One of my favorite memories of Grand Teton National Park has to do with a certain bear called Grizzly 399. Last summer, this momma bear gave birth to three quite adorable, playful cubs. Guiding our Yellowstone-Tetons Adventure all last season gave me the delightful opportunity to watch these “teddy bears” grow up over the course of a summer. But what really got me thinking was, what would have happened if Grand Teton National Park never came to be?
The creation of Grand Teton National Park contains a history of corruption, secrecy, and a few smart moves on behalf of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and President Franklin Roosevelt. When Rockefeller, Jr. visited the the area that was to become the Park in 1926, what he saw angered and upset him: roadside tourist camps, bill boards, hot dog stands, and signs proclaiming Jackson Hole as “The Home of the Hollywood Cowboy.” Rockefeller, Jr. quickly started to buy up all of the surrounding land (he was after all the son of the founder of the Standard Oil Company) and just as quickly donated it the Park Service.
To cover his tracks, Rockefeller, Jr. formed the Snake River Land Company; if ranchers had known that Rockefeller, Jr. was buying their land, they might not have sold or would have jacked up the price (this was during the start of the Depression, when people were looking to sell). In 1929, the Teton Mountain Range itself was set aside as Grand Teton National Park (it did after all stand little chance of development at the time). Soon after, Rockefeller, Jr. went public with his plans, enraging the ranching community. Due to local opposition, Congress refused to accept Rockefeller Jr.’s gift of land for over a decade.
By 1943, President Roosevelt had had enough. He gladly accepted Rockefeller Jr.’s gift of land, combined it with 130,000 acres of Forest Service land and declared the area “Jackson Hole National Monument.” After much opposition from the public, compromises were reached, and the current Grand Teton National Park made its debut in 1950.
Thinking about all of the opposition against the idea of the Park and the risks that Rockefeller, Jr. and Roosevelt (amongst a few others) took, I think about how lucky we are to experience cycling tours or rafting adventures beneath the shadow of the Tetons or the fortune we’ve come across in seeing such a breath-taking area saved from the development of a city (as it could have very well turned out that way!) Most of all, I think about the wildlife, like Grizzly 399 and her 3 cubs, and how without this land and the rules set in place to protect it, life would not exist. Every time I visit Grand Teton National Park, my favorite place on the planet, I spend a minute remembering how special this place is and what it could have become, and I take pride in knowing that future generations will see what I’ve been fortunate enough to see in this protected, powerful place.
See you on your next adventure,