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The Rockefeller Family

Laurance S. and Mary Rockefeller at JY Ranch, Grand Tetons
Laurance S. and Mary Rockefeller at JY Ranch, Grand Tetons.
Photo courtesy of Rockefeller family estate.

What They Gave

The Rockefeller family's efforts to protect the Grand Tetons began shortly after John D. Rockefeller Jr. was invited in 1926 to visit the area by Horace Albright, then superintendent of the nearby Yellowstone National Park and later Director of the National Park Service. During his visit, Rockefeller became concerned that increasing growth and commercialism of the valley would threaten its future.

Although the idea of protecting the Tetons began as early as the 1880s, there was little support among Congress and local ranchers who felt government involvement would reduce their personal freedoms, limit cattle grazing rights and drain Teton County's tax base. Throughout the 1920s however, many reluctantly agreed that the remote area and glacial lakes were not conducive to farming and grazing, and could be protected. But there was no agreement about the Snake River valley floor. Albright and others feared the land would be purchased by developers and turned into something of an amusement park.

Responding to this concern, Rockefeller established a blind trust, and in the 1920s spent $1.5 million secretly buying ranches in the valley that were for sale through the Snake River Company with the intention of turning them over to the National Park Service.

President Franklin Roosevelt created the Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943. The federally protected area incorporated national forests, various public and private lands. In 1949, Rockefeller donated 33,000 acres to the National Park Service, which became the heart of the park. The following year, President Harry Truman merged the two areas and established Grand Teton National Park.

The family did hold onto one of the Jackson Hole properties, the JY Ranch, more than 3,000 acres of pristine situated on the shores of Phelps Lake. The property served as the family home for more than 70 years.

Over the years, Laurance S., one of the sons of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., arranged for transfers of portions of the property to the government over the years and in 2001 pledged the remaining 1,104 acres as a final gift to the National Park Service.

Part of the gift included a state-of-the-art, 7,500 square-foot preserve center on the property. The structure is the first platinum-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified building to be built in the National Park System. The Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center, with an eight-mile network of trails to scenic and ecologically significant areas of the preserve, including Lake Creek, Phelps Lake and the adjacent ridges, opened to the public in June 2008.

Why They Gave

The Rockefeller family has a long tradition of supporting national parks through philanthropy. They've established or enhanced more than 20 national parks from Maine to Wyoming - including Grand Teton, Acadia, Virgin Islands, Shenandoah, and Great Smoky Mountains. As an advisor to five American presidents and chairman of the Outdoor Recreation Resource Review Commission and President's Advisory Council, Laurance S. Rockefeller, son of John D. Rockefeller Jr., helped place conservation issues on the national agenda.

"I have always shared my father's vision, not only to give generously but also that people should live in harmony with nature," Rockefeller said through a spokesman before the presentation ceremony of the ranch in 2001. "For 75 years, the majestic property has been preserved for our family, and I am gratified that henceforth it will be preserved for the American people."

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Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center
Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center. Photo courtesy of Grand Teton National Park.
Phelps Lake, Grand Tetons
Phelps Lake, Grand Tetons. Photo courtesy Grand Teton National Park.
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