Rockefeller Family Turns Over More than 1,100 Acres to Grand Teton National Park

A winter day's sunrise over the Tetons. NPS Photo by K. Finch

After negotiating a paperwork gauntlet, a tract of more than 1,100 acres has been transferred by the Rockefeller family to Grand Teton National Park.

While the idea was kindled back in May 2001, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, valued at $160 million, didn't officially become part of the park until this past Tuesday, November 6. Long a private inholding located within the southwest corner of the park on the eastern shore of Phelps Lake, the land since the 1930s had served as a private retreat for the Rockefeller family. Over the years the Rockefeller had donated roughly 2,000 acres of the so-called JY Ranch to the park; this latest transfer is the last piece of the ranch.

While the preserve's trail system is now open to the public, its education center will not open until next spring.

The JY Ranch was part of approximately 35,000 acres of valley lands purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. during the late 1920s and early 1930s for the purpose of protecting and enlarging Grand Teton National Park. In those days the purchase of the ranch itself cost Mr. Rockefeller $90,000.

The JY Ranch was originally purchased in 1906 by Lewis Joy and is considered to be the first true dude ranch in Jackson Hole. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased the ranch in 1932, intending to include it in a sizeable land donation to the park. Over the years, however, it became a treasured family retreat and remained private property. Laurance inherited the JY from his father, and in the 1990s arranged for the transfer of a significant portion of the ranch—some 2000 acres—to Grand Teton.

One of the requirements for the transfer set by Laurance Rockefeller was that the existing seven miles of roads within the JY boundaries, its existing log buildings and its utilities be removed so as to restore the area’s natural landscape. Park officials say that approximately half of the structures were donated to Grand Teton for reuse as employee housing and related facilities; the other buildings were relocated to a new family property outside the park. A portion of this work had begun before Mr. Rockefeller passed away at the age of 94 on July 11, 2004.

With the seasonal closure of the Moose-Wilson Road to vehicles on November 1, visitors may only access the Preserve grounds by hiking or biking on the Moose-Wilson Road to reach the Preserve’s entrance gate and parking area located approximately 1.75 miles north of the Granite Canyon trailhead and about .5 mile south of the Death Canyon turnoff. Those who bicycle in, can lock their bikes to the racks located in the parking lot before setting out to hike the eight miles of established trails to reach Phelps Lake and the surrounding Teton Range. Visitors are encouraged to stay on the designated hiking trails; and bikes are not allowed on the Preserve’s trails.

For some more insight into this transfer and the beauty of the land, check out this story that Tony Perrottet wrote for Smithsonian Magazine earlier this year.


Thanks Rockefellers!

It's about freaking time. After using a front company in the 1920s and 1930s to swindle local landowners out of land in order to give Jackson Hole to the NPS, the Rockefellers then kept this land privately for themselves.

But, don't get me started on this subject --

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I disagree entirely with Mr. Macdonald and question his sources on the "swindling," - an easy word to throw out, but does he have any hard evidence of illegal practices? Or merely landowners who, in hindsight, wish that they had held onto their land? Nobody forced them to sell - they cashed out. The Rockefellers don't owe you anything, Mr. Macdonald. Personally, I salute such visionary, grand-scale philanthropy. Thank you, John D Rockefeller, Jr. and Laurance Rockefeller - I don't begrudge your enjoyment/stewardship of your property at JY Ranch. My husband and I hiked your trails last Friday and saw a magnificent display by a male grouse. The Preserve is also a more direct route to access Open Canyon.

Thank you Rockefellers ! Thank you for our Grand Teton NP.

I, too hiked the trails and enjoyed the views and wildlife. I also saw "my first" hybrid vehicle reserved parking spaces at the L Rockefeller Preserve. Forward thinking.
The Preserve seems to be a safe, quiet place to hike and enjoy.

At least this rich family gave something back to all of us.

Teton Cowgirl, I agree with your comment in whole. It is Very well stated. Sounds like Mr. MacDonald's comment is "sour grapes." I too 'salute such visionary, grand-scale philanthropy' of the Rockefeller family. Thank you Rockefellers.

Sour or not, as I said in the other post, the discussion can go forward when someone shows why my own reasons for arguing as I have are contradictory.

Philosophers since Aristotle have argued for a virtue called magnificence (see Nicomachean Ethics); this - i.e. Rockefeller's actions in Jackson Hole - would be a prime example of what Aristotle had in mind. For a lot of reasons, I don't believe that there is such a virtue as magnificence. And, if that suggestion helps move the discussion along, then good. That is, it's a good discussion to be having because there are plenty of policy implications involved.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I don't buy Jim's rant about the Rockefellers either. I suspect it isn't "sour grapes" but Jim's contrarian view about lots of issues. It's always good to have contrarians around as they keep us on our toes and prevent us from getting too smug about long-held beliefs. And no matter how the land was acquired, Grand Teton is one of this nations premier national park areas.

Rick Smith


Not to be contrarian (!) - how does one answer such a thing?! LOL - but the truth is that I'm an anarchist. I've said that many times here. So, I do have a worldview, and the intent isn't to be contrarian but because I believe that society is far, far too large, that it's become abstract and that we've lost touch with each other and with the people and beings we love. We care more about abstract ideas like nations, "individuals" like corporations, bureaucracies like the Park Service, than we do about what we live and breathe every single day.

Since my point of view about society at large is in such a small, small minority, I am bound to come across as a contrarian. In truth, I believe in building consensus and agreement. That's how I organize as an activist - that's how I get along with the vast majority of people who are not activists or anarchists - how I keep a job and a family. But, when it comes to things that matter most to me - and Yellowstone frankly matters most to me (and that includes Grand Teton) - then my views are going to come out most strongly, and being from a point of view that only the scantest have, it's going to come off as contrarian. I am suspicious of anything too large - whether that be large corporations or large government. It's not easy being outside the normal political spectrum, agreeing with the right that government has no reason to be so large but disagreeing so strongly that we should simply let the "market" figure things out, agreeing with the left that the smallest in our society should be protected but disagreeing that government is the ultimate answer to that question. Disagreeing with the right (but agreeing with the left) that the individual must be accountable to a community, disagreeing with the left (but agreeing with the right) that the community should ever be synonymous with the state apparatus. And, yet, that doesn't make me a moderate, either! But, I know I am someone, not simply contrary, that my contrariness amounts to something - perhaps the most something a human can be (to believe that the plants and animals and wind and air and our families and our friends are what are left to us when the constructs of society are torn down and that those things that touch us are most important).

Anyhow, that's why - even in a place I love as much as Yellowstone - I focus right now on one aspect of it, the buffalo and have gotten involved with organizing here in Bozeman. It would be hard to be motivated if I were simply against. There has to be a better way, eh?

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World


Thanks for the clarification. And, I agree that there has to be a better way. I admire the work that you are doing on behalf of the buffalo. You and the other activists are making huge sacrifices to support your point of view. I must say that I am not encouraged by yesterday's announcement that Secretary Kempthorne is appointing a new bison advisory group. It smells like last minute politics and will undoubtably take the next president, no matter who he is, some time to un-FUBAR the appointments to the group and its marching orders.

Rick Smith


I agree wholeheartedly with you on Kempthorne's announcement regarding the bison advisory group.

On the plus side for buffalo - a very small plus but one nevertheless - it's looking like cattle in Greater Yellowstone will be managed differently than outside the area. It's something like Gov. Schweitzer's split state idea applied to the entire area. The hope I have is that because brucellosis transmission inside of Greater Yellowstone won't affect entire states (only those few who are near Yellowstone), then that might buy some time for buffalo.

But, now CWD has been found in a moose in NW Wyoming, and I'm afraid that just as things felt like they might be turning slightly in our favor, everything is going to hit the fan now - because this truly is a terrible disease. I was talking with Mike Mease of BFC a couple weekends ago, and I informed him about the bad news. He's very worried about this development, though it adds fuel to the fire - why are the feds and states spending so much time on brucellosis when there's this real disease problem on the horizon?

And, now they want this new advisory board - no thanks.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Well, Jim, it is fine to be a contrarian in the abstract, and it is hard not to be affected by the American romantic anarchistic or libertarian vision, but the bottom line is getting the critical mass of support to make the differences we need NOW.

Pragmatism is also an american virtue.

And, lately, the Rockefellers have made the difference in any number of key environmental disputes. And, lately, they tend to support national parks. They are able to get political officals to answer the phone and talk about new environmental initiatives when no one else seems to bother or be heard. No doubt the concerns many of today's Rockefellers have raised about the Arctic Wildlife Refuge does ameliorate to some extent the passion for drilling found in american oil companies, notwithstanding the fact that a lot of Rockefeller money is still tied up in oil companies.

My guess is the Rockefellers can get a seat at the table when you, Jim, or I cannot. Yes, it rankles my radical roots to think about the affect the Robber Barons and the Priviledged have in the Land Of The Free. But, right now we need all the friends we can get.

When somebody does the right thing, praise them. We are beyond the point where we can support only the completely virtuous, even if you are able to perceive which individual really truly is virtuous, and who is not. Me, anymore, I just pick up the marbles that are on the table.

So, Jim: Time for some smart pragmatism. Next time, thank the Rockefellers for what they do, unless you want to discourage any further good acts from others in their Set.

The key quote for me in this entire string is "no matter how the land was acquired, Grand Teton is one of this nations premier national park areas."

That in a nutshell is the world we live in today. The ends justify the means. The last century was almost exclusively centered on this concept, whether it concerned acquiring territory "for the common good" through stealth, deception and brute force or if it meant deporting, concentrating or ethnically cleansing whole populations of people.

This twisted concept of social justice also goes to the very heart of the phony election we're about to have on Tuesday between a socialist and a fascist. Democracy has always been about grabbing as much as you can for as long as you can when power temporarily swings into the hands of YOUR mob. The Founding Fathers greatly feared this type of tyranny where the government and the power elite forge an efficient system of organized plunder.

Today people are simply voting for a proxy that will take from one group to give to another.

I still like H.L. Mencken's take on this the best when he said that "Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods." Almost 100 years later his observation couldn't be more true than it is today.

Jeepers, Beamis, there's not much grey area in your conception of the world, is there? So, our immorality exceeds all other's, and this comic book version of history you would install in place of any kind of real understanding of how things are, and how they work?

Beamis, i do try to give your stuff the benefit of the doubt. Sure, nothing exceeds like excess. It can have great entertainment value. But this rant in response to the preservation of the Grand Tetons? This gives a new meaning to 'over the top.'

It's time, Beamis: Get The Hook.

Sorry, Bemis, but I don't buy your bleak assessment of the world or the US. Nor do I agree with your characterization of the two candidates as a socialist and a fascist. Your unremitting pessimism is hard to read. For you, apparently, the glass is neither half full nor half empty; it's empty. It must be hard to get up every morning.

Rick Smith

Bravo Mr Mcdonald you have once again put your anarchy stamp on yet another story here at Traveler. This discussion centers on the thoughtful and forward thinking of the Rockefellers who have done some amazing things in this country for national parks including making Acadia National Park even possible, since most of the park is their land--no doubt swindled as you might say from misinformed and bullied landowners who had no idea what their oceanside land was worth and got pillaged in the sale. Perhaps th efamily did nothing more than suggest that they would do nothing to hurt the land and indeed protect it from future generations who might want to profit from it--but I digress. You've mananged to once again spark a political debate within an issue that has nothing to do with poltics but conservation. I'm not sure anarchists and conservation go what is your point???? I agree with the grounded folk here in this thread...praise any conservation effort made by any group, because like it or not it's a step in a positive direction. Even if it's not a popular one, it is a step that encourages many more steps. I think you should try your optimist suit might be a much better fit.

I find Beamis to be very optimistic, particularly when he resists giving into the fear propaganda surrounding global warming and other world environmental "crises". Beamis is optimistic that change is around the corner. His assessment of the two candidates isn't pessimistic; it's accurate. Socialism is "state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, and the creation of an egalitarian society". Certainly both candidates, having voted to nationalize our banking industry, are somewhat socialistic. And please review the economics of fascism before you dismiss Beamis. You'll find "the nationalization of all businesses which have been formed into corporations" among other descriptors that I find particularly apt with both candidates.

Look at what happened in Italy during the Great Depression and World War II:

In 1929, Italy was hit hard by the Great Depression. The Italian economy, having just emerged from a period of monetary stabilization, was not ready for this shock. Prices fell and production slowed. Unemployment rose from 300,787 in 1929 to 1,018,953 in 1933. Trying to handle the crisis, the Fascist government nationalized the holdings of large banks which had accrued significant industrial securities. The government also issued new securities to provide a source of credit for the banks and began enlisting the help of various cartels (consorzi) that had been created by Italian business leaders since 1922. The government offered recognition and support to these organizations in exchange for promises that they would manipulate prices in accordance with government priorities. A number of mixed entities were formed, called instituti or enti nazionali, whose purpose it was to bring together representatives of the government and of the major businesses. These representatives discussed economic policy and manipulated prices and wages so as to satisfy both the wishes of the government and the wishes of business. The government considered this arrangement to be a success, and Italian Fascists soon began to pride themselves on this outcome, saying they had survived the Great Depression without infringing on private property.

Sound familiar?

Last time I checked, this article was about Grand Teton, not the economic policy....

Lepanto and Rick Smith----you label me as over the top and "great entertainment value" and then tell me I'm overly pessimistic (because it must be hard for me to get up in the morning with such a dismal view of my imperial masters in DC) yet have nothing beyond personal attacks to offer in rebuttal to my observations.

All I can say is I hope your guy wins and you'll be able to force everyone else to bend to the will of the new more "progressive" majority.

As for Grand Teton N.P. I've read the history and know quite well that it was the same members of the power elite, that most readers of this site love to regularly bash, in this case a baron of BIG OIL, who used his incredible wealth and connections to swindle and cheat small landowners out of their land, just as was done in Shenandoah, the Great Smokies and other so called "national treasures" for the "common good".

It seems that you have no quarrel with practices and ethics you would otherwise condemn as long as they are used for causes and purposes you agree with and support. This is the very essence of mob rule.

Long live democracy!

Long live the oligarchy!

Beamis and I often have very fundamental disagreements in the past; however, I can't agree more with the sentiment that we need to be consistent in our ethics. I think the discussion on the other thread that I linked to says quite well why I think so. Conservation at all costs is not actually pragmatic at all. And, if we wonder why there is so much resistance in the West to environmentalism, looking at the history of misdeeds tells us why we are in some of the unreasonable fights we are in now.

Think of everything going on in Grand Teton and the immediate area - with the National Elk Refuge, with cattle grazing (ironically alongside bison with brucellosis), with CWD coming soon, and think of why those problems seem unsolvable. There's a lot of history of mistrust.

In any event, for the most part, Jackson Hole as it is now is mostly a happy accident, not a process of establishment I can celebrate. And, again, if anyone can actually convince me that I'm wrong to link ends and means so tightly, I'll be happy to stand corrected.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World