Thousands of Wyomingites reject proposed ‘Kelly Parcel’ auction

Jackson officials wrangle with how to oppose the sale, while others set the stage for a lengthy battle to let the National Park Service acquire it.
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)

Time is running out for Wyomingites to weigh in on the “Kelly Parcel,” the 640-acre property, valued at $62 million dollars, in a migration corridor in Teton County that state officials have proposed auctioning off. 

The deadline is 5 p.m. today. 

Public comments posted this week show thousands of people have come out against the sale, which could go to a developer. Many said they would like to see it acquired by the National Park Service instead, to become part of the neighboring Grand Teton National Park.

Jackson Town Council members have joined the throng of opposition at the eleventh hour, after debating how they should make their argument. 

And joining the chorus this week was Wyoming Congresswoman Harriet Hageman, who called the land’s value “immeasurable,” and would like to use it as a bargaining chip with the federal government to gain oil and gas rights. 

The view of the Tetons from the Kelly Parcel on a sunny November day. The land is surrounded by Grand Teton National Park, national forest and the elk refuge. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

Thousands of pages of letters

Most letters sent to the Office of State Lands and Investments state the following language proposed by the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund, one of the many conservation groups rallying people to weigh in.

“The Kelly Parcel plays an important role in making sure wildlife can thrive by connecting important habitat and ensuring safe migration for many species. It is also home to 86 species listed as Wyoming Species of Greatest Conservation Need. This area should not be destroyed by the construction of luxury houses and other development. In recent years, too much development has already encroached on critical winter habitat near the park.” 

Some like Mckenzie Myers added personal sentiments:

“It would be a disaster to the integrity of our state, the land, the wildlife we are proud of, and our local people, to sell the Kelly parcel. 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.”

Others like Kelly Resident Mike Cavaroc wrote:

“If ANY development of any kind takes place on that parcel, it will drastically alter the landscape for the wildlife that use that tract of land. Many of those animals are dependent on that corridor to reach Antelope Flats. The fact that this is even being considered is absolutely appalling and disgusting.” 

Jackson’s eleventh hour appeal

Jackson officials said they want the lot to be sold to the National Park Service and incorporated in Grand Teton National Park. This week, the council spent a couple of hours debating the wording of their letter to oppose sending it to auction, with the three council members present at odds over how it may be perceived. 

“Who’s gonna read it? What impact does it have on them as far as changing? That’s where I’m a little more pessimistic,” Council Member Jim Rooks said. 

All comments go to the State Board of Land Commissioners — which includes the governor — and will make the ultimate decision.

Jason Crowder, deputy director at the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments, told KHOL the letter from the council will be treated just like every other public comment.

“It carries as much weight as an individual, but it will be recognized as coming from a broader group,’ Crowder said. 

A hundred people came out to protest a proposed auction of the ‘Kelly Parcel’ in Jackson in early November which could land in the hands of developers. (Tyler Pratt/KHOL)

Town staff had prepared the council a draft stating, ”The Kelly Parcel is important habitat for migrating pronghorn and elk, provides winter range for moose, and supports sage grouse, songbirds, and mule deer. If the parcel was disposed of and developed, the resulting habitat loss and fragmentation would have significant impacts on these species and many others.”

Kelly resident Ron Wood, who attended the council meeting, described riding his horses on the property over the years, seeing hundreds of elk on the land, in addition to pronghorn and bison.  

“I just read the letter and it seems fine to me,” Wood said. 

But Council Member Jessica Sell Chambers said she wanted to drive home in the letter the financial value Jackson offers Wyoming.

“We need to hammer in that our local economy, our property taxes benefit the rest of the state. Our tourism-based economy benefits the rest of the state. We never really drive that home,” Sell Chambers said. 

The new version of the letter, that the three council members present — including Arne Jorgensen — signed off on, adds these details. It says the town brought in $80 million in property taxes last year and $40 million in tourism.

“Our local economy and thus the economy of the State are heavily dependent on tourists visiting the national parks and forests to enjoy scenic vistas and view wildlife,” the letter states.

Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson signed the letter, and town staff say it was emailed in today. 

A bargaining chip 

In a statement, Congresswoman Harriet Hageman wrote, “The Kelly parcel is a unique opportunity for Wyoming to balance our relationship with the federal government and the various land agencies that have an outsized footprint in our state.” 

This week, Hageman proposed trading the lot to the federal government for more control over fossil fuel rights — specifically in the Powder River Basin in the northeast part of the state.

“Another idea would be to condition the transfer of the Kelly parcel to the feds on the Department of Interior agreeing to lift its moratorium on coal, oil and gas permits in the state,” she wrote.

Rep. Harriet Hageman held a town hall in Jackson on Jan. 20 at the Teton County Library. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

Should the auction be rejected, Hageman’s proposal potentially sets the stage for more protracted negotiations with the Department of Interior. The legislature would need to sign off on the deal, and the state has been unable to cement and sell them the parcel for nearly a decade. 

If the federal government won’t add oil, gas and mineral rights to the transfer, Hageman suggested, “The state fully develop the Kelly parcel by selling it in two acre parcels to the highest bidders.” 

“The proceeds from such sales should then be used to implement much needed property tax reform to lift the burden on our land and homeowners throughout the state,” she wrote. 

The final call 

State land commissioners will make a decision on auctioning the parcel off next week. Most of the members, which are top state officials, have previously shared concerns over the auction. 

“This is a priceless piece of property, and I just think it’s the wrong move for the people of the state of Wyoming for this to be sold,” Secretary of State Chuck Gray said. 

Gray told KHOL that he’d like the state to hold on to the land and let its value appreciate. 

Governor Mark Gordon has said he will wait until all public comments are in to share his opinion.

Proceeds from the sale will go toward the public school system. Representatives for the National Park Service have argued that if the state lets them purchase it, schools will still see value and the land will be preserved for future generations, and wildlife, to enjoy. 

People can submit their comments on the Kelly Parcel to Jason Crowder at until 5 p.m. today. 

The State Board of Land Commissioners is slated to vote on the proposed auction on Thursday, Dec. 7.

Conservationist Beverly Boynton walks through the sea of sagebrush covering the Kelly Parcel. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

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About Tyler Pratt

Tyler has over a decade of experience as a jack-of-all-trades at public radio newsrooms across the U.S. He's a Columbia Journalism School alum with a passion for reporting on criminal justice, social justice, and LGBTQ+ issues. He loves New Orleans Saints football, dance floors, tasting new wines and trying out taco spots. Follow Tyler on Twitter @prattattak

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