By Kate Ready
Jackson Hole News&Guide
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON — A Utah man is facing federal charges for holding an unauthorized dirt bike race along Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park. The incident occurred in 2020 although investigators believe Jacob “Jake” Hobbs had been hosting the race annually inside the park, starting as early as 2011.
According to court documents filed in U.S. District Court earlier this month, Hobbs is being charged with five counts for destruction of plants, property damage, failure to report an incident, injury to a historic monument and operating a motor vehicle off-road.
The court filing states Hobbs unlawfully operated a motor vehicle in an area that was not a park road, not in a parking area and not on routes designated for off-road motor vehicle use.
All told, Hobbs is facing up to 27 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $25,000 and up to five years probation.
Witnesses who saw dirt bikes on July 18, 2020, south of the Moulton Barn also recorded a video of the event as they drove south on Mormon Row, according to court documents.
The video showed a group of approximately 30 to 40 people who appeared to be breaking down a race course, folding up chairs and moving dirt bikes toward nearby vehicles. Several juvenile riders were seen, as well as a professional photographer.
Hobbs was identified in the video in the middle of the course speaking into a handheld microphone attached to a bullhorn. The video, as well as other videos and photos of the event, showed people holding race flags as they guided motorcycle riders. Footage also showed white track markers in the ground identifying the course.
Supervisory Park Ranger Alec Chapman, who is assigned to Teton Park, provided a sworn statement alongside the filing. Rangers received a call from dispatch at 8:44 p.m. the day of the race but were unable to locate the group that evening, according to Chapman. He later determined, however, that this was an organized event among friends who were staying at the Gros Ventre Campground as part of an annual party.
Noreen Travers, the attorney representing Hobbs, stated that Hobbs believed Mormon Row was on Bureau of Land Management property, his group stayed for one hour and no formal race was held.
Chapman described it as a formal race where at least two awards were given out for Most Improved Rider and Run What Ya Brung.
Mormon Row is of special significance to the Jackson Hole area. Not only are its iconic turn-of-the-century buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it’s also the site of a multiyear natural resource restoration project that’s working to remove non-native invasive grasses and restore the area to a native sagebrush steppe ecosystem.
The Grand Teton National Park Foundation has been supporting this restoration project since 2016 alongside the National Park Service. Maddy Johnson, communications director for the association, said $500,000 has been spent to restore the native sagebrush habitat.
“This area is an important habitat for elk, bison, pronghorn, moose, sage grouse, and a variety of other wildlife, which all depend on sagebrush steppe habitat,” stated a July 22, 2020, park press release. “The area that was damaged by the dirt bikes was reseeded in 2019 as the result of a collaborative effort between the National Park Service, Grand Teton National Park Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Teton Conservation District.”
Chapman said damage caused by the event was estimated to be over 4,000 square feet and the assessment and restoration costs were $3,690.96.
Chapman confirmed that a group site at the Gros Ventre Campground had been reserved by Jake Hobbs from Salt Lake City for July 16-20, although Hobbs possesses an Arizona driver’s license. His reservation stated he had been camping there for 11 years.
Luckily for Chapman, the social media tracks left by the group were as stark as those left by their motorbikes. Chapman identified Instagram posts showing a pit bike race along Mormon Row accompanied by the hashtag #boltsbday11.
Chapman believed the hashtag referenced the 11 years that Hobbs’ company, BoltsAction LLC, had been in business, and the race was held to celebrate the company’s birthday.
Chapman also found more pictures on Instagram from previous years, showing that the event had been occurring in the park since at least 2013 but likely even earlier.
He said in the court filing that “there are photos in the Park dating back to 2011 based upon social media and blog postings.”
Chapman also found that Hobbs’ company BoltsAction made a commercial in 2015 for Lifeproof, a company that makes cases for electronic devices. Chapman suspected this commercial was made during the annual race, as it showed bikes being driven on the wrong side of road with the Tetons in the background, motorcyclists standing on the seat of their moving motorcycles and machetes being thrown into trees in the Gros Ventre Campground.
When asked why the 2020 incident was the first to receive attention despite evidence that the race had been held since 2011, the park’s chief of staff, Jeremy Barnum, said “the 2020 incident was the first about which we had specific knowledge and information.”
“It took some time for the National Park Service to investigate the tips and information provided by the public,” Barnum said.
Barnum referred the News&Guide to the attorney general’s office for more information on its timeline filing charges. The attorney general’s office did not respond to the News&Guide’s request for comment.
Annie Band, a wildlife biologist and board member for the nonprofit Grand Teton Association, said the case is part of a bigger issue.
“I think it relates to the dramatically increasing usage, not just of the park but the national forest is also taking a huge brunt of the over-visitation of the area,” Band said. “I think we’re having issues with damage and a lack of understanding around the impact even of less aggressive use.”
Barnum said the park is responding to increased visitation with an emphasis on increased communication about how to recreate responsibly on public lands.
“We’re trying to elevate the conversation about conservation,” Barnum said. “We are using our communication tools, including social media and online platforms, along with cooperation with partners in the community to encourage visitors to plan ahead, recreate responsibly and help ensure this iconic landscape may be enjoyed by future generations.”
Barnum said the park will be putting out more planning and stewardship tips for this summer season.
“National parks like Grand Teton belong to us all, and it’s up to all of us to preserve and protect them,” Barnum said.