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Purple mountains majesty: Grand Teton turns 50

Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is celebrating its 50th birthday as a national park  

June 21, 2000
Web posted at: 11:37 a.m. EDT (1537 GMT)

In September 1926, Yellowstone National Park superintendent Horace Albright took John D. Rockefeller Jr., his wife and three children through America's first national park, and then south along the Snake River, past Jackson Lake to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, home of the Teton Mountains. The Rockefellers were awed by the area's natural beauty but troubled by the valley's sprawling development.

With Albright's support, Rockefeller bought more than 100,000 acres of the valley on both sides of the Snake River with the aim of donating the land to the federal government.

On Feb. 26, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill creating a national park in the Tetons, preserving only the mountain range and six glacial lakes at the base of the mountains.

Rockefeller began buying up ranch land in Jackson Hole under the auspices of the Snake River Land Company in Salt Lake City, concealing his long-term plan to give the acreage to the federal government.

When his scheme was revealed in 1930, Teton County and Wyoming residents were bitter that an easterner had taken over the valley and ruined ranching, according to local newspaper accounts.

Grand Teton National Park turns 50 on Sept. 14. As officials prepare for Park Commemoration Day, controversial issues still swirl within Grand Teton's boundaries, mirroring battles that began in 1926.

County and state residents are bitter over a proposed scenic helicopter tour business in the valley. The snowmobile controversy has also created battle lines.

In March 1943, President Roosevelt accepted Rockefeller's holdings and created Jackson Hole National Monument, a move that Wyoming Sen. Edward Robertson declared "a foul, sneaking Pearl Harbor blow." Two months later, defying federal authority, armed ranchers drove cattle across the monument to their traditional summer range without a permit, according to historian Ted Kerasote.

After World War II, tourism boomed and park opponents steadily lost ground. The government reached compromises with ranchers, allowing them to graze cattle in the new park. Elk hunts were maintained and Teton County received federal compensation for its lost tax base, according to Kerasote.

On Sept. 14, 1950, President Harry Truman signed the expanded, present-day Grand Teton National Park into being, joining the existing national park and monument. Today, more than 4million people visit the park each year.

Current Issues

The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance is currently fighting a uphill battle to prevent San Diego-based Vortex Aircraft from running helicopter tours as many as two an hour from nearby Jackson Hole Airport, the only federal airport within a national park. While a no-flight corridor protects flights over the mountains within the park, a large area east of Highway 26/287 and north into Yellowstone is at risk of noise pollution, the alliance contends.

In May, the local airport agreed to give the company a permit. The airport's board of directors has asked Vortex for a detailed plan of operations, which it is expected to review June 30.

Vortex's proposal has prompted GTNP officials to draft a park over-flight plan, required by The National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000.

The alliance sees no legal way to prevent Vortex from running flights over the valley, as the 1983 lease between the Interior Department and the airport allows charter services and scenic flights to originate from the airport.

A debate over air traffic in and around the park continues between residents and commercial operators  

More than 1,500 of Jackson's 17,000 permanent residents have signed a petition against Vortex, which stands to become the only scenic air tour operation over the valley's wilderness areas, wildlife refuges and national forest. On Tuesday the alliance asked the airport's board of directors to persuade the commercial air-tour operator to halt its plan.

"We would hope that the owners of Vortex would respect this community's wishes and help maintain the natural values which make this area such an important natural treasure," said Franz Camenzind, executive director of the alliance.

Snowmobiling on public land is an even greater source of controversy, especially in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem of which GTNP is a part.

Dozens of snowmobile tour operators around the park stand to lose significant winter business if the NPS follows through with its recommendation to ban recreational snowmobiling in GTNP. The park maintains more than 60 miles of designated snowmobile routes, including the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail.

Officials from cooperating federal agencies and five counties surrounding the park are reviewing an environmental impact statement on winter use in GTNP. The draft includes the NPS' recommendation to ban recreational snowmobiling. The NPS expects to decide on the winter use plan by Nov. 1.

The alliance says it is working to restore balance between motorized and non-motorized winter recreation opportunities in the Greater Yellowstone region in the hope of protecting wildlife. The group is opposed to a groomed segment of the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail running through GTNP because it creates an unnatural intrusion into the park and brings with it air pollution, noise and increased demands for new infrastructure.

"We don't have the ability to create wilderness, we only have the ability to protect it," said Camenzind.

Copyright 2000, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

Snowmobile debate moves to Capitol Hill
May 30, 2000
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May 26, 2000
National treasure or disgrace?
April 28, 2000
Earth Matters: Yellowstone, Smokies on list of endangered U.S. parks
April 5, 2000
FAA caps air tours to cut noise pollution at Grand Canyon
April 4, 2000

Parks Service leans toward snowmobile ban
Snowmobile debate moves to Capitol Hill
NPS clarifies snowmobile crackdown
Yellowstone draft EIS criticized
Geologists study active fault in Grand Teton
Senate panel targets park air tour noise

Official Grand Teton National Park site
Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance
The National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000
Grand Teton's 50th anniversary
Vaction plans: Grand Teton National Park
Great Outdoor Recreation Pages' Grand Teton National Park site
Greater Yellowstone Coalition

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