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Rockefeller Family Turns Over More than 1,100 Acres to Grand Teton National Park


A winter day's sunrise over the Tetons. NPS Photo by K. Finch

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.


Thanks Rockefellers!

It's about freaking time. After using a front company in the 1920s and 1930s to swindle local landowners out of land in order to give Jackson Hole to the NPS, the Rockefellers then kept this land privately for themselves.

But, don't get me started on this subject --

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I disagree entirely with Mr. Macdonald and question his sources on the "swindling," - an easy word to throw out, but does he have any hard evidence of illegal practices? Or merely landowners who, in hindsight, wish that they had held onto their land? Nobody forced them to sell - they cashed out. The Rockefellers don't owe you anything, Mr. Macdonald. Personally, I salute such visionary, grand-scale philanthropy. Thank you, John D Rockefeller, Jr. and Laurance Rockefeller - I don't begrudge your enjoyment/stewardship of your property at JY Ranch. My husband and I hiked your trails last Friday and saw a magnificent display by a male grouse. The Preserve is also a more direct route to access Open Canyon.

Thank you Rockefellers ! Thank you for our Grand Teton NP.

I, too hiked the trails and enjoyed the views and wildlife. I also saw "my first" hybrid vehicle reserved parking spaces at the L Rockefeller Preserve. Forward thinking.
The Preserve seems to be a safe, quiet place to hike and enjoy.

At least this rich family gave something back to all of us.

My reasons for this are discussed at great length elsewhere on this site at /2008/02/park-history-grand-teton-national-park

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Teton Cowgirl, I agree with your comment in whole. It is Very well stated. Sounds like Mr. MacDonald's comment is "sour grapes." I too 'salute such visionary, grand-scale philanthropy' of the Rockefeller family. Thank you Rockefellers.

Sour or not, as I said in the other post, the discussion can go forward when someone shows why my own reasons for arguing as I have are contradictory.

Philosophers since Aristotle have argued for a virtue called magnificence (see Nicomachean Ethics); this - i.e. Rockefeller's actions in Jackson Hole - would be a prime example of what Aristotle had in mind. For a lot of reasons, I don't believe that there is such a virtue as magnificence. And, if that suggestion helps move the discussion along, then good. That is, it's a good discussion to be having because there are plenty of policy implications involved.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I don't buy Jim's rant about the Rockefellers either. I suspect it isn't "sour grapes" but Jim's contrarian view about lots of issues. It's always good to have contrarians around as they keep us on our toes and prevent us from getting too smug about long-held beliefs. And no matter how the land was acquired, Grand Teton is one of this nations premier national park areas.

Rick Smith

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