The Battle to Create Grand Teton National Park
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Grand Tetons, Autumn, fall colors, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

alpha female wolf, pacific creek pack, grand teton national park
Wolves were reintroduced into the Greater Yellowstone Region in 1995, this is the Pacific Creek pack that roams northen Grand Teton National park.

A few of Jackson Hole’s residents could already see that Jackson Hole's future was investing in tourism, not cattle, and that a conservation strategy was essential, Albright confided to Rockefeller that in 1923, he had met with six local residents, including a dude rancher, a businessman, and a newspaperman, in Maud Noble's cabin near Moose Junction. Their plan sought to find private funds to purchase private lands in Jackson Hole and create a recreation area or reserve that would preserve the "Old West" character of the valley, creating a "museum on the hoof." Except Horace Albright, the attendees did not support a national park because they wanted to preserve hunting, grazing, and dude-ranching activities. But, there was no agreement, about the valley floor, including the land next to the lakes, the Snake River and sagebrush flats, which was already dotted with cattle ranches, underfunded tourist traps and landholdings. Rockefeller, Albright and their allies feared they could be purchased by unscrupulous developers and turned into a Western version of Coney Island, unless, of course, someone else purchased them first.

The next year, Rockefeller started secretly acquiring land in Jackson Hole with the goal of giving the entire valley to the government, which would protect its dramatic scenery and wildlife from the top of the Teton divide to the foot of the Gros Ventre mountains on the east side of Jackson Hole.

Bison, Grand Tetons
Hundreds of Bison call Grand Teton Park home, had the park not been protected they would have nowhere around where they would be welcome.

Jackson residents first learned that somebody was buying up property in the Hole in 1927. In April 1930, the Snake River Company, as Rockefeller’s land holding company was called, released a statement acknowledging that one of America's richest men was buying Jackson Hole land and that he intended to donate it to the National Park Service. Although many ranchers were near bankrupt and eager to sell, they were also concerned that someone might try to gain control of Jackson Hole by stealth. The news conjure up the recurring real life Western drama: an Eastern millionaire colludes with the federal government to muscle out the "little man. Rockefellers secrecy established a "foundation of mistrust" in future dealings between Jackson residents and the Rockefeller's Snake River Company. Although Rockefeller's secrecy made good business sense an effort to keep real estate prices from skyrocketing, the secrecy did spawn off another set of problems. The Snake River Land Company launched an ambitious campaign to buy more than 35,000 acres for approximately $1.4 million. What seemed like a simple and straightforward plan became 20 years of bitter debate, nearly tearing apart the Jackson Hole community.

Rumors about the Snake River Land Company's tactics began to percolate, of poor ranchers coerced, of mortgages foreclosed early, of homes being torched by Snake River thugs and opposition hardened. Alarmed Jackson Hole residents founded The Grand Teton, a newspaper, whose aim was to denigrate "the Rockefeller cronies" and the park service. Relying on malicious gossip, the paper attacked, as traitors, locals who supported the park, impugned Albright's honesty, and denounced Rockefeller.

Bighorn Sheep Rams
Bighorn Ram running from another during the rut in Jackson Hole.

Wyoming senator Robert D. Carey took the sensational accusations to Congress and in 1933, the sent a U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Surveys to Jackson Hole to investigate. After four days of hearings, it was clear that most accusations were untrue; in only one case had national park officials exerted undue pressure. Rockefeller took the long view of the project he knew his thanks must come from posterity when wildlife and primitive areas will be less abundant. He was right; today he is much appreciated for all he did to preserve this magnificent piece of dirt and granite.

Rockefeller’s patience would be tested greatly for the next 17-years; the park expansion would be mired in a mind-boggling array of proposals, counter proposals, histrionic debates, and legal challenges. After purchasing 35,000 acres and holding the land for 15 years, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. became discouraged with the stalemate of acceptance of his gift to the American People. In a historic letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John D. wrote that if the federal government did not want the gift of land or could not "arrange to accept it on the general terms long discussed, it will be my thought to make some other disposition of it or to sell it in the market to any satisfactory buyers." This threat persuaded FDR to use his presidential power to proclaim 221,000 acres as the Jackson Hole National Monument on March 15, 1943. Local backlash followed immediately as park opponents criticized the monument for being a blatant violation of states' rights. They also believed the monument would destroy the local economy and county tax base. Hoping to force a confrontation, armed and defiant ranchers trailed 500 cattle across the newly national monument. The Park Service ignored this stunt, but the cattle drive focused national attention on the monument.

bull elk herd, jackson hole wyoming
About 6,000 elk winter in Jackson Hole

Controversy and dissension grew causing Wyoming Congressman Frank Barrett to introduce a bill into congress abolishing the Jackson Hole National Monument; it passed both House and Senate but President Roosevelt exercised his veto and killed the bill.

After World War II, an exponential influx of, newly affluent, tourists showed skeptical locals just how profitable a national park could be, and both sides agreed to concessions. Rockefeller deeded 33,562 acres to the government and, on September 14, 1950, the enlarged Grand Teton National Park was signed into law. The JY Ranch was the only parcel John D. held onto when, in 1949, he gave more than 33,000 acres to the government, which established the park, as we know it today.

Today, those concessions are anomalies that seem to be at odds with the mission of a National Park. Grand Teton is America's only national park, for example, with a commercial airport, and a working dude ranch, Elk hunting is still permitted on the east side of the Snake River, and cattle ranchers still enjoy grazing rights, which leads to an occasional sighting of park rangers helping cattle drives cross roads. A number of parcels of private in holdings survive. Today I hear many complain of the elk hunt, and cattle drives and I explain the compromise was worth it because without them the park boundary would still be the bottom of the Grand Tetons on the west side of the valley.

On September 14, 1950, the original 1929 Park and the 1943 National Monument (including Rockefeller's donation) were united into a "New" Grand Teton National Park, creating present-day boundaries.

The Rockefellers' 3,300-acre JY Ranch was one of the parcels left in private hands. John D. might have happily donated it in 1949 to create the park, except his son Laurance, who shared his father's passion for the outdoors, was so fond of the JY that they hung onto it for another 52-years.

dancing grizzly bears
Wrestling Grizzly Bears appear to be dancing. Grizzly bears have come off the endangered species list and now it is common to see them in Grand Teton Park becasue of the massive land preservation in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Just over 50-years later, in 2001, Laurance, then 91, announced he would give the JY to the park. This final gift will include a state-of-the-art, 6,500-square-foot visitor’s center crafted from recycled Douglas fir and pine, as well as a spectacular four-mile loop trail to Phelps Lake. 


It turns out that John D. was right, now that "primitive areas" are less abundant; it's hard to believe there ever was a time when national park employees might have been afraid to wear their uniforms in town.

Land Philanthropy on that scale is hard to find these days." Jackson Hole wasn’t the only place Rockefeller had an influential hand in preserving. He had a special interest in conservation, and purchased and donated land for many American National Parks. Besides Grand Teton Park he also donated land for Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, and Shenandoah National Parks. For Acadia National Park, he financed and engineered an extensive Carriage Road network throughout the park. He was also active in the movement to save redwood trees, making a significant contribution to Save-the-Redwoods League in the 1920s to enable the purchase of what would become the Rockefeller Forest in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, my favorite stand of coastal redwoods.

cunningham cabin, grand teton national park
Cunningham cabin,built in 1885 in Grand Teton National Park

Land Philanthropy didn’t end with John D. In the 1950's, Laurence J. Rockefeller, through the auspices of the Jackson Hole Foundation, began to acquire land with an eye toward creation of Virgin Islands National Park. Rockefeller eventually donated 5000 acres for creation of the national park. He also funded the expansion of Grand Teton National Park and was instrumental in establishing and enlarging national parks in Wyoming, California, Vermont, Maine and Hawaii.

This is one of the great conservation success stories of environmentalist history. Few of the nearly three million people who visit the park each year are aware of the epic valley struggles involving a larger-than-life cast of characters, cowboy standoffs, heated passions, and wild accusations. Difficulties of park-making define Grand Teton National Park and emphasize the visionary ideology of Horace Albright, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and several pro-park residents. --------------Thanks guys!

 

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