A chunk of Grand Teton Park could go up for auction. Price tag: $62M

An administrative process to offload 640 very valuable acres in the heart of Jackson Hole is underway.
From fragile nighthawk eggs to views of the rugged summit of the Grand Teton, this 640-acre state school trust parcel near Kelly in Grand Teton National Park holds significant natural resource values. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

by | Oct 5, 2023 | Environment

By Mike Koshmrl, WyoFile.com

UPDATE: This story was updated at 8:25 p.m. on Oct. 2 to include remarks from Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper). —Ed.

The state of Wyoming has taken a key step toward unloading its last remaining 640 acres locked within the borders of Grand Teton National Park. The land, in the heart of Jackson Hole, could be sold at auction.

Progress toward the sale of the so-called Kelly Parcel came late Monday, when the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments announced it was initiating a land disposal in conjunction with releasing a detailed analysis of the square-mile property.

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“This is one of the very first steps in the process, and there certainly is a long way to go,” Wyoming Office of State Lands Deputy Director Jason Crowder told WyoFile. “It definitely has consideration by the [State Board of Land Commissioners] still in front of it.”

The Kelly Parcel is located along the eastern edge of Grand Teton Park, though it also shares boundaries with the Bridger-Teton National Forest and National Elk Refuge.

The Kelly Parcel, center, is bordered on three sides by Grand Teton National Park. Its east border is shared with the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and there’s also a sliver of land touching the National Elk Refuge. (Teton County GIS)

The State Board of Land Commissioners — the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, superintendent of public instruction and the auditor — are scheduled to review the issue at its Dec. 7 meeting. If the board approves of the proposed sale, it’ll direct the Office of State Lands to proceed with putting the pricy acreage surrounded by federal land to auction.

“Any sale of state lands, by constitution, has to be sold at public auction,” Crowder said, “unless we do an exchange or unless the Legislature gives the board authorization to do a direct sale.”

The Wyoming Legislature has enabled direct sale of state land to the U.S. Interior Department — the National Park Service’s government parent — twice in the past. In 2016, a $46 million sale was completed for 640 acres in the Antelope Flats. In 2012, the state sold off an 86-acre tract near the Snake River.

Negotiations between the Interior Department and Wyoming about state-owned land in Grand Teton began in 1949, the year before the park was enlarged.

All that remains is the Kelly Parcel.

The 640 acres has an estimated value of $62.4 million, according to the OSLI analysis. Past appraisals, in 2010 and 2016, put the value at $45 million, then $39 million. The tract is bisected by Gros Ventre Road, but its development potential is inhibited by a scenic easement lining the road.

There are no statutes currently on the books enabling a direct sale of the Kelly Parcel to the Interior Department, Crowder said.

But lawmakers have attempted to facilitate the sale in the past. As recently as 2021, former Rep. Andy Schwartz (D-Jackson) ran a bill that would have authorized a direct sale, though it fell apart after Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper) successfully passed an amendment that set the floor price at $3.2 billion — around 82 times the appraised value at the time.

Sota the pudelpointer traverses a snowy ridge in the Bridger-Teton National Forest immediately east of the state’s inholding in Grand Teton National Park, a tract known as the Kelly Parcel. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

The Wyoming Legislature has also unsuccessfully tried to wring more money out of the parcel. In 2019, a bill died that would have allowed for economic development on the tract — even a casino.

Securing permission for a direct sale could be difficult during the Legislature’s upcoming budget session, at least judging by one lawmaker’s reaction.

“Why would Gov. Gordon bargain sale for our most priceless 640 acres of state School Trust lands to the Biden Administration?” Harshman, a former two-time House speaker, told WyoFile in a text. “Wyoming people will be shocked.”

It’s unclear if Grand Teton National Park and its nonprofit partners have secured $62 million in the instance that the Legislature approves a direct sale to the Interior Department.

WyoFile was unable to reach Teton Park officials before this story was published.

Any major development, either an auction or direct sale, will not occur until 2024 at the earliest, Crowder said.

“We’re required to advertise it for four consecutive weeks before we go to a public auction, if [the board] approves us to move in that direction,” he said.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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About Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson Hole News&Guide. Find him on Twitter at @Koshywrites, or reach him directly at mike@wyofile.com

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