No sale: Action on Kelly Parcel in Grand Teton National Park suspended a year

Widely unpopular auction won't be considered until fall 2024 State to explore land swap with feds, other options

Wyoming officials on Thursday postponed the sale of a coveted square-mile property within the borders of Grand Teton National Park, delaying a public auction that generated widespread publicity and equally widespread outrage.

The State Board of Land Commissioners — the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and superintendent of public instruction — met Thursday afternoon to decide whether to OK an auction proposed by the Wyoming Office of State Land and Investments. Not long into the deliberations, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder made a motion to table the auction of the tract of land known as the Kelly Parcel until fall 2024 and explore a land swap with the federal government in the interim. 

“We just need more time to work on this, which I am willing to lead,” Degenfelder said. 

Degenfelder, the daughter of an oilman, suggested convening a working group in the intervening months to negotiate a land exchange and other options with the U.S. Department of the Interior. Swapping the valuable Kelly Parcel for land that includes mineral rights elsewhere in Wyoming could maximize revenue for the state’s school trust, she said.

“This is not a new concept,” Degenfelder said. “In fact it was explored nearly a decade ago by a group of individuals.”

Land commissioners acted on the superintendent’s motion in a voice vote, stalling a potential auction that was initiated by Gov. Mark Gordon until next fall at the earliest.  

Although no action was taken, officials and members of the public who traveled to the Cheyenne meeting were allowed to testify before commissioners moved along with their agenda. 

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins told commissioners he’s confident that the state and federal government can find a way to convey the section of valuable land to the federal government. That was the resolution for three previous Wyoming-owned inholdings in the park, he said. 

“The National Park Service has been and continues to be ready to continue our collaborative working relationship with the State Land Board, with the Office of State Lands, with the Legislature, to be able to explore how we can go forward with this,” Jenkins said. 

Prior to her motion, Degenfelder said she was disinclined to offer the Park Service a sweetheart deal on a direct sale for the land, which was appraised at $62 million in 2022. The Office of State Land and Investments received feedback that the estimate was low, and Director Jennifer Scoggin subsequently recommended setting the minimum bid at $80 million. 

Constitutionally, the Wyoming Legislature must approve any direct land sale. Lawmakers are exploring a bill that would do so, perhaps with a $100 million price tag, though that legislation might not be introduced until the body’s 2025 general session. 

Auctions and land swaps are the two avenues to dispose of Wyoming land without legislative approval. 

There have been at least two attempts to use a land swap as a means of conveying Wyoming’s inholdings in Grand Teton to the National Park Service. Because the school trust land in the park is so valuable, it will likely take a much larger acreage of federal property this time around to make a land exchange work.