Grand Teton National Park belongs to all of us. It was founded as public domain in perpetuity. We are all thankful for that. Or most of us anyway.
From the very beginning there have been those who believed that when John D. Rockefeller Jr and the Federal Government cooperated to create Grand Teton National Park history as a public trust, they were conspiring to cheat others who had a better, private claim.
Another favorite accusation still voiced by naysayers is that the Park Service arbitrarily forced old time ranch families off their land, or at least pressured them to sell. That, the accusers say, is how the Park Service acquired the “infills” during the 1950s and 60s. Infills were plots of land within the Park boundary that were still in private hands.
Those charges are false. The Park Service respected the feelings of people who were reluctant to sell their family’s heritage and children’s birthright. The Government offered a deal many owners found hard to refuse.
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Here are the facts:
– The Park Service bought an infill outright once an equitable price had been negotiated, one reasonably consistent with the appraised value.
– Then the Park leased the land back to the family for $1.00 a year. The term of the lease was either until the owners themselves chose to terminate and move off the land—or until the passing of the second generation.
– So when a ranch family sold to the Park they took their money to the bank. Then if the parents wanted, they could carry on with their ranching operation and live out their lives on the property. When they died their offspring would inherit the lease and acquire the same rights. Only when the last of that generation died would the lease expire and the Park take outright ownership.
– Some families needed years to make up their minds, yes or no. But extended negotiations do not constitute pressure.
– The Park Service had only one hypothetical means of exerting pressure on the land owners. It would have had to threaten to declare eminent domain and force a sale. There was no way the federal government was going to get sucked into that political quagmire.
My source: Conversations 65 years ago with Maynard B. Barrows (1906-1978). From the mid ‘50s through the mid ‘60s, Barrows was the Park Service’s negotiator for the acquisition of the infills still owned privately within the Grand Teton National Park history boundary.
At the time Barrows was stationed at Moose as the Regional Forester for the northwest US, a consultative role. He had been a young ranger in Yellowstone shortly after the Interior Dept. took over the Park from the Army, and he was Chief Ranger there in the 1940s. Born, raised, and educated in Colorado, Barrows was a native westerner who understood the people, values, and culture. He also happened to be my father in law.
A classic Moulton barn photo. According to a family member who corresponded with me, the Moultons sold their ranch to the Park and accepted a leaseback. Shortly thereafter they decided to surrender their claim and move to a new ranch elsewhere.
Story by Don M Ricks