meadows survived the recession unlike many other developments. Slowly the 4 homes in his inventory were sold during the period from 2011 to 2016 and new construction began again in 2017.
With the majority of the lots either built or sold in 2016, and no existing home inventory, it was time to look towards the future with the regional job growth causing a housing crisis. Planning occurred for a 29-lot subdivision in the front area of Creekside, an area previously designed for multifamily and office property. Local planner/architect Mori Bergmeyer was employed to help with the design of smaller homes on smaller lots that could also be pre-built and shipped down the highway. The City planners, the Mayor and City Council were very supportive with a, “bring-it-on, how-can-I-help-you-today” attitude. Certainly, the approval climate has swung the pendulum from being impossible in the end of the last subdivision boom (2007) to the present. The plan for Phase V always received 5-0 positive votes from the Planning Commission the City Council.
As of December 2020, there are 54 single family homes, 39 townhouses and 16 apartments built for a total of 109 “doors”. Still to come are another 100+ “doors” and commercial stores along the highway.
With the shift to remote working and the pursuit of outdoor recreational opportunities, the future of Creekside Meadows is bright. Bruce Simon is still involved, with the capable help of Ciara Thomas, to lead the development to completion.
-Bruce Simon, Developer