The Battle to Create Grand Teton National Park

Compiled, plagiarized and pseudo authored by Daryl L. Hunter

It was a 70-year battle to create Grand Teton National Park and as a resident and tour guide of the Greater Yellowstone Region I am damn glad many dedicated people went through the trials and tribulations to make it to the finish line to preserve this wonderful corner of earth.

Grand Teton National Park, buckrail fence
A buckrail fence adds ambiiance to this Grand Teton Scene and reflects the western heritage of the area.

The idea of protecting the Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole started in 1882, when General Phil Sheridan toured Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons; he became concerned that settlement expansion was threatening the wildlife of Greater Yellowstone so Sheridan proposed extending Yellowstone's borders south to Jackson Lake, north of Jackson Hole. The proposal went nowhere, but 15 years later, in 1897, Col. S.B.M. Young, Yellowstone's acting superintendent, revived Sheridan’s idea. Young believed that the only way to protect Greater Yellowstone’s migrating elk herd was to protect their wintering ground, Jackson Hole, the valley below the Grand Tetons. For the next two decades, the possibility of protecting the valley was regularly raised, Charles D. Walcott, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, suggested in 1898 that Jackson Hole could form a separate "Teton National Park" but the idea found little support in Congress.

In 1916 the National Park Service was created. This bureaucracy could promote national park ideas both locally and at the national level with the creation of a Washington DC office. Director of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather and his assistant, Horace Albright, in a 1917 report to Secretary of the Interior, Franklin Lane, affirmed their commitment toward Yellowstone expansion. The report stated that adding part of the Grand Tetons, Jackson Lake, and headwaters of the Snake River to Yellowstone National Park is "one of seven urgent needs facing the new National Park Service."

pond, grand tetons, fall, grand teton national park
Grand Teton Park has miles and miles of this sagebrush elk habitat that once was outside the boundries of the park but was added in 1950.

Mather and Albright worked with the Wyoming congressional delegation to draft a bill addressing expansion of Yellowstone's boundaries into the Teton country. Congressman Frank Mondell of Wyoming introduced the bill in 1918. The House unanimously approved a revised bill in 1919. However, the bill died in the Senate when Idaho Senator John Nugent feared the loss of sheep grazing permits with expanded park service jurisdiction.

Jackson Hole locals also rejected a Yellowstone expansion for the Grand Tetons. The fiercely independent farmers, ranchers, and mountain folk believed that any government interference would lead only to the valley becoming over civilized, and it was antithetical to them to become civilized, as it is for many of us still here today. Forest Service employees feared the loss of jurisdiction of forest areas; and local dude ranchers were against improved roads, hotel construction and concessioner monopolies. In 1919, at a public meeting in Jackson, residents shouted down, Horace Albright, who now was Yellowstone Superintendent, when he proposed an expanded road system in the valley. Most locals felt that a national park expansion would reduce their personal freedoms, limit cattle-grazing rights, and drain Teton County's tax base, and they were half right, most grazing has ended as has most logging in the surrounding Bridger Teton National Forest but most tax dollars come from tourism and we can still hunt elk for now. Fear of big government isn’t anything new. However, as the 1920s progressed, many grudgingly accepted that the remote mountain areas and glacial lakes, useless for grazing or farming, so could be sacrificed.

fall colors, oxbow bend, grand teton national park
Autumn sunrise, Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park
bull elk, grand teton
A bull elk looks down from his perch below the Grand Teton, expanding the park enabled elk like this one to thrive.
In 1928, the Coordinating Commission on National Parks and Forests met with residents of Jackson and reached a consensus for park approval. Local support and the Commission's recommendations led Senator John Kendrick of Wyoming to introduce a bill into congress to establish Grand Teton National Park. Senator Kendrick stated that once he set his eyes upon the Grand Tetons he realized that some day they would become a park dedicated to the Nation and posterity. Congress passed Senator Kendrick's bill, and on February 26, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge signed this bill creating a 96,000-acre park that included the Teton Range and eight glacial lakes at the base of the peaks. Instead of expanding Yellowstone, a separate park was crated, but still not good enough for some, as one environmentalist historian called it. "A stingy, skimpy, niggardly park," Despite the Grand Tetons proximity to Yellowstone which Congress had granted national park status in 1872 with little controversy, the new Grand Teton National Park remained a remote and little-known destination to most Americans until the boom in auto tourism in the 1920s.

Since this fledgling park did not safeguard an entire ecosystem, Albright and the other participants of the 1923 meeting continued to pursue their agenda seeking private funds to purchase private lands in Jackson Hole for park expansion.

It was into this rugged alpine nirvana rife with discontent that 52-year-old heir, and future player, John D. Rockefeller Jr. arrived in the summer of 1926 with his wife, Abby, and their three youngest sons. Rockefeller, son of the founder of Standard Oil, was thunderstruck by the jagged, snowcapped Tetons looming above the emerald-green marshes around Jackson Lake. The peaks, he later wrote, were "quite the grandest and most spectacular mountains I have ever seen, they present a picture of ever-changing beauty which is to me beyond compare."

Jenny Lake, Grand Teton Reflections, Grand Teton Park
Jenny Lake was the spot where many underfunded tourist resorts were poping up in a very unattractive way.

As Rockefeller explored his new favorite place he was dismayed by the first clumsy incursions of modern development. Telephone lines marred the mountain views from the road. Around Jenny Lake, perhaps the most picturesque and accessible part of the Grand Tetons, touristy Elbo Ranch had set up a rodeo grandstand, complete with concession stands, a parking lot, cafes, a gas station and cabins for the Jackson Hole’s tourists. Nearby was a bootleg whiskey joint. It was the beginning of the kind of devastation that many Easterners had already witnessed in eastern resorts like Niagara Falls. Proposals emerged to dam outlets of Jenny Lake and Emma Matilda and Two Ocean Lakes in 1919. Alarmed environmentalist felt that some form of protection by the National Park Service might be their only salvation from commercialization and natural resource destruction of the valley floor. These visits highlighted not only spectacular Teton scenery, but also shabby developments littering the roadway from Menor's Ferry to Moran and along Jenny Lake's south and east shores. Rockefeller decided to purchase offending private properties with the intention of donating these lands for National Park designation.

Rockefeller purchased the JY Ranch, a working dude ranch, in 1932 for $90,000. Over the years, various members of the Rockefeller family fell in love with the rustic retreat; today dozens of Rockefeller progeny spend part of every summer in Jackson Hole. It was at the ranch that some of the key discussions were held in the protracted battle over Grand Teton National Park expansion in the 1930s and '40s.  -----------------> Rest of Essay      

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