Agate Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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YEARS OF EXPECTATIONS, 1966-1970 (continued)

Land Acquisition Program Begins, 1966

Joseph T. Shubert of the San Francisco Planning and Service Center completed staff appraisals of all authorized Agate Fossil Beds National Monument lands on June 8, 1966, and an appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund covering $231,200 for land acquisition came the same month. [25] Unfortunately, little progress in acquisition negotiations transpired during the remainder of the year.

Senator Roman Hruska's behind-the-scene efforts secured the land acquisition appropriation. At the same time, the Senate Appropriations Committee also authorized $137,200 to begin construction at Agate. In a letter to Mrs. Cook, Hruska states, "It is a real pleasure to be able to give you this news, which means the first long step towards making the Monument a physical reality." [26]

During the annual meeting of the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument Association on October 3, the group discussed the formal dedication ceremony in the context of the Nebraska centennial celebration. As Richard Holder stressed, however, the dedication of the national monument depended on a successful land acquisition program. [27]

Realty Specialist Gene Lyttle arrived on October 31 for a week of negotiations with landowners, all except three of the heirs of the Cook estate who lived outside the area. Official letters followed Lyttle's visit. The letters restated the government's offer and requested the landowners to take prompt action. [28] In early fall of 1966, George Hoffman, "our landowner of chief concern," underwent extensive surgery for the removal of stomach ulcers. Although personally unfortunate, Holder believed the long convalescence would convince Hoffman that his "active days of ranching are over." [29] None of the ranchers, including George and Margaret Hoffman*, were going to be pushed into a speedy settlement. By the end of the year, not a single landowner had responded to the Federal acquisition offer, and the only tangible result of the construction and development programmed for fiscal 1967 was the purchase of the temporary visitor center. [30]

*While Margaret Hoffman favored selling, accepting a life tenancy, and traveling, her husband did not want to quit working and become inactive. Margaret C. Cook's opinion was that George Hoffman merely was holding out for a better price, an attitude later characterized as "ungenerous" and "unkind." See Mrs. Grayson E. (Dorothy Cook) Meade, interview with author, Agate Springs Ranch, 22 May 1986, transcript, pp. 10-11.

By February 1967, no settlements had been made. Gene Lyttle revisited the area in early March to conduct a number of "final" face-to-face negotiations. [31] On March 6 and 7, Lyttle met with the Hoffmans and Mrs. Cook. While the Hoffmans made no commitment, Margaret Cook signed over all rights and interests to the quarries. [32] When Lyttle returned on April 11 and 12 to conduct additional conferences, he met with success. Both the Hoffmans and Mrs. Cook signed options which were then forwarded to Washington for review. Other ranchers linked their intention to sign upon the success of the Hoffman deal, [33] which came after a fourth Lyttle visit on May 9, 1967. The land acquisition success chart looked like this:

Tract No. 1Hoffman(fee)
9Skavdah(scenic easement)
5 & 6Morgan(road easement/fee)
2Margaret Cook(life estate)

Still under negotiation were various remaindermen interests in Tract Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 7. The only immediate obstacle was the Cook parcel (Tract No. 2) as the construction program hinged on its settlement. While Tract No. 2 was soon settled, Tract Nos. 3 and 7, representing the ranch headquarters of the Cook estate, remained outstanding throughout 1967.

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Last Updated: 12-Feb-2003