Wyoming governor puts slice of national park on the market
MOOSE, WYO. -- For sale: two square miles of Grand Teton National Park.
Majestic views of the Teton Range. Prime location for luxury resort, home development. Pristine habitat for moose, elk, wolves, grizzlies.
Price: $125 million. Call: Gov. Dave Freudenthal.
Wyoming is trying to force the Interior Department to trade land, minerals or mineral royalties for 1,366 acres that the state owns within the majestic park. If the feds don't agree to a deal -- soon -- Freudenthal threatens to put a for-sale sign on the property.
Wyoming has owned the land since statehood in 1890, when the federal government set aside land in new Western states to be mined, logged or leased to raise money for public education. Wyoming kept its "school sections" after Grand Teton National Park was established.
The state has tried for a decade to negotiate some kind of trade. Saying that his patience is running out, Freudenthal, a Democrat, sent an ultimatum recently to Mary Gibson Scott, the park's superintendent.
"I think he wants to pound the [for-sale] sign in himself," said Ed Grant, director of the Office of State Lands and Investments.
Wyoming gets just $3,000 a year from the land by leasing it for cattle grazing. Sold with the proceeds invested at 3 percent, the land easily could bring in $3.75 million a year. The state constitution requires state officials to manage state lands for maximum profit.
"If it's to recreate on, or if it's a new ski lodge, highest and best use," said Susan Child, deputy director of the state lands office. "It's obviously not grazing."
Even in pro-development Wyoming, however, selling off land in a national park isn't a popular idea. Some are protesting already.
But Freudenthal, who has a long history of run-ins with the Interior Department over endangered species and snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, isn't stepping on any toes he hasn't smashed already.
What's more, he's wrapping up his second term and will leave office next year. He's all but enshrined as one of the most popular governors in Wyoming history.