After negotiating a paperwork gauntlet, a tract of more than 1,100 acres has been transferred by the Rockefeller family to Grand Teton National Park.
While the idea was kindled back in May 2001, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, valued at $160 million, didn't officially become part of the park until this past Tuesday, November 6. Long a private inholding located within the southwest corner of the park on the eastern shore of Phelps Lake, the land since the 1930s had served as a private retreat for the Rockefeller family. Over the years the Rockefeller had donated roughly 2,000 acres of the so-called JY Ranch to the park; this latest transfer is the last piece of the ranch.
While the preserve's trail system is now open to the public, its education center will not open until next spring.
The JY Ranch was part of approximately 35,000 acres of valley lands purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. during the late 1920s and early 1930s for the purpose of protecting and enlarging Grand Teton National Park. In those days the purchase of the ranch itself cost Mr. Rockefeller $90,000.
The JY Ranch was originally purchased in 1906 by Lewis Joy and is considered to be the first true dude ranch in Jackson Hole. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased the ranch in 1932, intending to include it in a sizeable land donation to the park. Over the years, however, it became a treasured family retreat and remained private property. Laurance inherited the JY from his father, and in the 1990s arranged for the transfer of a significant portion of the ranch—some 2000 acres—to Grand Teton.
One of the requirements for the transfer set by Laurance Rockefeller was that the existing seven miles of roads within the JY boundaries, its existing log buildings and its utilities be removed so as to restore the area’s natural landscape. Park officials say that approximately half of the structures were donated to Grand Teton for reuse as employee housing and related facilities; the other buildings were relocated to a new family property outside the park. A portion of this work had begun before Mr. Rockefeller passed away at the age of 94 on July 11, 2004.
With the seasonal closure of the Moose-Wilson Road to vehicles on November 1, visitors may only access the Preserve grounds by hiking or biking on the Moose-Wilson Road to reach the Preserve’s entrance gate and parking area located approximately 1.75 miles north of the Granite Canyon trailhead and about .5 mile south of the Death Canyon turnoff. Those who bicycle in, can lock their bikes to the racks located in the parking lot before setting out to hike the eight miles of established trails to reach Phelps Lake and the surrounding Teton Range. Visitors are encouraged to stay on the designated hiking trails; and bikes are not allowed on the Preserve’s trails.
For some more insight into this transfer and the beauty of the land, check out this story that Tony Perrottet wrote for Smithsonian Magazine earlier this year.