Director of public works balances infrastructure with Jackson’s delicate ecosystem

15 Oct 2021

Heather Overholser thoughtfully guides projects throughout Teton County

Summer/Fall 2021

Written By: Melissa Thomasma | Images: Madison Webb

Places like Jackson Hole don’t just happen. Critical elements of the community’s everyday infrastructure and services must be thoughtfully designed and mindfully managed. Over the past couple decades, Heather Overholser has been a visionary in developing community systems that are safe, convenient, and reflect the valley’s values.

As the county’s director of public works, Heather’s job is much more complex and profound than the name might first sound. Since stepping into the role two years ago, she has overseen endeavors that have had a profound impact on the way Jackson Hole functions. “Our projects focus on providing infrastructure for the community,” she says. “We work on things like pathways, road projects, and wildlife crossings.” Heather explains that at the heart of her job lies compromise. “From an ecosystem standpoint, we live in such a complex and rich place. It takes extra special care and consideration when we’re doing these projects and planning. We are trying to balance all of the different interests.” In her role, Heather strives to gather input from all the interested parties to develop solutions that benefit the greater community, including the ecosystem. “The question always is: How do we balance these interests? How do you design it so that it is going to keep wildlife out of the roadway corridor, but also be user-friendly and compatible with the pathway system? I see part of my role as bringing people together for conversations — ultimately my goal is to figure out a compromise. Although it is certain that the final decisions on our projects will not please everyone, the community can rest assured that their voices were heard and all input was carefully considered.” Since arriving in Jackson Hole in the summer of 1995, Heather has worked in various roles that focus on how the human community impacts and coexists with the ecosystem. She started out as an outreach coordinator for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, before becoming the organization’s development director. And in 2003, she stepped into the role of executive director for Jackson Community Recycling; a job that soon morphed into a leadership position with Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling (ISWR). “[Jackson Community Recycling] ran the recycling center, all the recycling programs, and the hazardous waste facility. I distinctly remember, in 2008, one of my first meetings back after my son was born and maternity leave, and County Commissioner Ben Ellis said to me, ‘What would you think of combining forces? Teton County Engineering and Jackson Community Recycling merging, and having one entity that runs all of the solid waste and recycling programs in the valley?’” “I thought it was a great idea,” Heather recalls. “We spent the next year researching what it could look like and landed on creating a division within county engineering.” Ultimately, Heather spent her years at ISWR striving to man- age the community’s waste streams in more sustainable and environmental ways. “It’s an ever-evolving science. There are so many different impacts — the climate change impact of hauling waste, the creation of new materials, reducing consumption of resources through reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting,” she says. Now, as the director of public works, Heather oversees the branch of the county that runs ISWR and is proud that it has continued to grow — including a new food composting service that minimizes the amount of waste that’s trucked out of the valley. Through it all, Heather relishes the fact that her roles in the community have had a tangible impact on how human denizens impact and live alongside the unique ecosystem. Her leadership has guided the way Jackson Hole has evolved and grown while protecting the elements that make up the valley’s distinct flavor. “I treasure this place with all my heart,” says Heather. “The wildlife is so special to me; there aren’t many places in the world that have the wildlife, the open spaces, the scenery, recreational opportunities, as well as the amazing amenities that we have. Pathways and music, culture, theater, and food — it’s absolutely incredible, and I feel so grateful to call this home.”
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