By Mead Gruver ,AP
CHEYENNE, Wyoming — A US$46 million deal between Wyoming and the Interior Department put a square mile of land inside Grand Teton National Park into U.S. government hands Monday, eliminating the possibility that the pristine property with breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains’ Teton Range might be developed.
The sale ended years of drama in which Wyoming officials sought to sell the land called Antelope Flats in the Jackson Hole valley while federal officials and environmentalists worried it could end up privately owned.
“The acquisition of Antelope Flats accomplishes a longstanding goal of the National Park Service by ensuring that this land will forever provide habitat for antelope, elk, moose, wolves, and grizzly bears as well as preserving the outstanding vistas of the Tetons for future visitors to enjoy,” National Park Foundation President Will Shafroth said in a statement.
Wyoming had owned the land surrounded by park lands since it became a state in 1890. The land was among hundreds of parcels statewide designated for sale to raise money for public education.
The open area of sagebrush was among a number of private and state-owned land called inholdings that never became part of Grand Teton when the park was established with its current boundaries in 1950.
Few inholdings remain in Grand Teton but the remaining ones include another square-mile state section on the park’s eastern boundary that also has stunning mountain views. It is valued at about the same price as the parcel that was sold but could be more attractive to developers because a road runs through it.
Negotiations for the federal government to buy or trade other lands for that parcel are underway.
Wyoming officials have leased the state’s Grand Teton inholdings for grazing but took in very little revenue compared to the potential value of the land on the open market. Jackson Hole has some of the highest property values in the western Rocky Mountains.
When negotiations with the Interior Department over a sale or land swap stalled in 2010, then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal and other state officials threatened to auction off the property. The Interior Department then paid US$2,000 for some minor mineral rights for US$2,000 in 2012 and US$16 million later that year for 86 acres of land.
The agency missed a deadline to buy the Antelope Flats section in 2014. Gov. Matt Mead, who has been in office since 2011, continued negotiations because he did not think auctioning the land was an acceptable option.
“This is the best outcome for this land,” Mead said in a statement. “This tract will now be available for the public in perpetuity.”
The sale gave Wyoming a sorely needed windfall amid state budget shortfalls caused by declining revenue from coal, oil and natural gas extraction.
The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund provided $23 million of the purchase amount and private donations funded the rest.