Park History: Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park not only is one of America’s most photogenic national parks but, oddly enough, it's one of our most controversial.
After much political wrangling about preserving the Jackson Hole area – and I do mean much; it took from 1897-1929 to get the first, fledgling step taken – the federal government essentially decided that the gorgeous slab of Wyoming just south of Yellowstone National Park would make a lovely national park.
The only problem, though, was that the locals were not so keen on the idea. Indeed, it took some quiet -- some would say "shady" -- negotiations by the John Rockefeller, Jr.-financed Snake River Land Company to create the park much as it stands today.
In 1897, Col. S.B.M. Young, at the time Yellowstone's acting superintendent, suggested that Yellowstone be expanded to the south to take in the northern tip of the Jackson Hole Valley. A year later the head of the U.S. Geological Survey recommended that the Teton Range be included in the package, and in 1917 a fledgling federal agency known as the National Park Service called on the Tetons to be merged into Yellowstone.
The "original" Grand Teton National Park was set aside by Congress on this date in 1929, but its borders only surrounded the Tetons and their six glacial lakes, leaving out much of the pastoral landscape that today wraps U.S. 191/89/26.
While Mr. Rockefeller, at the prodding of Horace Albright, then Yellowstone's superintendent, funded the land company in the 1920s with an eye toward acquiring 35,000 more acres for the park, it took more than 20 years before the land was transferred to the park.
Much of the problem involved Jackson Hole land owners, who initially didn't want to see their private land turned into a park. They became so perturbed with Mr. Rockefeller and the NPS that in 1933 both were hauled before the U.S. Senate to answer questions about predatory land purchases and conspiracy with each other to ‘backdoor’ the park into existence.
Well, eventually Mr. Rockefeller and the Park Service were exonerated, and as the Great Depression wore on in the 1930s, most people in the Jackson Hole area sold their land in order to put food on the table.
In 1943 (after roughly $1.4 million was spent to acquire 35,000 acres, and after massive protests in Jackson Hole and an attempt by Congress to forever abolish the park), President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Jackson Hole National Monument, in part with Mr. Rockefeller's land donation, rather than risk having Mr. Rockefeller sell the land to others.
Even with that deal done, though, hard feelings and animosity existed between the state of Wyoming and the National Park Service. It wasn't until the fall of 1950 that Congress finally agreed to merge the "original" park with the Jackson Hole Monument to create today's Grand Teton.
As tourism increased dramatically after World War II, locals soon began to appreciate the value of the park. Now, it is one of our most well-known and most-visited parks. Jackson Hole locals, at least the old timers, benefited handsomely from real estate values that skyrocketed thanks to the picturesque and well-preserved park scenery.
Visitors to Grand Teton today can immerse themselves in all manner of outdoor activities, from scaling "the Grand" itself to a placid kayak across Jenny Lake. Hiking, biking, river running, and mountain climbing are all popular activities in the summertime, with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing being most prevalent come winter.
In the fall, the annual elk rut is always an entertaining spectacle, and the ‘Old West’ feel of Jackson Hole delights visitors year-round. Accommodations run the gamut from upscale lodges in the park and in town to a host of campgrounds.
Located a leisurely drive south of Yellowstone, who can resist a vacation in the heart of Wyoming, especially one filled with alpine vistas and dramatic valleys?