There’s no waxing nostalgic for Island Park Mayor Tom Jewell.
He’s all business, organized and on message as he prepares to leave office when his term ends in January. His approach to his retirement is emblematic of how he has run the city for the past 16 years.
“All the projects don’t just make the city a better place, they make the whole community of Island Park a better place,” he said of his accomplishments.
Jewell is not fond of the media, and he enjoys controlling the narrative. That’s why he hands over a two-page list of all his pet projects and lets them speak for themselves.
Most tangible is the creation of a real Island Park City Hall. After meeting for years at a bar and restaurant, then at an upstairs room in a restaurant, in a room at the firehouse and later at a room in a gas station, the city finally paid cash for a new log office building for city administration and meetings.
That was in 2009, five years after Jewell took office as mayor. The half-acre of land between Pond’s Lodge and the Buffalo River includes land for eventual expansion, if necessary. All of the improvements to the property and inside the building also were bought with cash.
Island Park visitors might also notice the metal signs welcoming visitors to the community on both ends of the 32.4-mile Main Street, the longest in the U.S. It was Jewell who designed them and had them made and installed.
Because on some Mondays after a long weekend “enough lumber could be found at the roadside to build an outhouse,” he convinced the Fremont County Commission that loads to the landfills should be covered, and not just to the Island Park Landfill but also the one in St. Anthony. He also convinced the commissioners to keep the Island Park Landfill open on Sundays. In that case, he agreed to take the heat if people complained. He says no one did.
Last year the city paid cash to pave 1,700 feet of roads in the cemetery it owns.
Several of his projects involved traffic. He convinced the city to purchase a speed indicator trailer to slow traffic, he convinced the state to allow seven legal recreational crossings of U.S. Highway 20 in his city, and he created a 45 mph speed limit on Idaho Highway 87 on the north shore of Henry’s Lake, as more than 25 driveways and roads enter that stretch of roadway.
Since Island Park’s economy is largely about tourism, the traffic on U.S. 20 is the city’s lifeblood. The city needs the traffic, but it wants travelers to stay safe. In that vein, Jewell helped facilitate several safety improvements such as a recreation bridge built over the Henry’s Lake Outlet for ATVs, snowmobiles and snow groomers and others so they didn’t have to travel the two-lane U.S. 20 in competition with vehicles traveling 65 mph, a risky proposition.
He lists construction of turn lanes at U.S. 20 onto and out of Red Rock Lake Road and at Elk Creek Station of U.S. 20 and the Yale-Kilgore Road as other projects he helped facilitate.
“All the projects don’t just make the city a better place, they make the whole community of Island Park a better place,” he said.
Jewell has been able to accomplish what he has for Island Park, population 275, by building and nurturing relationships. He networks.
Fifteen years ago he organized a monthly lunch meeting with three other mayors of Fremont County’s other cities.
Fifteen years ago he invited 13 regional mayors to attend a roundtable discussion at Harriman State Park, a tradition that also continues, with 19 area mayors from cities large and small attending this summer and voting to keep the annual meeting going after Jewell leaves office in January.
He also meets about once a month with the county commissioners.
For many years he hosted a Community After Hours event open to the public and invited speakers to talk about a variety of issues of interest to the community — from grizzly bears to the economy.
“What I’m going to miss is the association with other mayors, working with the council and the staff,” he says. But he’s not getting sentimental.
“I’m going to put on a T-shirt and a pair of sandals and drive south until I can sit on the tailgate of my truck and drink a beer and smoke a cigar,” he says. You can tell he means it.