Kelly Parcel won’t go to auction — for now

The state’s top officials voted Thursday to delay a vote on the “crown jewel of Wyoming,” exploring options for a federal land swap.
The state-owned Kelly land is surrounded by Grand Teton National Park, national forest and elk refuge land. It's been the subject of controversy in the state for years. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

by | Dec 8, 2023 | Environment

The Kelly Parcel won’t go to public auction — at least not for the next year. 

Wyoming’s top elected officials, including the governor, decided yesterday to table a vote on the future of the square mile of state land next to Grand Teton National Park. 

“To me, there’s absolutely no question that the parcel discussed today is of incredible value and really the crown jewel of Wyoming,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder, in a motion to push back the State Board of Land Commissioners vote. 

Thousands of residents from across the state have come out in opposition to the auction, saying they want the critical migration corridor to go straight to the national park.

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But Degenfelder said she wants to leverage the land — valued at more than $60 million — to generate more money for public schools. She proposed trading it to the Department of Interior for more oil and gas rights in other parts of the state, echoing a proposal from Wyoming Congresswoman Harriet Hageman. 

“I don’t think the answer is a sweetheart deal to the federal government,” Degenfelder explained.

A win for conservationists?

In rallies and public hearings across the state, Wyomingites have been rejecting the sale for the last month, worried that the plot of land could be used for luxury homes.

“It is without a doubt that an out-of-state development company will come in, buy the land, split it into parcels that sell for millions of dollars, and create yet another new development of mansions for wealthy out-of-staters,” resident McKenzie Myers wrote in a public comment.

Jackson residents protest the proposed auction of the Kelly Parcel in Jackson Town Square in early November. Later in the week, more than a hundred came out to a public meeting to oppose the sale. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

For almost a decade, the state legislature has failed to sell the parcel to the Department of Interior. The land is now only pulling in just under $3,000 a year off agriculture leasing, grazing and temporary-use permits — when, according to the state constitution, the state-owned lot is supposed to generate a “reasonable income” for public schools. 

Dave Sollitt, who leads the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, wrote in a public email that he believes a sale to the national park is still the best outcome, as it would generate at least $4 million annually for schools and protect the land for “wildlife, outdoor users and for future generations.”

But, Sollitt wrote, “the fight to protect the Kelly Parcel is far from over.”

What’s next?

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins said at Thursday’s meeting that the park service stands ready to make a deal.

“It’s not just about Grand Teton National Park — it’s actually about if you care about the pronghorn herds and mule deer herds coming from Pinedale, if you care about the mule deer herds connecting with the Wind River Reservation,” Jenkins told the board.  

“It is ensuring that there is no development on the Kelly Parcel,” he said.

The land commissioners unanimously approved creating a workgroup to explore options to trade the parcel to the federal government, potentially in exchange for more mineral rights. They could bring it to a vote next fall or winter.

But Jess Johnson with the Wyoming Wildlife Federation told the board that people don’t want to wait to see the land permanently protected.

“People are passionate about this. It is burning passion at this point, and there’s movement here to do something with it,” Johnson said. “I would caution against letting this sit too long to where we lose the passion in the state.”

Josh Metten, with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, also urged the board to not tie the Kelly Parcel to oil and gas issues.

“I don’t think the people of Wyoming want to see us enter into gridlock with this parcel,” Metten said.

Some state lawmakers told WyoFile they could introduce legislation in 2025, which could directly transfer the Kelly Parcel to the National Park Service — with a $100 million price tag — though nothing is set in stone.

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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