Slowly, but surely, the National Park Service is whittling away at the amount of Wyoming-owned lands that lie within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park.
The agency late last week announced it had spent $16 million to acquire 86 acres of "school trust lands" within the park. Yet to be acquired are another 1,280 acres.
At the time of statehood in 1890, the federal government granted Wyoming sections of land throughout the state to be held in trust to provide revenue for its public schools. Approximately 1,366 acres of school trust lands were subsequently included within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park when the park was enlarged to its present-day size in 1950. The state of Wyoming also held title to 40 acres of subsurface mineral rights within the park. Because of their location in Grand Teton, the State could not fully realize the economic value of these lands as required by its constitution.
Terms for the purchase of state school lands within Grand Teton National Park were set forth in a 2010 agreement between the Interior Department and the state of Wyoming. This agreement specified the order in which state parcels would be acquired, and the timeframes for doing so. In April 2011, the first purchase was made with the State receiving $2,000 for a 40-acre parcel of subsurface mineral rights.
Under the terms of the 2010 agreement, the next tract will be the Antelope Flats Parcel, a 640-acre section appraised at $45 million. The deadline for its acquisition is January 5, 2014. With that purchase, the NPS will retain a binding option to acquire the fourth and final parcel: 640 acres with an appraised value of $46 million located along the Gros Ventre Road adjacent to the east park boundary.
"The potential inappropriate development on this site would permanently scar this beloved American icon and smash the hopes of many seeking to finally complete the original vision for Grand Teton National Park," said Sharon Mader, the Grand Teton program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.
"And after years of hard work, we are pleased that the first payment of $16 million has been made, bringing NPCA’s long-term vision for preserving these threatened lands one step closer to reality. In a time of challenging fiscal decisions and concerns about balancing the nation’s budget, it is truly a holiday blessing that decision-makers recognized the value of this remarkable landscape."