JACKSON — A Wyoming agency is seeking ideas for developing more than 7 square miles of trust land the state possesses within Teton County.
The 4,655 acres of land in question is monetized to fund the Equality State’s schools. It’s spread among 18 parcels, including high-profile locations like Crystal and East Gros Ventre buttes, a square mile along the Village Road and a section that hugs Grand Teton National Park near Kelly.
The Office of State Land of Investments has opened an application period for developers. Proposals are due Oct. 2.
Ideas of all sorts are eligible to be considered for a coming study that will culminate in recommendations being advanced to high state and elected officials.
“This is really, I think, wide open,” Office of State Lands and Investments Deputy Director Jason Crowder told the Jackson Hole Daily. “It could involve a sale, it could involve an exchange.”
The Office of State Lands and Investments had no option but to solicit development ideas in Jackson Hole.
The impetus for the state’s request for proposals was House Bill 162, originally introduced as statewide legislation but whittled down to Teton County alone by the time it was enacted into law, even though it lacked a signature from Gov. Mark Gordon. The act set deadlines: Aug. 1 for Crowder’s office to solicit proposals and Oct. 31 to submit a plan.
Wyoming House Speaker Steve Harshman, who was a proponent of narrowing the bill to County 22, couldn’t be reached Friday afternoon for an interview.
Teton County Rep. Mike Yin, who opposed the bill, said Harshman’s intent was to figure out how Teton County could contribute to the state’s budget.
“I want to do that, too,” Yin said, “but I obviously don’t think that this is the best way to go about doing it.”
Organizations with an interest in land conservation are strategizing about how to counteract or participate in the process.
Grand Teton National Park Foundation President Leslie Mattson’s main interest is the 640-acre trust parcel near Kelly, which is bordered on three sides by Teton park.
Developing that land, the last remaining Wyoming-owned inholding in the park, would be “a crisis,” she said.
“It would be terrible,” Mattson said. “That’s incredible habitat, and I think everyone out there would agree that it should just be part of the park.”
Mattson was heartened to see the Great American Outdoors Act signed into law, which fully funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the tune of $900 million and provides a pot of money that could be used to convey the land to the National Park Service.
Some $23 million from the same fund, which historically has been frequently depleted by federal lawmakers, was used to acquire a trust parcel in Antelope Flats in 2016. The Grand Teton Park Foundation matched that sum.
Mattson isn’t yet sure if she will pitch to the state the idea of using Land and Water Conservation Fund money — which has not been secured — through the process.
But the Kelly parcel is one of just 18 that the lands office is soliciting ideas about.
Some of the parcels have limited or no road access and are likely not viable locations for development, such as parcels on East and West Gros Ventre buttes and Crystal Butte, the last of which is surrounded by the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Others are bisected by roads, such as a 640-acre mass of land cut by Fall Creek Road at the base of Munger Mountain.
Access issues, Crowder said, pose the largest impediment to development, though county officials do have some oversight, and the legislation prompting the process does call for vetting plans with local agencies and governments or “recognizing the objectives of the comprehensive master plan for Teton County.”
In other ways, developers have plenty of running room for brainstorming.
“State trust by itself is not subject to local zoning or regulation,” Crowder said, “but building laws we are subject to, so that could be a limitation.”
Currently, relatively little income is derived from state trust land in Teton County. Cattle graze the Kelly and Munger Mountain parcels for a small annual fee. The same goes for a parcel abutting Highway 390, where the state also has permits with landscaping companies and the Wyoming Balloon Company.
Jackson Hole High School’s football field and baseball diamonds used by the district occupy trust land at the south end of Jackson.
Jackson Hole Land Trust interim co-director Liz Long said that engaging in the state’s process is a “priority” for her organization, and that the goal is to be a “conservation partner” for project proposals that are submitted to the Office of State Lands.
“Many of the Teton County state-owned parcels hold significant conservation and cultural values,” Long wrote in an email, “and some are surrounded by or are in close proximity to other Jackson Hole Land Trust-conservation properties.”
Yin is encouraging deference to the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan and seeking organizations to submit bids that could dovetail with community goals. He threw out the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust as one such possible partner.
According to Yin, Harshman had his own ideas for Teton County to benefit Wyoming’s depleted coffers.
“I think one idea he had was doing a land swap at the airport,” Yin said, “so it would be leased from state land instead of federal land.
“That’s something that I would find reasonable,” he said.
The Office of State Land of Investment was initially authorized to use $75,000 to hire a contracted consultant to complete the study, but that money was gutted because of COVID-19. Now, Crowder’s sorting the development ideas and writing the report and recommendations himself with help from his small staff. The Legislature’s joint appropriations committee, select committee on capital financing and investments and by the State Board of Land Commissioners, will review the findings this fall.
After that, there would be additional lag before Teton County residents would see any on-the-ground developments or other changes.
“We can typically get a long-term lease on the ground within four to six months of receiving an application,” Crowder said. “To get a land transaction done, it would take anywhere from eight months to a year and a half.”
Find information about submitting applications and a map of pertinent trust parcels at Lands.wyo.gov.