Bob McLaurin first came to Jackson Hole as a “deadbeat rock climber” in the 1970s. The North Carolina native climbed the Grand Teton with friends. They hiked to the Lower Saddle, camped, and then woke at 4 a.m. the next morning to head for the 13,775-foot summit. They made it, but didn’t make it back to their car at the Lupine Meadows trailhead until 2 a.m. the following day. “It was slow, but we got it done,” he says. McLaurin, now sixty-three, still climbs the Grand Teton, usually over Labor Day weekend and with five or six of his coworkers at the Town of Jackson. “We call it a team-building effort,” he says. McLaurin has been Jackson’s town manager since 2003, and was also the town manager between 1990 and 1993. From 1985 to 1990 he was Jackson’s town planner. During his decade break from Jackson, McLaurin served as town manager of Vail, Colorado. He took a pay cut to return to Jackson. “Vail offered me more money to stay,” says McLaurin, who took up paragliding about six years ago. “But Jackson Hole is the greatest place on the planet. No paycheck could compete with that.”
Q: What about Jackson today is the same as it was in 1985?
A: Not a lot, but there are still some old-time locals, and in many respects it is still a small town where you know everybody.
Q: Was there one change that got Jackson’s economic evolution going?
A: The leadership in the ’70s and ’80s made some very deliberate decisions that put us on the course to where we are economically today.
Q: What’s been your favorite change?
A: Snowmaking and grooming and high-speed quads.
Q: How has the economy changed?
A: It used to be entirely tourism, but today it has two parts: tourism and lifestyle. This is a very desirable place to live and as more jobs allow you to live anywhere, people are choosing Jackson.
Q: How did you get into town planning/managing?
A: Back East, I had been a planner. I worked for a city manager who really inspired me and made me want to be a city manager. He was a great leader. At that point in time, he saw more in me than I saw in myself.
Q: Does he know how you’ve risen in the profession?
A: Yes, we’re still in touch. He’s proud of me.
Q: What are you proudest of having done so far as town manager?
A: The Town of Jackson organization. It is an outstanding organization comprised of people that love this community and try to do the right things by the people who live here and visit here.
Q: Anything physical?
A: The parking structure [on Millward Street]. Everybody laughed at us when we started building it. Now it seems to be pretty popular.
Q: What’s our biggest problem?
A: The scarcity of housing and cost of land. This has always been a hard place to live. When Johnny Karns and Nick Wilson came [in the late 1800s], it was a hard place to live, but it was a different kind of hardship.
Q: Where do you live?
A: East Jackson. I love living in town. We bought our house in 1987.
Q: What about taking up paragliding in your fifties?
A: It is exhilarating, and you don’t have to hike six hours up to the Lower Saddle to do it.
Q: Favorite aerial view?
A: I love flying off Snow King and over town, but my favorite place is Curtis Canyon in the late afternoon—the sun going down behind the Tetons, it’s just spectacular.
Interview by Dina Mishev