A 640-acre portion of Grand Teton National Park could soon be sold at auction to the highest bidder. Called the Kelly Parcel, the land lies within the park’s borders, but technically remains owned by Wyoming. After years of legislative attempts to finalize a land deal, state legislators have proposed a new plan: selling it at auction.
The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) disclosed its plans on Oct. 2 for a possible sale, and included a comprehensive assessment of the long-coveted property.
Adjacent to both the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the National Elk Refuge, the Kelly Parcel is the last state-owned tract within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park. While progress has been made on the sale, there are still several procedural hurdles to clear, local publication WyoFile reported.
However, federal laws prohibit the National Park Service (NPS) from paying more than the appraised value of the land, which is $62 million, according to the state assessment. Private offers could easily top that, meaning a portion of the park could become off-limits to the public. Without additional funding from nonprofits, the NPS might not be able to purchase the land.
An Uncertain Future
A crucial decision will likely occur the upcoming Dec. 7 meeting of the Wyoming State Board of Land Commissioners. Should they greenlight the sale, the OSLI will be tasked with preparing the auction. Unless other provisions are made, Wyoming’s constitution mandates that state lands must be auctioned.
The National Park Service receives about $100 million annually to buy land through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. If the agency alone paid face value for the property, the purchase would consume some 60% of the entire Park Service appropriation for the 2024 fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, the Buffalo Bulletin reported.
“It’s not the easiest lift,” Rob Wallace, a former assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior, told the Buffalo Bulletin. “But in my candid opinion, I don’t know that there is a more important inholding in the national park system.”
Direct sales of such lands to the U.S. Interior Department have occurred twice before. In 2016, a 640-acre piece in Antelope Flats was acquired for $46 million, and in 2012, an 86-acre stretch near Snake River was sold for $16 million.
Although Wyoming’s legislature has no provisions allowing the Kelly Parcel’s direct sale to the Interior Department, attempts have been made to expedite its sale. However, past efforts have faced challenges based on price disagreements, according to local reports.
Any significant developments, like an auction or a direct sale, will likely be delayed until 2024, state officials said. If the state board approves the auction, a month-long comment period is required before the land becomes available for public bidding.