Grant-Kohrs Ranch
Administrative History
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Chapter Three:

When Conrad Warren opened negotiations to convey a portion of the historic ranch to the National Park Foundation in the late I 960s, he considered several alternatives. Two of those would have involved the sale of all existing ranch buildings, while another proposed relinquishing only a modest acreage encompassing the old home ranch. At that time Warren was thinking primarily in terms of a museum, little comprehending the broader needs posed by the creation of a national historic site. Because he was still actively ranching, Warren initially defined about 45 acres, including 35 on which the home ranch was situated, plus about 10 acres south of his residence for use in developing a parking lot and some sort of visitor reception facility. "We would not be interested," Warren wrote, "in breaking the ranch up in such a way that the balanced [livestock-producing] unit would be destroyed and the value of such a unit lost." [1]

When Historian Merrill Mattes had visited Grant-Kohrs Ranch a few years earlier, he acknowledged Warren's vision of creating a historic house museum with limited acreage surrounding the buildings of the old ranch headquarters. However, he offered the opinion that "a park of such limited character is more ideally suited to status as a state park." In his opinion, places having national significance should transcend the mere preservation of objects and buildings. He advanced the concept of a larger site embracing a portion of the bottom land along the Clark Fork to provide visitors with a sense of the cattle country. Mattes, in particular, recognized that the story of Grant-Kohrs Ranch involved considerably more than simply a Victorian house in the hinterland of Montana. The house was merely the result of successful livestock raising on a grand scale in the West. Acquiring additional acreage and all of the buildings, of course, would one day obligate the National Park Service to assume full responsibility for the ranch and its operation. But, Mattes was convinced that the integrity of the place justified such an approach because "one looks in vain for anything resembling a ranch in the Western United States that is in public ownership as a park open to visitors . . . ." In the Grant Kohrs Ranch was the opportunity to exhibit a working ranch and to "tell a story of the evolution of ranching operations." In his view, the National Park Service afforded the best avenue for preserving and interpreting this aspect of the nation's heritage. [2]

existing land ownership map
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Mattes's concept of a larger holding was reflected in the land map included with his 1968 report. The boundary he suggested at that time corresponded closely with the perimeter later defined and agreed upon by Warren and the National Park Foundation in 1970. In his formal offer, Warren identified 1,523.19 acres lying mainly between Highway 10 and the river. The price arrived at by the two parties was $250,000.00, plus survey and recording fees, and a share of the taxes. The Foundation thus purchased 130 acres in fee simple title and scenic easements on an additional 1,030 acres. [3]

As the effort to prepare authorizing legislation gained momentum, the Midwest Regional Office emphasized the need for more refined data upon which to make the proposal to Congress. In the spring of 1971, a planning team assembled at Grant-Kohrs Ranch for this purpose. Although it would be several months before a master plan could be finalized, the team rushed through a preliminary summary proposing that NPS acquire 205 acres in fee title and approximately 1,220 acres in easements. [4] The master plan team further recommended re-defining the park boundary to include additional lands west of Clark Fork, to protect a natural viewshed from the ranch as well as secure the river environment. Accordingly, a decision was made to include a large portion of Section 32 in the figures forwarded to the Washington Office as part of the legislative support package. But, Acting Regional Director Phillip R. Iversen suggested that the Warrens not be apprised of these intentions until the master plan could be completed. Then, he thought, Warren "would be in a better position to understand the rationale of the additional taking." [5]

During the legislative process the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs reported that the historic site would be limited to no more than 2,000 acres, most of which would continue to be used for agricultural purposes. Based on the NPS request, the committee advised the House of Representatives that about 208 acres would be needed in fee, along with 1,280 acres under easements. [6] The fee acreage was determined by adding the 77 (approx.) acres occupied by the Warrens to the 130 acres already owned by the Foundation. Subtracting a like amount from the Foundation's easements, the committee arrived at a figure of 953 acres of scenic lands, to which 261.43 acres were proposed to be added by the legislation. The House recommended that $350,000.00 be approved for land acquisition, of which $257,544.00 was designated as reimbursement to the Foundation for its investment and attendant administrative costs. The Senate voted to adopt these provisions in its final version of S. 2166. The approved legislation containing this ceiling for land acquisition was signed into law on August 25, 1972 and in November, the Service purchased the land from the National Park Foundation. [7]

In the months following the authorization of the area, the Service established a presence at the Site by placing a caretaker on-site and began pursuing a land acquisition program. The agency's traditional desire to reduce its inholdings was based on a long-held tenant that had originated with the founders of the NPS. For decades the Service's informal policy was to own as much of the land inside park boundaries as possible to promote the most effective protection and management of the resources. By the 1970s, though, the NPS had come to realize that it simply could not own everything and that a combination of less-than-fee strategies could be a more cost-effective means of achieving agency goals. [8]

branding demonstration
Branding demonstration, 1982.
(Courtesy Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS)

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006