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Odds and Ends from Around the National Park System


Should Wyoming officials thank FDR for boosting the value of two square miles of land that lie within Grand Teton National Park? NPS photo.

Irony of the Week, Wyoming Edition

Much attention was raised this past week by an Associated Press story alerting Americans that Wyoming was ready to sell two square miles of prime real estate within Grand Teton National Park if the federal government didn't make a better offer for the land.

We'll let others debate whether Gov. Dave Freudenthal is resorting to extortion to enhance the state's coffers; Wyoming's constitution directs the governor to manage state lands for maximum profit. But it's hard to overlook the irony that the governor's ability to demand more than $100 million for the land stems from a president's decision nearly six decades ago, one made over the highly vocal objections of Wyoming officials.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ignored protests from the state when, in 1943, he signed an executive order to create the Jackson Hole National Monument. Seven years later that tract of about 220,000 acres was combined with the 96,000 acres encompassed by the original Grand Teton National Park that Congress created in 1929 to create the park's current boundaries.

Not to be overlooked in this history is that U.S. Rep. Frank Horton, R-Wyoming, in 1939 introduced legislation to abolish Grand Teton National Park, and that U.S. Rep. Frank Barrett, another Wyoming Republican, tried in the 1940s to abolish the Jackson Hole National Monument. While Rep. Barrett succeeded in getting Congress to pass his bill, President Roosevelt vetoed it, as the late Horace Albright noted in his book, The Birth of the National Park Service.

The back-and-forth between Wyoming and Washington continued until 1950, when a compromise allowed the national park and national monument to be merged. That agreement not only allowed for livestock grazing to continue in the park, but also allowed for Wyoming hunters to be deputized -- temporarily -- as park rangers to hunt elk in Grand Teton in an effort to keep the herd's population in control. And, of course, that compromise also prevented future presidents from ever designating a national monument in Wyoming.

Had FDR not shown both backbone and foresight when he created the Jackson Hole National Monument and vetoed the Barrett bill, can you imagine what the land now in question might be worth? And keep in mind, too, that the original Grand Teton National Park encompassed just the Teton Range and the six glacial lakes at foot of the mountains.

While it's not hard to think that even under the park's original footprint that land with such a craggy view would be valuable, would the two square miles currently at stake be worth what Gov. Freudenthal now is asking were they not completely surrounded by the park?

Polling Shows Strong Support for National Parks

With the Obama administration's America's Great Outdoors roadshow zigzagging across the United States, the National Parks Conservation Association has released a poll showing most Americans want their national parks protected.

According to the poll, 84 percent of those surveyed support the outdoors initiative and 77 percent of voters say national parks should play a highly prominent role in the effort.

“This poll makes it clear that the American public recognizes the importance of protecting our great outdoors and the central role national parks can play in preserving them,” said Craig Obey, NPCA senior vice president of government affairs.

The poll, involving 803 registered voters and taken between June 2 and 5, shows that 81 percent of those contacted "are concerned that our seashores, rivers, lakes, and streams are becoming polluted, and that Americans, especially children, are spending less time outdoors (80 percent)," an NPCA release said.

The poll found significant support for our national parks across party lines, with most voters believing national parks are vital to this new plan. Findings indicate that the majority of voters feel national parks can help children and families lead healthier lives and better connect them to the outdoors. And 77 percent of the voters support efforts to grow the National Park System to more fully represent the history and culture of our diversifying nation.

Will the National Park System Grow With Addition of Valles Caldera?

There's movement in Congress to see the Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico moved out from under the trust that now administers it and given to the National Park Service.

Last week a hearing on the move was held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Under the legislation proposed by Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, hunting, fishing, and cattle grazing would continued to be allowed on the land if the transfer is authorized by Congress.

“Everybody who has ever been to the Valles Caldera agrees that it is a magnificent natural, cultural, and recreational resource. The only question is which federal agency is best equipped to manage its unique qualities. I believe that the National Park Service is the right home for this magnificent property,” said Sen. Bingaman, who chairs the committee.

“Its vast grass-filled valleys, forested hillsides, and numerous volcanic peaks make the Valles Caldera a treasure to New Mexico, and a landscape of national significance millions of years in the making,” Sen. Udall added. “It is with humility that we take on the great responsibility of determining the best course of management of the area.”

A vote on the measure by the committee is expected in the coming weeks. If passed, the legislation would go to the full Senate for consideration.

Did Early Fossil Explorers At Dinosaur Use Dynamite?

Sometimes a pick and hammer just won't do it. That, apparently, was the thinking back in the early 1920s when Earl Douglas and crews from the Carnegie Museum were excavating fossils on the land now known as Dinosaur National Monument.

We know that because sticks of dynamite, which bore a 1921 manufacturing date, were found in rock crevices at the monument last week.

According to acting-Chief Ranger Kathy Krisko, "following a night of heavy rain, an interpreter leading a guided hike on the Fossil Discovery Trail on the morning of Friday, July 2, noticed an object sliding out of a crevice in a cliff along the trail. Interpreters could also see a similar object further back in the crevice. One of them identified the objects as possible dynamite and a protection ranger was called."

"The Fossil Discovery Trail was closed and barricaded and the Quarry construction site, about 100 yards away, was shut down," the ranger noted in her report. "ATF responded from Salt Lake City and confirmed that the two objects were dynamite sticks, manufactured in September of 1921. During their investigation, they located two more sticks partially buried in the crevice. It’s likely this dynamite was being used by Earl Douglas and the Carnegie Museum for excavations in the 1920s. Bomb technicians removed the dynamite sticks and detonated them at a gravel turnaround. The trail was reopened in time for Saturday morning tours."

Of course, as the Traveler noted a year ago, explosives still play a role in removing fossils from rock in the monument these days. However, it's likely that the techniques are a bit more refined.

In a field that often employs paint brushes and dental picks to unlock fossils from their encasing rock, you'd think explosives would be the last tool paleontologists at Dinosaur National Monument would reach for.

But, actually, a good, well-directed blast or two can come in quite handy when you have hundreds of tons of overburden to remove.

For instance, when you have a 40-foot-by-6-foot-by-10-foot slab of rock tilted at 70 degrees that is so hard and expansive that jackhammers are rendered impotent, well-placed explosives can help immensely. And that's where Dave Larsen, Steve Bors, and Tim George, licensed blasters from Rocky Mountain National Park, stepped in to help paleontologists reach a rich pocket of fossilized sauropod bones.


One word of explanation for the actions of Wyoming's governor: REPUBLICAN!

Ahhh, but he's a Democrat, Lee.

Either way, I'd hate to see the Traveler forums devolve into the kind of Republicants vs Democants debates we all see on yahoo...

It makes sense that the NPS should buy the land and if they are not willing to pay fair market value, it seems clear that the governor is obligated to sell it per the state constitution. Whether you agree with the wording in the constitution is quite another issue altogether.

Wyoming has lands to manage in order to pay for its public education. In this case, Wyoming owns a very valuable parcel of property and is only netting three thousand dollars per year. When you consider that Wyoming is sparsely populated, it is unfair to expect that they fund education the same way that their eastern counterparts fund it.

As far as attacking this particular Democratic governor, I can only say that the state has been trying to resolve this issue for 10 years, so this guy isn't the first one in office who has had issues with the guys in D.C. Secondly, this seems like neither a Republican or a Democratic issue. The governor has a budget to meet, and education to pay for, and a mandate from his state constitution. The real villain is not the governor or the state of Wyoming, but the coats on the Potomac.

Kurt - so does WY own the land in question?

And I assume the Valles Caldera would remain a national preserve?


I agree with your clear desire to have this beautiful land continue to be preserved, but I'm not sure your economic analysis holds true (although admittedly I'm no real estate expert myself). If the land in that area had been developed and turned into some kind of upper-scale exclusvie resort with golf courses and the like with infrastructure around it, wouldn't it easily would be as valuable, if not more, than it is now? Your argument seems like a stretch.

Jenn, no argument here re the governor's obligation to maximize returns. Although, as far as funding education, Wyoming is reaping incredible tax revenues from oil and gas development. It's been a while since I covered the Wyoming Legislature, but I believe the bulk of that money goes into the state's General Fund, which provides the bulk of the education funding, so in that respect Wyoming more than likely is far better off than its Eastern counterparts these days.

MikeD, Wyoming does own the land in question. As for Valles Caldera, I didn't see any mention of a designation change.

Anonymous, tell me, would you rather have a resort/development surrounded by national park lands that can't be developed, or by Wal-Marts, car dealerships, motels, etc? Which scenario would be more valuable in terms of land prices?

Wyoming owns the land because of the US land survey. When the federal government surveyed the west one square mile of land in each section was set aside for local government purposes. It could be used to build schools, public building, etc... If you live rurally, each of these sections are sometimes called a township where there is no city government. Anyway, Wyoming owns two of these square mile properties, one in each of two separate sections.

Wyoming has wanted to sell them to the park service or negotiate a land swap. The only federal land that was offered Wyoming for the swap was not comparable in value to the Teton land.

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