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Wyomingites don’t want to see Kelly Parcel sold to developers

(Courtesy Wyoming Office of Lands Management and Investments)

By Hannah Shields
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — A section of land within the exterior boundaries of Grand Teton National Park could soon be auctioned off, and Wyomingites are worried they will lose this piece of nature to commercial development. The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) is hosting public hearings, as well taking written comment, through Dec.1 to give members of the public a chance to voice their opinions for or against the auctioning off of the Kelly Parcel.

About 20 people attended the most recent public hearing Tuesday night at the Laramie County Library in Cheyenne, which included testimony from a handful of speakers who all spoke against a public auction.

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins drove six hours to attend the hearing. He told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that he and people from his office have attended every public hearing “to hear what people think.”

“The state wants to hear from Wyomingites about this idea,” Jenkins said. “I thought it’s a good idea that I should hear it, too.”

People who testified came from a variety of backgrounds, including a high school student, a University of Wyoming wildlife biology major and the Wyoming state director of The Conservation Fund. 

Colton Schick, a junior at East High, told the WTE he plans to study agricultural law at UW, and he hopes to become a lawyer and advocate for conservation rights.

“Conservation is the key to keeping our state what it is,” Schick said. “(Wyoming is) a picture-perfect moment for families, and for other people to be able to come up and participate in outdoor recreation.”

Abbey Matre, who studies wildlife biology at UW, told the WTE she teaches outdoor education and often brings students to the Kelly Parcel land for hands-on experience. She described the lessons as “a life-changing experience.”

“It’s one of the few places in this country that is not developed at all,” Matre said. “I would like to see it remain that way for future generations.”


Why sell the Kelly Parcel? 

The Kelly Parcel is 640 acres of state trust land located in Teton County, about 14 miles northeast of Jackson. The land is currently used for grazing and agricultural leasing, as well as temporary use permits, generating approximately $2,845 a year in revenue.

The parcel is one of four state trust lands located within the exterior boundaries of Grand Teton National Park. 

Historically, state trust lands were granted to states by the federal government upon statehood for the purpose of funding public education, state government and other general needs of the public, according to the Grand Teton National Park Foundation.

Auctioning off the Kelly Parcel is not a new idea — discussions of selling this piece of state trust land started in 2003.

“For years, we have been talking about the Kelly Parcel internally with the Board of Land Commissioners,” said Jason Crowder, OSLI deputy director.

Comprised of the state’s top five elected officials, the State Board of Land Commissioners is required under the Wyoming Constitution to generate revenue from trust lands to fund public education. 

The other three state trust lands within the exterior boundary of Grand Teton National Park — Jackson Lake, Snake River and, eventually, Antelope Flats — were all acquired by the federal government through agreements with the state of Wyoming.

The Kelly Parcel remained the only piece of state trust land that was not acquired by the federal government.


Other options

Rep. Liz Storer, D-Jackson, said many people at the state level, including Gov. Mark Gordon, would prefer to see the Kelly Parcel sold to Grand Teton National Park. However, the Wyoming Constitution requires that trust land be auctioned off to the “highest responsible bidder.”

The only way around this, Storer said, is if the Legislature passed “a bill authorizing a different sort of disposal process, i.e., a sale to the Park for a specific amount.”

“Getting legislation passed has been stymied by legislators who have grandiose ideas of its value or by those in the Freedom Caucus who are ideologically opposed to the federal government owning more land in Wyoming,” Storer wrote in an email to the WTE, “even though this parcel is within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park, is surrounded by federal land, and represents critical wildlife habitat and migration corridors.”

The Kelly Parcel has an appraised value of approximately $62.4 million, and the sale of this trust land to Grand Teton National Park “could yield the state $4 million or more annually for funding for schools instead of the amount it currently generates, $3,000 per year,” Storer wrote.

“These extreme ideologues would rather risk selling this unique piece of Wyoming to a billionaire than come up with a solution that supports kids and conserves Wyoming’s unique wildlands and wildlife.”


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