CODY — A determined and passionate crowd of Park County residents assembled in the Wyoming Game and Fish Office in Cody on Tuesday evening for a final chance to weigh in on a proposal to auction off 640 acres of pristine Grand Teton National Park land known as the Kelly Parcel.
Like hundreds of people have already done, those gathered Tuesday were galvanized against a public auction, something the Office of State Lands and Investments might be forced to do based on the parameters of the Wyoming Constitution.
More than 30 people raised their voices especially loud Tuesday, mainly because no microphones were available for the meeting. But passion spoke louder than words, as everyone in the room was united to preserve the Kelly Parcel as public. At auction, it could be bought by a private interest.
By The (Law) Book
The meeting opened with remarks from Jenifer Scoggin, director of the Office of State Lands and Investments. She kept her comments brief, as the purpose of the meeting was evident before the first person walked through the door.
“We assume that you already did some analysis,” she said. “We're not going to spend too much time on that because our purpose is to hear from you all tonight.”
Scogin oversaw other public hearings about the issue in Jackson, Cheyenne and Casper throughout November. She said she has yet to see the written comments submitted, but the public comments at the hearings have made the feelings of Wyomingites abundantly clear.
Scogin told Cowboy State Daily that in all four hearings, she hasn’t heard anyone speak in favor of auctioning off the Kelly Parcel.
“I think that there is a great interest in preserving the Kelly Parcel, either to (sell it to) Grand Teton National Park or just by hanging on to it for the state,” she said.
Deputy Director Jason Crowder guided the crowd through a PowerPoint presentation detailing the purpose of the state trust lands overseen by the Office of State Lands and Investments, why the Kelly Parcel is facing a public auction and what solutions exist to avoid it.
Ultimately, Crowder emphasized that the office operates within the limits of the Wyoming Constitution. Any changes would need to be addressed by the Wyoming Legislature. In contrast, the State Board of Land Commissioners could approve a public auction and move forward without any legislative action.
“The board is bound by the Constitution,” he said.
Soul For Sale
After a few questions and a brief break, the hearing opened to public comments. Even though every speaker voiced a similar position to not auction the land, their words and genuine feelings resonated with everyone in attendance.
“Should the Kelly Parcel be auctioned, it will become another fatality of development,” said Erin Welty with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “I could stand here and reiterate all the facts and statistics, but you know those facts and statistics.
“I'm here before you for myself, my family, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and our members to urge the board to do what they have heard so many others asked for: leaving the Kelly Parcel intact, preserving our wildlife and their precious habitat.”
Ann Young chose to stand and speak directly to the audience.
“When I think about 640 acres and what could happen, I can't imagine how many houses. I can't imagine the number of dogs, ATVs, cars, people, all the things that come with land development,” she said.
Many speakers were met with applause or nods of support, but the greatest response came from Young’s final statement when she said, “I feel like the soul of Wyoming is up for sale.”
Standing Up For The Kelly Parcel
“I like Ann’s style,” said Gregory McHugh, a 71-year Wyoming resident, as he rose to follow Young’s comments. Nearly every other speaker chose to stand and speak rather than sit, making sure their voices were picked up by the microphone for the livestream.
McHugh urged the Office of State Lands and Investments to find “more imaginative ways” to earn revenue from the property through new leases.
Alex Aguirre spoke as “a beneficiary of Wyoming’s public school system” and a Wyoming Community Partnerships Coordinator with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP). The revenues from the sale of the Kelly Parcel would go into Wyoming’s common school fund, which could add more than $62 million for public education.
Aguirre addressed the dual benefits of education and conservation and that they aren’t mutually exclusive.
“I grew up attending public schools in Wyoming and know the importance of generating revenue for its benefit and successful continuation,” he said. “Investing in public education is investing in the future in Wyoming, as is investing in wildlife conservation for the future Wyoming to enjoy.”
“I’m Josh Metten, Field Manager with TRCP. Ditto,” Metten said, echoing Aguirre’s comments and calling the Grand Tetons “the crown jewel of Wyoming.”
Phyllis Roseberry cited a statistic that tourists spent $1.65 billion in Teton County in 2021. She believes selling the Kelly Parcel for $62 million is “a classic case of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.”
“I noticed one of your missions is to effectively manage natural resources for future generations as your mission,” she added. “I don't think selling this parcel fulfills that mission. Not in the least.”
Leading The Legislative Solution
Sandy Newsome, who represents House District 24 in the Wyoming House of Representatives, didn’t mince words when she classified the potential loss of the Kelly Parcel as “the worst possible thing we could do in our lifetime.” She spoke in favor of a legislative solution, which previously saved state trust lands in Grand Teton National Park.
When the Jackson Lake, Snake River and Antelope Flats parcels were in the same predicament as the Kelly Parcel, the Wyoming Legislature authorized the direct sale of those pieces of land to the National Park Service. That authorization has since lapsed, and multiple attempts to revive it in the last several legislative sessions have failed.
Newsome believes the Legislature can and should authorize a direct sale again and allow the Office of State Lands and Investments to sell the Kelly Parcel to the National Park Service. She even offered to take up the torch during the next session.
“I would be in favor of a legislative solution to this challenge that we have,” she said. “And I would be willing as a legislator to take the lead on that.”
Newsome said she was ready to write a House Bill and submit it to the 2024 Budget Session, pending the State Board of Land Commissioners’ decision on the Kelly Parcel.
Stoic Support From The Superintendent
One invested participant who listened to the entire hearing was Chip Jenkins, superintendent of Grand Teton National Park. Jenkins attended the Jackson hearing and traveled to Cheyenne and Cody to hear what those communities have to say about the Kelly Parcel.
“Wyoming leaders thought that it was important for Wyomingites to be able to express their voice,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “So, I thought it's really important for me to be able to hear what people had to say too.”
Jenkins said the National Park Service and Grand Teton National Park are ready to acquire the Kelly Parcel and ensure it remains the pristine wilderness and essential wildlife habitat under the protection of the park.
“I think it’s clear,” he said. “I'm hearing that people are concerned. They don't want to see this parcel developed. They want to generate revenue that supports Wyoming schools, and they would like to see the National Park Service work collaboratively with the state to acquire this property, and the National Park Service is very interested in doing that.”
A Transitory Enchanted Moment
The public comment period was scheduled to go until 7:30 p.m. By 6:30, nearly everyone with an opinion had voiced it and the meeting ended.
Scoggin said the sense of the Cody hearing and all the public hearings were legitimate feelings of fear mixed with the steadfast opposition to a public auction of the Kelly Parcel.
“The sense that we seem to be getting is that people are afraid of an auction at this point,” she said. “They're afraid of development.”
One of the last speakers was John Osgood, a Cody resident and former National Park Service employee. After sharing his realization that “some things are beyond price,” he let the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald speak for him, quoting one of the final paragraphs from “The Great Gatsby.”
“For a transitory enchanted moment,” he said, “man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”
The Board’s Agenda
The meeting in Cody was the last public hearing the Office of State Lands and Investments held on the Kelly Parcel. The decision to approve or delay a public auction now rests with the State Board of Land Commissioners, which will review the matter at its next meeting Dec. 7.
Scoggin wouldn’t speculate on what the board could decide. The decision never was with her or her staff. Their job was to collect the comments and opinions of Wyoming residents, which will be handed over for the board’s review.
“We're the staff,” she said. “It's up to us to prepare, to take them through the process and prepare the comments, make sure they've got the comments, the detailed analysis and all the information on the proposed disposal so they can be ready to make a decision. But they may ask more questions. They may need to ask for additional information, too. We just don't know at this point.”
Friday is the last day to submit written comments on the proposed disposal of the Kelly Parcel to the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments.
Andrew Rossi can be reached at email@example.com.