Imagine a place that is home to elk, bison, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, mountain lions, bears and wolves. One that has nesting habitat for the Greater sage-grouse. And supports an incredible variety of wildflowers, pollinators, soaring pines, and even the prairie rattlesnake (step carefully!). And then imagine all of this and more splashed in front of Wyoming’s majestic Teton mountains –Teewinot, Mount Owen, and most grand of all – the Grand Teton.
Next, imagine this place no longer available for public access, closed forever to every generation of your children and their children. Fences built, gates locked. Habitat compromised and views cherished by only a few.
This is not a place of imagination, it’s a place called Antelope Flats. Together with many others, The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming has been part of its protection. This special place is now and forever part of the national park to which it rightfully belongs – Grand Teton National Park.
Bull moose grazing near Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming © Scott Copeland
Antelope Flats is a 640-acre parcel of Wyoming State School Trust land. It was deeded to Wyoming in trust for our school children, in 1890, when Wyoming became a state . And in the last century, a lot has happened. Wyoming’s population has grown by close to half a million people. Grand Teton National Park was created – one of the most visited national parks in the country. As fate would have it, with the creation of the park, the Antelope Flats parcel was completely surrounded by the park. That also made it extremely valuable. Imagine the potential for expensive home sites with an unparalleled view of the Tetons. In fact, in 2016, the land was valued at $46 million dollars.
For decades, the state leased Antelope Flats for grazing, a vital part of our state’s heritage and culture, but an arrangement that returned very little to the state’s school trust. With an obligation to manage the parcel in trust, the state of Wyoming found itself with a duty that it could not ignore.
And therein lay the threat. Because Antelope Flats must be managed as part of the Wyoming’s School Trust lands, the state is required to maximize the value of this asset. Especially in light of Wyoming’s economic downturn, the state has faced increasing pressure to achieve a return on the value of this land. The choices for the state were few – sell or auction the land to the highest bidder (and face the likelihood of loss of access and habitat) or negotiate an agreement with Grand Teton National Park for its purchase and inclusion as part of the park.
Thankfully, no fewer than three Wyoming governors, one US senator, two secretaries of the Interior and one President of the United States chose the latter. They went to the nation’s signature conservation initiative – the Land and Water Conservation Fund – to cover about half the cost. They relied on private citizens to close the gap.
Antelope Flats © Allan Harris
Partners to the Rescue
Led by the Grand Teton National Park Foundation and the National Park Foundation, The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming joined with a coalition of other organizations and donors to raise the additional $23 million needed to match the LWCF funding, close the gap, and complete the purchase.
Besides protecting the park’s wildlife, habitat, and breathtaking views, the purchase has substantially bolstered the coffers of the School Trust Fund for the benefit of the children of Wyoming.
Now we don’t just have to imagine. Antelope Flats is part of the Grand Teton National Park and it now belongs to every generation.
“I couldn’t be more proud that the Wyoming Chapter is part of making something amazing come to fruition that many did not think would ever be possible. Now, every time a member of the public stands at that iconic vista and lets their eyes sweep across the breathtaking expanse of the Tetons, they can appreciate that it is part of their heritage and that of their children and grandchildren. It reaffirms conservation as a great and worthy thing to do that is part of what makes us great as Americans.” Milward Simpson, State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming.