The Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is home to the stunning Grand Teton mountain range. | Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images
By Rob Hotakainen
The suggestion is to sell the land through a public auction for a minimum of $80 million, equivalent to $125,000 per acre. It is believed that the price could be even higher if the State Board of Land Commissioners gives their approval this week.
As the vote on Thursday draws near, individuals from all political backgrounds are urging the board to prevent or postpone the sale. They are hopeful that the National Park Service will be able to purchase the valuable land before it is acquired by a developer.
According to Rob Wallace, a Wyoming native who served as the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks during the final two years of the Trump administration, the sale of a portion of a national park to a developer would be unprecedented and not something that the state would take pride in. This would be a first in his memory.
During a public meeting in Jackson, Wyoming, held last month, Superintendent Chip Jenkins of Grand Teton National Park cautioned against the potential for “inappropriate development” resulting from an auction. Some individuals opposed to the sale express concern that it could result in the building of approximately 20 large “trophy homes” on divided plots of land.
The Kelly Parcel has been and continues to be a significant focus for both the NPS and the Interior Department.
During a series of four public hearings that ended last Tuesday, state officials have received overwhelming opposition.
During a hearing in Casper, Wyoming last November, Jake Hutton, the owner of an outfitting business in Jackson, pleaded with state authorities not to hinder his business for the sake of a wealthy individual’s relocation.
Quoting the “Western code,” he stated that there are some things that cannot be bought.
In the event that the government has their desired outcome, I will not be able to afford any of the parcels that they intend to divide. Instead, it is likely that a wealthy individual such as a California billionaire or a Saudi Arabian sheik will purchase the land,” stated Hutton.
During an interview, Wallace stated that the state board is obligated to explore its possibilities. According to the state’s Constitution, the commissioners are responsible for effectively utilizing state land to generate funds for public schools. However, the current revenue from the 640-acre parcel, which includes a grazing lease and permits for outfitters to offer tours, is only $2,845 per year.
Wallace stated that the piece of land located in a national park is highly valuable and only generating $2,800 annually for the children, which does not meet their fiduciary duty to the education system.
During the public hearing in Casper, Jason Crowder, the deputy director of the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments, reiterated this statement while discussing the plan.
“Our main focus is generating revenue,” stated Crowder. “That is our top priority.”
On Friday, Jennifer Scoggin, the director of the Office of State Lands and Investments, suggested that the land should be put up for auction by January 30, 2024. The state will not accept any bids lower than $80 million, which is $18 million more than the land’s appraised value.
The suggestion from Dave Sollitt, the executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, was deemed “arbitrary” and he stated that it goes against the public’s unanimous opposition to an auction.
He stated that he hopes the State Board of Land Commissioners will reject the suggestion and recognize the strong desire of the citizens of Wyoming and those who are against the auction.
“It’s also a risk.”
The news was reported by Jackson Hole Community Radio.
The board will vote on the proposed sale at a meeting that will last four hours, starting at 10 a.m. EST (8 a.m. MST) on Dec. 7.
If the board members decide to move forward with an auction, they will also establish the conditions for a sale and instruct the state’s Office of State Lands and Investments to execute what is referred to as “the suggested disposal.”
Even that terminology — using the word “disposal” to describe the plan — has irked some opponents.
During the Casper hearing, Hutton, the outfitter from Jackson, commented on the state’s choice of words to describe their process.
“Regrettably, I’ve had to euthanize several horses throughout my lifetime, and I’ve disposed of numerous items in my kitchen sink, but there is not a single spot in Wyoming that I would willingly burn and flush down the drain,” he stated.