Last updated: August 18, 2012
(In the last episode of The Continuing Story of Grand Teton National Park, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. had threatened to sell the land he owned in the Jackson Hole valley unless the government finally accepted it. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded by creating the Jackson Hole National Monument, 221,000 acres of land encompassing Rockefeller's properties. However, this was merely the start of the next battle… )
In 1927, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. told Yellowstone Superintendent Horace Albright that he was only interested in one project in Jackson - purchasing and protecting the entire valley from development: "You took us that afternoon to a hill where we looked out over the mountains and the whole valley. The shadows were falling across the land, and you discussed an ideal project. I remember you used the word dream. That's the area for which I wanted you to get cost estimates. The family is only interested in an ideal project." (2)
From The Creation of Grand Teton National Park
Local backlash immediately followed as park opponents criticized the monument for being a blatant violation of states' rights. They also believed the monument would destroy the local economy and county tax base. Hoping to force a confrontation, armed and defiant ranchers trailed 500 cattle across newly created monument land. The Park Service ignored this stunt but the drive focused national attention on the monument. Controversy grew more vocal and bitter, causing Wyoming Congressman Frank Barrett to introduce a bill abolishing the Jackson Hole National Monument; it passed both House and Senate. President Roosevelt exercised a pocket veto, killing the bill. The state of Wyoming responded to the veto by filing suit against the National Park Service to overturn the proclamation. The suit failed in the court system but the acrimonious local rift continued. The proclamation directed transfer of acreage from the Teton National Forest to the National Park Service. Since forest service administrators opposed the monument, the transition between jurisdictions provoked several vindictive deeds; one vengeful act involved gutting the Jackson Lake Ranger Station before turning it over to park staff. Local park supporters often faced hostilities and boycotts of their businesses throughout these turbulent years.
After World War II ended, the sentiment began to change in Jackson Hole. Between 1945 and 1947, bills were introduced in Congress to abolish the monument, but none passed. Local citizens began to realize that tourism offered an economic future for Jackson Hole. Eventually, attitudes became more agreeable toward park enlargement. By April 1949, interested parties had gathered in the Senate Appropriation Committee chambers to work out a final compromise. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Laurance decided it was finally time to deed over to the government the 33,562 acres of land that had been held for over twenty years, and on December 16, 1949 the lands were given to the federal government.
Though it took decades of controversy and conflict, discord and strife, the creation of a "New" Grand Teton National Park finally occurred on September 14, 1950, when Harry S. Truman signed a bill merging the 1929 park with the 1943 monument to form an enlarged 310,000-acre park. Preservation of the Teton Range, Jackson Lake, and much of Jackson Hole was finally placed in the hands of the National Park Service as a more complete ecosystem. The conservation battle for Jackson Hole coupled with the philanthropic dedication of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. shapes the character of this valley to the present day. Imagine how different the Teton landscape would look if unbridled development had prevailed over preservation of natural resources.
Today, we continue to recognize and honor the dedication, perseverance and aspirations of visionary men and women who believed that the greatest good for the Teton countryside was as a "public park or pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people." As Crucible for Conservation author Robert Righter suggests, what these visionaries achieved was "perhaps the most notable conservation victory of the twentieth century." (2)
(1) Albright, Horace and Robert Cahn. The Birth of the National Park Service: The Founding Years, 1913-33. Salt Lake City: Howe Brothers, 1985.
(2) The Creation of Grand Teton National Park, written in January 2000 by Jackie Skaggs, 50th Anniversary Coordinator, with research, references, and quotations taken from A Place Called Jackson Hole by John Daugherty and from Crucible For Conservation by Robert Righter. https://www.nps.gov/grte/historyculture/upload/5-2_Creation_of_GRTE.pdf